If you are a band member performing in any of the thousands of pop, rock bands and groups in India today, then you can ill afford to ignore the gravity behind the title of my post today. Hundreds of bands form in India every year and hundreds of bands die every year. Reason - most of them are unable to make any impact on the musical scene. If they were able to make any impact, then obviously the band wouldn't disband and the individual members wouldn't run off to join IT companies for a 'naukri'. Most of the music you hear from these bands are insipid, amateurish, derivative of foreign bands, bereft of any genre, direction, musical vision or excellence. Most of the band members comprising these bands though are talented individuals who have been assiduously playing their chosen musical instruments for some years and have attained a high level of proficiency on their instruments be it a guitar, bass, drums or keyboards. And when these band members get together and practice cover versions of songs of yesteryear or of modern bands, they can come up with pretty tight renditions that can get a crowd (annual corporate party or a wedding party) going. The band members are happy because as a group they are sounding good and hey they are getting shows all over the country - bars, clubs, college festivals, corporate shindigs etc. Except the fact that over time, the shows are passing by in a blur and they are not seeing any real money! Because its time to get married! And no money means no wife, no car, no house and irate parents! And so another band bites the dust.
Writing Great Songs is a Special Skill
Which is sad really because the band members forgot one crucial thing - becoming good at an instrument does not mean that you can write great songs! An important fact to remember is this - Songwriting is a talent that very few people have. It is rare for four guys jamming together to come up with great songs. I use the word 'rare' and not impossible. Once in a while when the stars are in alignment, four or five talented instrumentalists who also possess songwriting skills will come together and magic happens. It happened with the Beatles, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, U2, Coldplay etc. But then too, delve deeper into the publishing rights of a successful band's oeuvre and you will realise that most of the songs have been written by one or two members of the band who possess that rare songwriting talent and who are the reason for the band coming up with catchy and memorable music that the world will never forget till the end of time.
This is a fact that most bands when they form, fail to remember. If you are a band, ask yourself an important question - Are you or any of the other band members capable of coming up with beautiful songs on your own armed with nothing but a pen, paper and a guitar or piano. Of course you can. Anyone can create a forgettable song cobbling together a few chords. But are those songs catchy, memorable, evocative and beautiful? Can your song bring tears to someone's eyes or make someone dance with joy? Can any of you in your band write songs that are special and above average? If not, then don't blame yourselves. You were just not lucky enough to have a good songwriter in your midst. But you can set things right if you want to become popular in the annals of pop and rock music. Look around you and you will surely find plenty of good songwriters whose sole talent is that they can come up with great songs. Find these guys and beg them to write for you. Do not be ashamed that the OC (original composition) of your band has been written by an outsider. Every established artist making millions of dollars has at some point (or all the time!) used songwriters. It is a norm in the music business worldwide. Accept the facts - some people make great guitar guitar players and some people can write beautiful songs. Rarely do the two skills exist in one man. Ask Joe Satriani and Steve Vai and they will tell you I am right!
Let us now summarise why you need a songwriter in your band:
1. A Good songwriter will add value to your band by giving you memorable songs that you can play to the public and which can be recorded and produced as a single.
2. A good song will get you noticed - from the crowd, from radio stations, from Bollywood!
3. Having great songs in your arsenal means that you are saved from the tyranny of singing other people's music which in short ensures that your band remains a mediocre and a second or a third rate act for the rest of your lives.
4. Being a cover band means that you are not an artist but just parasites living off the talent of others! Nothing wrong in that, but hey don't you want fame, success, glory and more money? Then think smart and become a coveted act. Dream of becoming original artists who inspire others with their music and not just 5 guys singing a cover version of 'Highway Star' for the zillionth time and then borrowing money to hire a cab to get back home!
5. You will be taken seriously by the public (magazines, radio stations, television channels, blogs, mass media, fringe and cult groups) if you have your own original songs that are striking, unique and connect with audiences in whatever way - musically, lyrically, racially or radically.
Note: When I use the word 'songwriter', I mean a person who can compose great tunes. Many a times the tunemaker will write lyrics for his tunes himself and other times there might arise the need to get in a good lyricist as well if the lyrics are not doing justice to the tune. Do not cut corners. If the tune deserves it, get a damn lyricist who can write memorable lines. Do whatever it takes to shine! You've only got so much time before you grow old and fade away!
You've got a great tune on your hands which sounds great on the guitar and percussion with great lyrics to boot. Now how do you convert that song into a solid groove and arrangement that the band can play to screaming audiences? Which brings me to another crucial person you might need in your band - a music producer. Heck now you need two more guys to share your profits with?!! Here's my answer - Did you think that you could form a band and get overnight success without having the right team?!! Becoming successful means getting the best talent on board who can help you achieve your vision and give you what is currently missing. Success means fatter cheques which translates into a hundred times more income than as a cover band even if you were to share your profits with ten other people. Would you rather have a smaller share of a delicious and creamy pie than a large scrap of left over breadcrumbs? Mull over that!
The Music Producer Will Shape Your Song
Think of the music producer as your No. 1 friend after your other band members. The Music Producer will take a song in it's barebone and basic form and help you to create a stunning and dazzling arrangement out of it. A good music producer knows different styles of music and knows how to get the right sound for your target audience. Think of the music producer as the conductor of the orchestra. Every group of musicians needs an orchestrator - a leader who will conduct the proceedings and will always have the final say in terms of the final sound and finish of your songs. Without a leader, your band will go haywire with every musician doing their own thing without any form, structure or discipline resulting in a confused or muddied output. A good music producer knows how to arrange songs that can sway audiences. He will tell you whether you need to stick to a genre or if that intro sounds right or whether your song needs an intro at all. He will decide on the specific sound of the electric guitar, decide on the orchestration (maybe your song needs horns or a violin solo or a maracas), decide whether your band needs harmony singers, bring in a good trumpet player for a trumpet solo which he decides is a must for a particular song. He may even advise the band to fire your vocalist or your drummer if he thinks they are no good! The producer is only concerned with results. You get the drift. Repeat after me : Without a music producer, I am NOTHING! Again, only this time much louder - WITHOUT A MUSIC PRODUCER I AM NOTHING! Yes a music producer is that important - Really!
But you might ask - But I have heard that a music producer only comes in when I am recording my songs in a studio. Wrong! A music producer must be involved with a band right from the very beginning. Creating fine song arrangements will help your band sound more contemporary and with it when it comes to live shows. Too many bands just go out there and play their own thing without any deep thought about the arrangement of a song. So you will have a contemporary rock band sounding like a hair metal band of the 1980's - because that's the kind of music that the band is playing covers of - so all those influences creep into their music. A music producer will help give your music legs and more importantly help you rise above the clutter by giving your band a personality and a mind of it's own - because there's too much mindless music being played out there by bands anyways!
Let us now summarise why you need a Music Producer in your band:
1. A good music producer will help you create strong song arrangements that are as tight as they are groovy and musical.
2. An experienced music producer will introduce the young band members to open their mind to new possibilities and sounds - ideas that the band members themselves may not be able to evoke due to lack of maturity or exposure.
3. Your band needs someone to stand out of the circle and look at you inside out. Most band members are not able to assess their music objectively and examine the flaws or even the strong points. A music producer will look objectively at your music and help you shape, refine and define your sound. He will take what is good and reject the fluff and at the same time add his own inputs that are based on experience in the music business regarding what works and what does not.
4. A music producer can mean the difference between success and failure in today's hyper competitive world. He can help you save years of toil and hard work by stopping you from climbing the wrong mountain in your musical journey.
Which brings me to my outro....
Dont Climb Up the Wrong Mountain
In business leadership programmes, they use a common analogy - Dont climb the wrong mountain - to advise companies from doing work that may ultimately lead to failure. By climbing the right mountain, you ensure that all the hard work that the company's employees are putting in eventually leads to success. Because what good is hard work if it leads to doing work on a project that is destined to fail. You might as well have cut down on all that hard work and stayed at home and watched TV! Similarly what good is your musical talent, hard work and dedication if you do not have the right people to guide you and the right mentors to shape your sound. You will spend years climbing up a mountain and you will realize that once you reach the top of that treacherous mountain, the party is on that other little hilltop right in front of you! And guess what - its just a small hill. Climbing it would have been a piece of cake! Damn!
And oh, this is my last post for the year 2013! Have a great new year 2014 ahead! As far as Leveljam is concerned, there are lots of interesting initiatives in the pipeline. Among them is home tutoring for all those guys who want to get trained in the comfort of their own homes and do not want to brave Mumbai traffic. More information on that coming up in my next blog post. In the meantime you can read this page here - http://www.leveljam.com/music-production-training-faq/music-programming-course-details/ for more info on the music production courses at Leveljam where we believe music cannot be learned rigorously in an institute but informally and in a state of ease, happiness and comfort. Leveljam is the neighbourhood cafe of music production training in India and we want to keep it that way!
Atin Dasgupta is an entrepreneur and a Music Producer / Sound Engineer. Leveljam – a community of computer music programmers in India is an initiative that is very close to his heart. His Music can be heard here - https://soundcloud.com/firangees.