Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Looking For Mr. Goodband

I left a band I'd been working with for eight months recently (see my recent post on why it's not good to work with people who have trouble with distinguishing reality), and have been combing through Craigslist for a few weeks looking for potential groups to hook up with. I thought I'd write a bit about going through that process, and the sort of things I've run into along the way.

First off, I'm fussy. Anyone who knows me knows that. I'm fussy about who I game with, I'm fussy about who I spend time with, and I'm fussy about who I make music with. I'm fussy because I've been around people that, on occasion, I've had a very strong and negative reaction to, and most of the time I've been able to look back in retrospect and see the trainwreck coming. At 45, I figure I'm running out of time to play rock and roll, so having spent eight months with a guy who couldn't shut up and listen if you put duct tape over his mouth I find myself back where I started.

Note that this is *not* a plea for you all to run out and find a band for me. Every once in a while that works OK, but in most cases I find that there's a lack of understanding of what it is I'm looking for and an assumption that all musicians are, more or less, interchangeable and similar in their tastes. Believe me, they aren't. 

In general, the musical genre is not my top priority, strangely. I like a wide variety of music, and would even work with an originals band were it stuff that I liked and the writer wasn't a control freak who wanted me to do it *exactly* like they heard it in their head. If that's your bag, great. Just don't expect other creative musicians to put their brains in neutral for you unless you're paying them pretty well. The pay is also not a big deal - if I was getting $50 for a night's work, that would be plenty for me, enough to justify gas money. 

What is important to me is a group that I can trust. That's a big word, one that covers a lot of ground, but in a nutshell I need to know that a band is a team effort. My most rewarding band experiences have almost always been with groups that I've considered family - people who understand that you aren't going to get there alone, that compromise is a virtue, and who get that each person is there for their own reasons and can find a way to nurture everyone. You still get into arguments, just like with family, but at the end of the gig everyone goes off feeling like they can't wait to do it again. 

There are other issues, such as no smoking in rehearsals, no drug problems (different from drug use, mind you), and it's always nice to have people who laugh at your jokes (and vice versa). 

So far, I've "applied" to four different groups, only one of which has been communicative and that I ended up auditioning with. The first was an originals group of 20 somethings that wanted nothing to do with a 45 year old, regardless of mileage. I understand the fear - most people my age who are looking for musical experiences are tied down pretty tightly to their lives, and many people who aren't are burnouts or wannabes who've reached a point where they've done too *much* rock and roll, or none at all but sure think they sound good singing Karaoke. 

The second group never returned my email. I look on those as groups I'm better off never being in touch with in the first place. If someone can't respond to an email with a simple "thanks, but no thanks," I'm guessing there's not a lot of trust to be found. 

The third group is a working band, albeit one doing corporate and wedding gigs, and one that has a horn section and two female vocalists already. To be honest, this has the capability of being a very good band for me to be in - there's a lot of "show", the gigs are all in good locations because no one hires a horn band without having a certain amount of cash (they usually ask $2000 to start). This band wanted some recordings, which I sent of me singing Love Shack and Easy Lover, tunes that show of my showmanship and range. However, I have yet to hear back from them. Interestingly, I listened to a few of their promo recordings, and the guy singing Love Shack was a little weak - it's a tune that really has to go over the top to work. It's been nearly three weeks, and I understand that they have a process they go through, but I've seen no new ads for them so I'm assuming they either discarded my application, found someone, or who knows what. Unfortunately, this makes me wonder if this would be a good group or not because of the trust issue. However, if it's an easy gig to do (they perform at about the right frequency for me, once or twice a month), it could be something I do to get my gigging jones handled while I also did something else that wasn't playing out.

That's where the fourth band comes in. I'd seen the ads a couple of times for a band looking for a "real" rock singer, someone who could handle songs in the range of Steve Perry, Brad Delp (Boston's original singer), or Tommy Shaw (of Styx). After the third ad, I figured that perhaps they didn't need someone who could sing two octaves above middle C after all, and contacted the guy. I sent the recordings I'd sent to the other group, and got back a message saying that I didn't have a gritty enough voice for what they were doing. I responded that I felt I could cover pretty much anything they wanted, so long as it was within my range, and that I'd performed quite a bit of the 70's arena rock material that they were looking for. The guy, very generously, gave me an audition slot last Sunday.

Auditions are a weird thing for me. For those few of you who have seen me perform, you know that I'm pretty uninhibited and certainly not shy on stage. Without me being an ego-maniac, I can say that I have a very good voice for rock, a very good range, good frontman skills, and I'm smart and learn music quickly. I tend to imitate the original recordings, but I'm not limited to that style alone. Still, when it's time to do an audition, I get really edgy and nervous leading up to the actual playing.

This time, I had some reason. This was some very high material, although nothing I hadn't sung before. Working For The Weekend, Blue Collar Man, Separate Ways, and (this one is for you, Dave) Everybody Wants You. They even were playing the songs down a half-step (one key down on a piano, so a song in F originally would be played in E). Still, I know that being in a loud environment without a good monitor was going to result in me oversinging, and sure enough that's what happened. 

Usually, I use something called "in-ear" monitors, which is basically a receiver and earbuds so that you get both hearing protection as well as a vocal-friendly mix. At an audition, that's more or less impossible to set up quickly, so I didn't bring my system even though it's not hard to set up. 

I don't have perfect pitch (which is really more of a curse than a blessing - imagine hearing a choir that is just a little shy of what your ear hears as the current pitch standard of A-440. Even though they sound great to everyone else, the whole thing sounds flat to you. However, I do have relative pitch, which means that I have a very good sense of what key a song is recorded in. Part of that is where the "break" in my voice lies, more or less right on the E above middle C. If I'm moving back and forth over that pitch, I have to adjust my voice accordingly. Having all of the songs down a half step played hell with me figuring out where the break was, especially since I've sung these songs so many time. 

Most of the time, I felt I did pretty well. Who's Cryin' Now, for example, went really well and the sound level was low enough that I wasn't oversinging. Separate Ways, however, nearly fell apart on me. After the first verse, my voice started to seize up, making it impossible for me to hit any high notes and preventing me from singing on "top" of the pitch. Fortunately, there's a long instrumental break, and I was able to loosen up enough to finish the song as it should sound. During most of the other tunes, I would go to hit a note and it wouldn't be quite where I thought it should, and my voice would crack a little. Ironically, this tended to be lower in my range, right around the break. 

It's hard to say what the band heard. I've been told I'm brutally hard on myself when it comes to music, although I prefer to think that I'm honest about what I can and can't do. They told me I was clearly a pro, which was nice to hear, and the guitarist sent an e-mail afterwards in response to my thank-you note where he said that I had the right range and now it was a matter of listening to the other candidates as well as deciding if I had the right voice for the project he imagined. 

I read that as "not too bad, but we're hoping for a bit better." That's how I would have looked at my performance. 

This is a group that isn't going to be gigging anytime soon, mostly because the guitarist and drummer have ongoing groups they work with, and are booked up through 2009. That would mean no gigs until, literally, 2010. However, because they only rehearse every two or three weeks, I could do a gig like the horn band *and* do this gig for now. The guitarist is the driving force in the group, and he gets to determine the set list and I'm guessing pretty much everything else. That's kind of a bigger red flag for me, as I know that in the absence of what I consider a good leader I tend to try to improve the situation. That's what happened in the non-listener band I was just in, and it worked to a point because everyone else seemed to understand that I knew what I was doing compared to the founder, who clearly knew *nothing* about running a band. However, most of the bands I've been in for more than a few months have been run mostly by me, so I have no experience with playing with a "smart" band leader. I suspect that we'd have some friction, but I also think that after a while it would either be something that actually *added* to the band's energy, or it would be a deal breaker. 

Interestingly, this was also the first time I'd sung in a band with a dedicated keyboardist. What a trip. To hear those parts and not be playing them was also a bit of a stretch for me. The keyboardist was very friendly (everyone was, other than the bass player, who I couldn't read at all), and mentioned hoping to hear me play a bit, but that really wasn't what I was there for. Part of that is being a little wary that they guy they're auditioning might replace you (and I could, but don't really want to), and part is that keyboardists love to compare gear, styles, etc. He actually had four keyboards, including a Hammond B-3 simulator keyboard from Roland running into a Leslie rotating speaker! Very few people other than purists do this anymore, seeing as most people can't tell the difference between a simulated Leslie and the real thing, and the software has gotten quite good at emulating it. In a rock mix, only a few dozen people in the business would probably be able to point out that a sound was emulation or a real Hammond. He also has the same main axe I do, a Roland XP-80 sample-player workstation that came out ten years ago (but the dedicated workstation market has completely stagnated in the face of software instruments, so it's still a very current sounding machine). He also had a couple of older keyboards, although I still have to wonder why he uses them if it requires a separate mixer. I used to haul around a Fender electric piano, an ARP Omni-2 string machine/polysynth, a Pro-One monophonic synth, and a Crumar T1-B organ with a 145 Leslie (that's the organ Boston used on their first album, one of the first B-3 emulators). I'm much happier now with a MacBook Pro and a USB keyboard - all of my gear now weighs less than the electric piano did back in the day, and I can do about 1000x more than I could then in terms of sound generation.

I guess it's really not my problem, though. It would be nice to have that second keyboardist in some situations, and it's also nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of or to give you an extra ear in hearing a tricky part. 

Of course, I won't hear back from these guys for a little while. However, as a "hobby" band (for now), this group really appeals to me, and I've told the guitarist to consider me if his first pick (if it isn't me) goes south, or if the keyboardist falls through as this is exactly the sort of thing I could pick up if necessary.

It's pretty hilarious that I find myself playing oldies and it's Journey and Loverboy. In 40 more years, I'll be singing Open Arms at the retirement home (down an octave, of course) with 30 of my closest Depends friends. 

For now, though, I'd still like to think that I'm not too old to rock and roll. This audition aside, my voice is stronger than it's been since it went all wonky in 2003 (another post on that experience someday), and even though I get very nervous about auditioning, it's still nice to know that good players will at least pretend that I've got chops. 

At this point, I'm still looking through the ads. There are a *lot* of them, and I've learned which ones to stay away from. Hilariously, the non-listener posted an ad to replace me (twice, actually, including within hours or me quitting), and the very last sentence, in all-caps, was:


Loosely translated, that means, "Do exactly what I want and don't point out when I constantly contradict myself and mis-credit what people say." Those are the sorts of ads to avoid. 

1 comment:

dave said...

"Everybody Wants You"

How ironic. ;>