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shoulderpet

Singer keeps changing song arrangements, what to do?

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Posted (edited)


Hi all
Have been playing bass in the band I am in for a few months now and up until now we have been playing short sets of originals and covers at open mic nights, song competitions etc so we have been focusing a lot on covers.  We are a 4 piece (Singer/guitarist/songwriter, Singer, Bass, Drums)

We now have a gig at a rock night coming up in a couple of weeks where we will be expected to play all originals, there are a couple of other bands on and as we are the last band on and with the bar closing 2 hours after the start of our set we have to potentially fill 1.5-2 hours.  When we accepted the gig I thought as we had about 4 rehearsals of around 3 hours each that it would not be a problem getting enough material up to scratch for the gig, now I am not so sure.

The problem is the singer constantly keeps changing the arrangements, every time we rehearse a song he changes something, we spent 2 hours last night rehearsing a song  that we have played several times before because the singer wanted to change the arrangements of every instrument and also wanted to add a bridge section, in total we only played 2 songs throughout the entire rehearsal due to this.  Sundays rehearsal was a very similar situation, a couple of songs we played several times before and he wanted to change the arrangements so we spent ages rehearsing these songs.

To make it clear it is not the changing of the songs arrangements that I have an issue with, its the fact that that with a gig in 2 weeks time and with less than 10 hours rehearsal time left it is not the time to be changing things and spending 2 hours on one song when we have potentially 20 or so songs we need to play to fill the time slot, we need to rehearse hard and nail the songs not spend entire rehearsals changing the arrangements.
I have tried to get this through to the singer but he doesnt seem to get it, im at a loss as to what more i can do to make my point clear.

I want to continue with the band as the songs we have are good songs, we have good musicians and I like the fact we play some originals but I really need to sort this, suggestions welcome, thanks

Edited by shoulderpet
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OK, so you need possibly 25 songs to fill the time, you have 9 hours rehearsal to get them squared up, and the singer wants to burn 2 hours on one song?

If the singer doesn't get how stooopid this is, then he's an idiot. Which might have longer term implications than for this one gig.

You've got two rehearsals left, I'd get the whole band behind a setlist (via emails), get them learnt and get it run through as soon as you walk into the rehearsal room. If it sounds good, the you can go back and take a little time to work on individual songs.

Do the other two in the band share your frustration?

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Thanks, yes the others are finding this very frustrating also, as I rarely see them outside of rehearsal we havent really had much time to talk about it but I think I will message them both about this , I think to make a difference I need the others on board with me as well
 

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You definitely do if the singer is as unaware of the issues as you indicate. Include the setlist in your messages so that everyone knows exactly what they need to know for next time, if the three of you can present a united front, it'll help.

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All that matters at this time is the imminent gig. Band practice has to be focused on that one goal. As above, email the other members, including the singer, and agree on the current arrangements, get everyone to have their parts up to speed for the next band practice so the whole set can be gone through and any problems sorted. The final practice should simply be a run through of the set to sharpen everything up. Arrangements can be played with at a later date if it makes the songs better but for the moment the gig comes first.

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I’m not sure you understand.

You (and the rest of the band) are there to serve the singist!

The singist is the queen or king bee, the centre of everything, the axis upon which the universe must revolve, without whom this and all other worlds will fall apart, or spin off into certain oblivion. They are all knowing (without knowing nuffink), all doing (without lifting a finger), all seeing (whilst blind to the stress they may cause to others in THIER band).

Now stop moaning, and bathe in the glorious light that shines forth from the hole from which they also speak. 

And to prove I’m not prejudiced, in any way....I went out with a singer once, so I can’t be 🥳 

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Seems like the singer is suffering from a lack of confidence. I play with a singer who fiddles around with the unimportant stuff when he's stressed. I ask him why he wants to put this pressure on the band before a gig. That usually settles him down and we are OK.

Is the rest of the band with you or with the singer?

You're the bass payer, the logical and sensible one, so it's up to you to lay it on the table. Your band needs x songs for an x hour set. List what you have that is ready, then ask the band how they propose to get the rest up to scratch in the time available. If they need 18 songs for 2 hours, at 2 hours a song. . . lay out the maths and ask them how it's going to work!

Tell them that running through the whole set at least once, maybe twice, before the gig is a prerequisite to doing the gig. Don't threaten to quit but stress the effect that a shambolic gig would have on your reputation and chances of getting other gigs.

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Reading the OP, I think I was more staggered at the expectation for you to do a 90-120 minute set of original material!  Christ on a bike, most of the venues I played only wanted a 40 minute set maximum.

Concerning the arrangements, when I was doing the bulk of the writing (95%+), I was guilty of changing things around constantly until such a time as I was happy with how the material sounded, but this was only on new material, never what we were going to be rolling out live the following weekend. 

In the scheme of things, the singer has the least to worry about as he's not playing the actual music, drummer next.  Sometimes a vocalist seems to think we can just read their mind and that it's easy to make changes and rememberthem.  It isn't.  Tell him that.

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5 minutes ago, NancyJohnson said:

Reading the OP, I think I was more staggered at the expectation for you to do a 90-120 minute set of original material!  Christ on a bike, most of the venues I played only wanted a 40 minute set maximum.

Concerning the arrangements, when I was doing the bulk of the writing (95%+), I was guilty of changing things around constantly until such a time as I was happy with how the material sounded, but this was only on new material, never what we were going to be rolling out live the following weekend. 

In the scheme of things, the singer has the least to worry about as he's not playing the actual music, drummer next.  Sometimes a vocalist seems to think we can just read their mind and that it's easy to make changes and rememberthem.  It isn't.  Tell him that.

I really don't think that anyone wants to hear an unknown band play two hours of original material...! If I was the OP,  the first thing I would do is to check. 

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12 minutes ago, peteb said:

I really don't think that anyone wants to hear an unknown band play two hours of original material...! If I was the OP,  the first thing I would do is to check. 

yeah, this seems odd that an unknown band (no offence intended, just that it's the impression the OP's given in their post) would be expected to play for a couple of hours, even for a "headlining" set.  Check back with the promoters and find out what they are actually expecting - maybe they have a DJ booked for the last 90 minutes.

When you're absolutely sure on how long the set is going to be, use that to make your argument, that you can mess around with the arrangements all you want after the gig, but the priority here is making sure that you play the set that you have as well as possible, which means all of the songs. Changing arrangements is an added risk that the band can do without - what if somebody's mind goes blank on the night, or their muscle memory reverts to the previous arrangement. 

I back @Muzz that you just need to take the lead and set the agenda for the next rehearsals.  You can do it in a non-confrontational way, that you're not against mucking about with arrangements, just that the band has another, much larger priority right now

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We're in the studio in September to record original songs that we first wrote around a year ago, and have subsequently re-wrote over and again, but that's because since the rest of the set is covers, we no longer need to rehearse them. Instead we spend our rehearsals rewriting songs after we've performed them.

The thing is, we have the time to do this and everyone is on the same page; a discussion happened and we all agreed that spending rehearsal time on these tunes was the best use of our time. We gig whatever the last rewrite was, or if we haven't had long on it then we'll gig the previously written version. I know other people don't work like this, but rewriting is an important way of improving material. 

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Posted (edited)

Ok, the promoter has confirmed that we are on for an hour , a relief but still a lot of ground to cover considering we only have a couple more rehearsals. 

Frustrating thing is that in the time since my last post on this all of the band members have complained about the arrangements changing, i thought maybe we had got through and then this morning I got a message from the signer/guitarist changing 2 of the chords in one of our songs, frustratingly this is the song we spent 2 hours on in the last rehearsal, I have messaged him making my frustration clear, fingers crossed.

If we make a pigs ear of this gig due to the constant changes then I will leave

 

Edited by shoulderpet

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With out wanting to sound like a diva, I would make it clear that I wouldn't be playing if the band isn't fully/properly rehearsed. Great to have that one amazing song, but if the remaining 56 mins of the set are pony, it would do far more harm than good. Alarm bells should be ringing that the singer isn't listening to everyone else's concerns. If the song isn't ready, park it - concentrate on the other songs for the gig. If he can't understand that, then future of the group doesn't look good. Hope you can talk some sense into him!

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On 14/08/2019 at 14:37, DanOwens said:

We're in the studio in September to record original songs that we first wrote around a year ago, and have subsequently re-wrote over and again, but that's because since the rest of the set is covers, we no longer need to rehearse them. Instead we spend our rehearsals rewriting songs after we've performed them.

The thing is, we have the time to do this and everyone is on the same page; a discussion happened and we all agreed that spending rehearsal time on these tunes was the best use of our time. We gig whatever the last rewrite was, or if we haven't had long on it then we'll gig the previously written version. I know other people don't work like this, but rewriting is an important way of improving material. 

Possibly. It is certainly a way of changing material, improvement is subjective surely? If you all feel it needs changing was it any good in the first place? Not taking a pop, just my thinking. The originals band I am part of had this discussion a while back. The three songwriters are very open and allow the individual musicians to come up with our own parts, based on the feel the first hearing gives us and how we interpret it. Their take is its a band, we all have input, we are all equal and first impression of a song, based on emotion, is the way to go.

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Posted (edited)

When you walk away from a rehearsal you have to get the whole band to agree and accept that what you played that night is fixed in stone until after the gig. Emphasize that there must be no spur-of-the-moment changes, then stand your ground and refuse to incorporate the changes when the come.

Edited by chris_b
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You need to figure out the following:

1) How much rehearsal time will be taken up going through other stuff or songs? Include things like the 10-15 mins time setting up, break time, etc etc 
2) How much rehearsal time do you have left?
3) If a song is changed, how long (in rehearsal time) does it take to prepare it sufficiently for gigging (obviously it depends on the extent of the changes made etc)

The above is simple maths and will quantitatively determine how many, and the extent of, changes possible before this gig. If you or the singer or anyone else doesn't accept this, then something's going to 'give'.

Having gone through that exercise, then you'll see that if a song isn't coming together, jettison it. Jettison it swiftly and decisively. Nothing worse than wasting weeks and weeks on a song which is heading south and isn't going to be played in public. It is a skill, you'll learn over time to do this quickly.

Also (somewhat frustratingly) you'll also see that some songs need more work than others, and whilst in theory you could do the work and it might be a brilliant song, pragmatically it could be next gig not this gig where it debuts, or that it needs to be put on the back burner. Or you're accepting too many gigs where a little time without would benefit.

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1 hour ago, mikel said:

Possibly. It is certainly a way of changing material, improvement is subjective surely? If you all feel it needs changing was it any good in the first place? Not taking a pop, just my thinking. The originals band I am part of had this discussion a while back. The three songwriters are very open and allow the individual musicians to come up with our own parts, based on the feel the first hearing gives us and how we interpret it. Their take is its a band, we all have input, we are all equal and first impression of a song, based on emotion, is the way to go.

I tried something similar in my last originals band.  Mixed results.  Officially we all had an equal say on songs and brought what we wanted to the arrangements. but with the caveat that the writer of each song would have the final say on the other parts if there was any disagreement on whether the arrangements were working.  So it depended very much on which songwriter had the casting vote and how open minded they were about what the others brought to the table.  me and the drummer rapidly noticed that the guitarist would let us try our other parts before insisting that we go back to his (often lacklustre) original arrangement...while also spitting his dummy out if we didn't like what he wanted to do on the guitar arrangements for our songs.

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2 minutes ago, Monkey Steve said:

I tried something similar in my last originals band.  Mixed results.  Officially we all had an equal say on songs and brought what we wanted to the arrangements. but with the caveat that the writer of each song would have the final say on the other parts if there was any disagreement on whether the arrangements were working.  So it depended very much on which songwriter had the casting vote and how open minded they were about what the others brought to the table.  me and the drummer rapidly noticed that the guitarist would let us try our other parts before insisting that we go back to his (often lacklustre) original arrangement...while also spitting his dummy out if we didn't like what he wanted to do on the guitar arrangements for our songs.

Been there. Politics is the hardest part of being in a band!

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On 14/08/2019 at 12:22, NancyJohnson said:

Reading the OP, I think I was more staggered at the expectation for you to do a 90-120 minute set of original material!  

Most of our gigs consist of the above.

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Not just an originals thing, we have exactly the same issue with a cover band, for a gig we are doing next week.

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21 hours ago, chris_b said:

When you walk away from a rehearsal you have to get the whole band to agree and accept that what you played that night is fixed in stone until after the gig. Emphasize that there must be no spur-of-the-moment changes, then stand your ground and refuse to incorporate the changes when the come.

Chris B nailed it, I think. It's partly a matter of professionalism and respect (for the audience and for each other), but it might also be a question of dealing with anxiety. Solid rules, and at least a modicum of discipline, can help to depersonalise things. If the singer is anxious (perhaps about having to perform at a new level), that anxiety will feed on any opportunity to revisit or second-guess the material. Anything that can take the material out of the singer's hands would probably help everyone, not least the singer. (In the studio, at least you can point out how expensive it is to keep tinkering unnecessarily!)

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the replies, 2 days till the gig and our rehearsal last night was like an italian soap opera, it was all out war. 

We managed to get a couple extra rehearsals book but everybody is now getting annoyed and to further agitate matters our singer has hired a keyboard player now who has done a couple of rehearsals with us so he is having to learn the songs as he will be at the gig as well. 

Fingers crossed for this gig

 

 

 

Edited by shoulderpet
edited for clarity
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Posted (edited)

Blimey. Time to head for the exit, I would suggest. I had a similar situation to contend with recently. Some pals were working up a band with a singer who once (many years ago) had a minor hit (scraper Top 10) with a song she didn't write, arrange or produce. The usual story - she was wheeled in to sing something that was put in front of her because she looked good and could just about hold a tune. They asked me to play bass and as the other musicians, who are friends/colleagues I've worked with a lot over the years, are good players, I agreed, thinking it would be a good musical experience (I'm not worried, at my age, about trying to get famous or make shedloads of money - I'm fortunate in that I'm comfortable in my dotage). However, our heroine thought she was a star. She was musically illiterate and kept changing things, covered her insecurity/incompetence the whole time with b/s and generally behaved like a diva. I walked. The others hung on - even did one gig, which was a shambles - but it crashed and burned.

Edited by Dan Dare
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I’d tell the singer and the guitarist to sit down together, sort out the song and call me a couple of weeks before the gig when they’re ready to rehearse. Spending 2 hours on one song I would have lost the will to live. 

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