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AndyTravis

Songwriting issues

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So as documented elsewhere on these hallowed pages, we’re struggling with guitarists.

I play guitar enough to get by, and I’ve always been the main (musical) songwriter for the band - I send riffs, the guys put their parts on the track, we rehearse/develop and record the full song.

So in the interests of moving forward I sent 24 ideas over to the band. Some bass/drums, some with guitar as well, some with keys parts too. This is usually down to wether or not something needs more or if I have enough time.

The singer has just said “nothing grabs me, the riffs are all great, but they sound like you’ve already developed them...”

I simply put some stuff together so I wasn’t sending 24 (40 second) snippets of bass playing.

I’m really frustrated.

Drummer gets what I’ve done and says he wants to work through the 24 ideas.

Our singer rarely has anything prepared, is the main lyricist - but plays a bit of guitar and keys (not proficiently). In the two years of the band, he’s offered 3 “songs” which were really dirgy blues songs which never progressed past a jam in the rehearsal room.

He’s basically saying “we need to craft the songs, make better chord progressions...”

It’s almost like a language barrier. “Better Chord progressions” is like saying “make it good-er” - I’m not even sure his terminology is correct (I don’t think he means chord progressions) - and he’s totally missed the point that we’ll “craft” from what’s been presented.

No real answers needed, wanted to vent as I’ve bitten my lip all morning.

Annoyed that out of the two of us he’s equally capable of sharing ideas and recording demos - and has delivered nothing. Yet he’s picking holes in what I’ve sent.

Just off to boil my head.

 

 

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Sounds like a complete twunt. I think you’re right to be a bit peeved. He’s taking out his lack of talent in the music writing area on you, which isn’t fair. Unless he can come up with alternatives, he’d better get working on what’s been sent.

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I do this, demo everything (except drums) and pass it on... I put a lot of thought into everything, writing and rewriting, so if someone can't take it further on their own instrument that's their deficiency, not mine. Anyone else is totally welcome to do the same and I welcome the challenge of upping the ante on something that's already well done.... They never do of course. 🙄

You don't seem to have a songwriting issue, you seem to have a singer issue.

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27 minutes ago, AndyTravis said:

So as documented elsewhere on these hallowed pages, we’re struggling with guitarists...

To be fair, and aware that I'm treading on eggshell here, the most recent file you posted was ... (how to say it..?) something less than inspirational. There's nothing technically wrong with the recording side (balance between instruments, decent-enough sounds...), but there's an art, as well as a craft, in composing, and, as with panning for gold, much dross for little in the way of nuggets.
To me, there's far too much going on in the bass line to be able to sit back and add much 'worth'. The song seems to be already fully fleshed, with capable, but bland, guitar work (no, no; it's not bad, but it doesn't bite at all. Sit down; I've not finished...).
May I suggest a different approach, by sending out simply acoustic guitar versions of the skeletal structure you envisage; enough to get an idea of the style, but no more..? No bass line, maybe no drums, just the 'unplugged' basics..?
As for chord progressions: you're doubtless well aware of the classic 'four chord song' syndrome, or the old 'camp-fire' cowboy stuff. Chord progressions can be a derivative of the basics, adding 'internal' melody, or colouring with extensions beyond 7ths. I'd suggest comparing some well-known 'standards' from the Real Book with their 'vanilla' versions, to see how past masters have used chord substitutions, or filled out one-chord passages with altered chords. Try, as a starter, playing four bars of G Major, then compare to one bar each of G Major, GMaj7, GMaj6, GMaj7. Follow that with four G Minor bars, then one bar each of G Minor, Gmin7, GMin6, GMin7. Tame stuff, certainly, but using arpeggios, or string skipping, rather than strumming, there's a whole world of emotions to be generated from chords. There's a site full of Vanilla versions of Standards; they're worth perusal, I'd suggest. (Vanilla Jazz Songs ...)
I'll stop now; I don't want to give the impression that you've got it wrong; you've a much better track record than mine. There are other tactics to be tried, however, and it's not up to you to do all the creation hard work (unless you're Burt Bacharach or similar...).

Hope this helps. :friends:

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41 minutes ago, AndyTravis said:

The singer has just said “nothing grabs me, the riffs are all great, but they sound like you’ve already developed them...”

Where do I begin?  I keep reading the above sentence and find myself shaking my head in disbelief.  Fully developed great riffs that do not grab the singer.  It must be so hard for the singer when faced with such a difficult starting point.to springboard from.  I concur with @NickD's judgement on this one, you are giving it to the singer on a plate. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

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@Dad3353 I appreciate the reply, realistically these things are all just “sketches” etc to come back to and resolve/improve/develop.

Generally speaking - I’ll noodle and have a “oh I like that” moment - I record it and come back to it when the kids aren’t hanging off me.

Its sort of equivalent to humming a melody into a dictaphone - the upload in question was more to point out I need to practice playing guitar; as you rightly point out my guitar playing (while adequate) is bland.

I think what caused me a headache was the “great riffs” followed by “nothing grabs me”

if he’d said “the idea (insert working title) has a strong riff, or the feel is good - just needs fleshing out and the bassline is too busy at the start...” would’ve been constructive.

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@AndyTravis Then don't give him 'great riffs'. Give him hollow shells for him to fill. ;)

Edited by Dad3353
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1 hour ago, AndyTravis said:

......... I’ve always been the main (musical) songwriter for the band - I send riffs, the guys put their parts on the track, we rehearse/develop and record the full song.

...........

I’m really frustrated.

I can't see realistically how you're going to achieve what you want to - it appears you want to collaborate, but it looks unequal with most of the work done by you then a little bit by the others once you run out of ideas etc. I am not surprised they're demotivated by this.

I would suggest this approach: just write the whole thing, including suggested guitar parts, vocals, vocal melody etc.

If the others can't be inspired by your almost-complete song, then perhaps that's an indication that its uninspiring? Don't be afraid to tear up the whole thing and start again. Or, add an interesting bridge, etc etc

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Reading between the lines, it sounds like the singer wants to get the ideas in slightly more embryonic form... and work from there.

1 hour ago, AndyTravis said:

I simply put some stuff together so I wasn’t sending 24 (40 second) snippets of bass playing.

Might be that 40 snippets of bass playing is what he is after.

Division of labour in song-writing is not always straightforward, so you might need to experiment a bit to find the balance.

Or maybe agree with him that you'll be the 'lead writer' on some songs, and he is free to be 'lead writer' on others.

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20 minutes ago, Nail Soup said:

Reading between the lines, it sounds like the singer wants to get the ideas in slightly more embryonic form... and work from there.

 

This was what crossed my mind. If I have ideas I only really send out a basic drum pattern, bass and just enough guitar to give an idea of what the chords are. Everything else I leave to the band or people I'm working with.

Also, I'd  feel a bit deluged by 24 ideas. If I'd come up with that many ideas (if only !), I'd be inclined to send them out in groups of 3 or 4 - much less daunting for the recipients. Not everyone can come up with parts they're happy with quickly. It can take some time to mull ideas over.

Edited by ahpook
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“Nothing grabs him” well as the singer he should realise that although songs need great riffs, it’s in general the vocal melodies that are put over them that sell the songs. Which is his job, you’ve done your bit, it’s now over to him to get his creativity in gear. Maybe that’s the problem?

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Maybe look at it from the recipients' view?

I'm not a songwriter (I don't really have the creative streak necessary). I admire those that have it, but I don't. I'd try to flesh out ideas sent by someone else, but I'd need that start point. Perhaps some of your band-members are like that too.

I'm happy to be sent ideas to consider, but I'd feel swamped if someone sent me 24 ideas at once. What the hell am I supposed to do with this lot?

I'd also wonder about how serious the ideas are. Has the sender really spent some effort on them? Or are they just firing off idle noodling?

I'd prefer maybe only three or four at a time. Then I could devote my limited creativity to each one. It would also make the sender focus on what they consider to be the best ones.

Cheers (!)

Graham

 

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1 hour ago, Dad3353 said:

@AndyTravis Then don't give him 'great riffs'. Give him hollow shells for him to fill. ;)

But he’s not going to do anything other than sing...

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Cheers guys - nice “both sides of the fence” comments.

24 in total - these have been sent across the course of lockdown.

”I like that” “nice that one”

Then as the process with guitarists has stalled, and scheduled meet ups have been cancelled due to restrictions...he’s announced we need to get moving and putting stuff out there.

I re-sent everything I’d produced since March as a new folder... so they’d already had them in 1’s and 2’s - this was just so they were easy to find.

Some are solid ideas we’ve played in a room together - none were presented as “almost finished” and certainly any drum patterns or guitar parts were dropped in for flavour/to give an idea of desired pace/feel.

I will say Mr Singer has a habit of commenting on stuff without any constructive input. I’ve got more from the last 10 posts than the last 20 messages from him.

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4 minutes ago, AndyTravis said:

But he’s not going to do anything other than sing...

No, we're quite definitely on different wavelengths, here. To me, composition of lyrics is a 'dark art', and un-earthing singable melodies even more foreign. Our singer, for instance, sings very well indeed, over a range of styles. Ask him to come up with an original song, be it lyrics or, lyrics supplied, a decent line, and there's nothing. Singing is one thing, composing songs is quite another, and lyrics another still. If the fellow was signed up to do all of this, and has done in the past, I see your point, but even then, sometimes the well runs dry. I can't think of many singer/songwriters with prolific quality output (OK, there's Joni Mitchell, and a few more...) but they're a rare breed, I say.
What does he say to a basic chord sequence and a hint as to style..? 'Nuffin' comin'' or 'Give me a day or so'..?

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10 minutes ago, Dad3353 said:

No, we're quite definitely on different wavelengths, here. To me, composition of lyrics is a 'dark art', and un-earthing singable melodies even more foreign. Our singer, for instance, sings very well indeed, over a range of styles. Ask him to come up with an original song, be it lyrics or, lyrics supplied, a decent line, and there's nothing. Singing is one thing, composing songs is quite another, and lyrics another still. If the fellow was signed up to do all of this, and has done in the past, I see your point, but even then, sometimes the well runs dry. I can't think of many singer/songwriters with prolific quality output (OK, there's Joni Mitchell, and a few more...) but they're a rare breed, I say.
What does he say to a basic chord sequence and a hint as to style..? 'Nuffin' comin'' or 'Give me a day or so'..?

He’s the “change the chorus after months of rehearsal while in the recording studio” kind of guy.

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12 minutes ago, Dad3353 said:

No, we're quite definitely on different wavelengths, here. To me, composition of lyrics is a 'dark art', and un-earthing singable melodies even more foreign. Our singer, for instance, sings very well indeed, over a range of styles. Ask him to come up with an original song, be it lyrics or, lyrics supplied, a decent line, and there's nothing. Singing is one thing, composing songs is quite another, and lyrics another still. If the fellow was signed up to do all of this, and has done in the past, I see your point, but even then, sometimes the well runs dry. I can't think of many singer/songwriters with prolific quality output (OK, there's Joni Mitchell, and a few more...) but they're a rare breed, I say.
What does he say to a basic chord sequence and a hint as to style..? 'Nuffin' comin'' or 'Give me a day or so'..?

You can make all the excuses for him you like, but if Andy’s latest post is anything to go by, the guy isn’t even trying.

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I suspect the singer is feeling threatened by Andy's efforts and the quantity of them. Saying "the riffs are all great, but they sound like you’ve already developed them...” is equivalent to, "I didn't write this and there's no space in it for me to put in my four penn'orth and take some credit". 

The fact that he reportedly likes to change established material for no good reason supports that, as does criticising others' efforts whilst contributing nothing of his own.

Attempting to work with insecure people is always a recipe for disaster, in my experience. 

 

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No, no, I'm not trying to find excuses for this singer; simply working out where the problem lies, the better to fix it. Most of the ambiguity (to me...) has been elucidated now. If the bloke isn't up to the assignment, maybe it's an 'opportunity' opening for another singer/songwriter to have a go..? Are there any such folks on hand, or in the 'phone book..? Bringing one in for an audition would certainly send a clear message to the present singer, no..?

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“Creatively I'm thinking I've got a different idea of what I want then you guys. If we're going in different directions then that's just how it is and part of life.”

Sounds like he’s one foot out of the door. This sounds like his opportunity.

 

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9 minutes ago, AndyTravis said:

“Creatively I'm thinking I've got a different idea of what I want then you guys. If we're going in different directions then that's just how it is and part of life.”

Sounds like he’s one foot out of the door. This sounds like his opportunity.

Yes, best shot of I think mate. Sounds like a bit of a c8ckwomble.

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5 minutes ago, hiram.k.hackenbacker said:

Yes, best shot of I think mate. Sounds like a bit of a c8ckwomble.

Nice bloke, just very Alpha male. Doesn’t sit well with me sometimes. Not my way.

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Not the same thing but in my "real world" job I've gone from an environment of being given a task, completing it and bringing it back thinking it's done to only be admonished by the boss because I hadn't consulted with evey single other department no matter how unconnected and disinterested they could conceivably be... To now working in a place where whomever has time starts something then we all meet up and build the idea up together until we agree it's good enough to be called useable. I know which one I prefer! Really, they're both pretty much the same thing, only the ground rules are crystal clear in one environment and not in the other. But in the first environment I got sh!t for doing things my way and having to "own" it all the way through and get pulled from pillar to post to now all outcomes being owned by the team. 

Perhaps you and the guys and or girls in the band need to sort out the ground rules? Do they want your complete song, or an acoustic track, or you humming in to a mic or does someone want to say "hey I've always wanted to do a song called f*ck the Parish Council" and then you all build it out individually? Do they feel you are pushing your way of doing it on to them (I'm not saying you are, but we all know what muso types are like!) or do they want to try different things...? 

Having an open discussion will be enlightening. You could get everything from support for your way, to alternate ideas, to maybe someone saying they don't like any of it but have no ideas of their own... In which case it leads to a different type of discussion. Good luck

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@AndyTravis - it certainly seems like the602 are going through it right now.  In contrast to @Dad3353 I quite liked the Demo you posted in the Auditions thread.  Taking it for it is, an idea / demo to build on I thought it was great - you said  previously that you've been the primary song writer so I'm sure the guys are used to you throwing ideas out like this.

If I was in your band having 20+ ideas to work from would be great - In amongst all of that surely getting it down to 4 or 5 ideas with legs would be possible.  You don't strike me as some one who wouldn't be open to hearing suggestions on how they can be adapted to work in a full band setting i.e. if the singer wanting some space for the vocals or the guitarist wanted you to pull back a little to give some more room for the guitar.

1 hour ago, AndyTravis said:

“Creatively I'm thinking I've got a different idea of what I want then you guys. If we're going in different directions then that's just how it is and part of life.”

This seems to be the problem - sounds like he's got one foot out of the door.  Has he indicated to you guys what direction he does want to go in?  If not then I'd find this very frustrating - if he's not been open and sharing his thoughts / ideas about where the 2nd EP should go then it sounds like he's not being a particularly collaborative member of the band.

Good luck Andy, I hope you guys manage to work through this!

Edited by PatrickJ
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my two penneth...

Songwriting is more art than craft and expecting or demanding that band members join in is a waste of everybody's time and efforts if they just aren't any good at it.  No amount of insisting will get them to become good song writers, or song writers who work to your preferred methods.

I've been in bands where everybody wrote their own stuff and brought fully developed songs to the studio to be jammed and arranged; bands where everybody brought riffs and melodies to the band to see what fitted together into a song; and bands where one songwriter demanded that everybody play exactly the parts that he wrote for them. It's not about what works for you, it's about what works best for everybody.

If the singer isn't interested in writing lyrics or melodies, then get somebody else to do it - Rush and Akercocke (niche reference for the extreme metal fans there) haven't done too bad for letting the non-singing drummer write all the lyrics, and I've certainly been in bands where some members haven't wanted to participate in the writing or arranging, they just want to be told what to play/sing.  In cases where a singer has been slow to sort out the lyrics and melodies, I've written my own, but with the message that they are free to change whatever they want if they thunk they can do better (to help soothe their massive egos...they are singers, after all)

In the OP's position I'd do a bit more work at my end - start putting things together and rather than sending out 24 separate bits, how about one or two more developed songs.  That might help focus the others on what they think works, and prompt them into developing things if it sparks an idea, or if they think it can be done better

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