Continued from previous post: Looking Back Over My Shoulder
Of course, most contemporary bands need a frontman or woman, but it takes a particular kind of person to fill that role – and it’s okay if it’s not you.
To figure out whether you’re cut out for the part, you must be honest and clear about your aspirations and intentions. You need to identify what kind of artist you are; understand what makes you the best possible performer and creator you can be.
So, before you do what I did and start replying to ‘LEAD SINGER WANTED’ ads on joinmyband.com, do some introspective work to examine what makes you tick and what you are hoping to achieve by being part of a band.
After years of trying to be a cog in some or other ensemble, enduring awkward fall-outs and eventually feeling drained and uninspired by music entirely, I realised that I never really wanted to be in a band, that maybe it was just something I hid behind for all the wrong reasons.
For some people, band life is the best experience ever. You’re in a team, you collaborate on ideas, you have some outrageous road trips to play in the grubbiest venues imaginable. It would be wrong for me to sit here and pretend that I didn’t enjoy some of the time I’ve spent in bands. But it’s not always the case, and the good doesn’t always outweigh the bad.
I was excited to join Kid Kenosis. I’d just moved to the UK, I wanted to make friends, I wanted to see what the local music scene was like. In hindsight, I was a very proactive twenty-year-old. I did not waste any time in getting out there and being involved in music almost as soon as I’d settled into my new town and job.
Kid Kenosis had had a singer before me and some pre-existing songs. They weren’t looking to write anything new, they just wanted to remove her lyrics and melodies and have me write new ones.
Have you ever listened to a song and then tried to rewrite it?
I was so at odds with the concept. My brain resisted. I couldn’t connect with the songs because a) I was fighting with the first version of what I’d heard, b) I’d had no say in the music, and it felt like a really backwards writing process. I know that for many lyricists, this wouldn’t be an issue, but I really struggled.
Eventually, I got around it by simply not caring. I had to stop criticising everything I wrote and just put something down on paper and get on with it. I never felt proud of or pleased with any of it, it all seemed like a forced juxtaposition, but it was the only way to move forward with things. When it came to finally recording our EP, Sirens was the only song that was entirely mine.
While performing the songs was fun, it always put tremendous pressure on my vocal cords. I was really inexperienced in looking after my voice at that point, and I struggled to sing over the band at gigs and even rehearsals. But, admittedly, the fault was entirely my own. I’d put myself in that situation by not taking the time to figure out my own strengths and weaknesses as a singer.
I knew that I could write songs, I knew that the feedback I’d always received over the years was in praise of my ability to make an emotional connection through my singing. Yet here I was, going against myself again, shouting over a band in a style of music that didn’t resonate with anything I stood for.
We only ended up releasing that one EP, and then the band eventually disintegrated for various reasons. One being that I was in a relationship with our bassist’s ex-boyfriend’s best friend. Yeah, go figure. That came with its own set of complications and distractions that not only created tension but it also completely stifled my ability to write and my willingness to sing.
The key lesson from that scenario was: It’s okay to try something, but if it doesn’t fit you, if it leaves you feeling more empty than full, it’s not the right thing for you.
Don’t involve your personal life with your band life, no matter how good your friendships may be. People are people, some are weirder than others; it gets even weirder when there’s music involved.
And lastly, drop the ego.
It should always be about the music.
Everyone has to be open to improving, to writing, to practising, to being better; otherwise, you’re just singing the same old tune with some half-arsed lyrics, heading nowhere fast.
That band and all the people and situations it brought into my life set me on a very particular trajectory for the next few years. I don’t regret any of it, I did make some terrific friends, and I got to sing in some cool places like the 100 Club in London, but it also killed a lot of my passion and drive. It sucked me into dramas that I didn’t need to be involved in, and as a result, I made decisions that I wasn’t proud of.
But I know why I did it now. I know that I hadn’t spent enough time developing myself properly, understanding what it was that I wanted, having a real vision and confidence in my music. And when you’re already uprooted, you tend to cling to people and things that distract you from having to deal with your own badass self.
So, if you’re a vocalist and you’re thinking of joining a band, I’ve compiled a few things for you to think about first.
The pros of joining a band:
1. You get to collaborate with other musicians and add to your sound in ways that you wouldn’t have been able to do alone.
2. You could make lifelong friends that share similar interests to you.
3. From a performance aspect, being on stage with a band creates its own special kind of energy, and it’s a fantastic experience to share among friends.
4. It’s all for one and one for all, so you can all pool together for recordings and have more opportunities available to you. Or, better yet, different members of your band may have unique skills and resources that can help you to create and market your music.
The cons of joining a band:
1. You will have to learn to collaborate with people who may have a totally different creative direction to you, and you may grow to become increasingly frustrated with band politics.
2. Don’t expect everyone to put in the same hours of practice and dedication to their instrument. You may spend most of your band practice time hammering the same song and throwing dirty looks at the weakest link. That can get very toxic, very fast.
3. If you were friends before, you may become enemies soon. If people aren’t upfront about their ambitions and expectations of their role within the band, things can get pretty awkward. I once had a bassist who also wanted to be a lyricist and a vocalist. How do you not hurt someone’s feelings if you don’t think that either of those things are where their strengths lie?
4. Trying to make a band work, especially nowadays, takes a bigger financial investment than it would for a solo artist. There are more mouths to feed, more equipment to transport, larger rehearsal spaces are required, and it can be really hard to keep everyone motivated. Logistically, it can be super challenging to try and get everyone together to practice and write, particularly if you all have day jobs ( and what fledgling musician doesn’t need a day job?).
What it comes down to…
I just always wanted to bring my songs to life. I was looking for people who could colour my lyrics and melodies with their own talents and skills, and together, maybe we could make something that could sound far better than what it had started out as in my head. But finding such collaborators is difficult and very rare.
If I could go back and change anything, it would be to invest more time in my own musical abilities, so that I wouldn’t have to rely on other people to translate my ideas into the finished product, or at least I could communicate better as a musician myself.
Yes, eventually, if you make it as a solo artist you will end up playing with a live band behind you, but that’s an entirely different dynamic, and those people are paid to learn your songs and be there. Don’t ever join a band if all you’re looking for is free backing. Or if you are, make sure that everyone knows where they stand and what they’re happy to work on your project.
Before you can work with other people, you have to be able to work with yourself first. So up your skills, try new things, find what inspires you, what motivates you to write and what your writing style is, figure out what kind of performer you are. Only then can you truly understand what type of band you need to join or whether you need to join one at all. And if you do join a band, make sure that your band mates want to grow with you, that they have similar values to you and that their dream is your dream too.