This weekend marked another victory lap for our Adult Bands @ Brooklyn Music Factory. We held another incredible show at the Rock Shop in BK featuring four of our bands and all performing radically different sets of music. I was struck by two things: One, each one of the bands had put together a unique identity based on the individuals in their group. You would expect ‘beginning’ bands to all look and act the same, turns out they don’t. Not in the slightest. Second, each band had crafted a wonderfully diverse collection of songs to present. If you thought that a band would put forth just one style or even genre of music, you are mistaken. In one band the song choices ranged from Cindy Lauper to Queen & in another they ranged from a Gospel tinged original to A Tribe Called Quest cover. The range was massive! And this got me thinking….How and why do we select songs for our band OR what makes a good song choice for your band?
Music is funny in that we have attached great meaning to specific genres/artists and/or songs based on when we were exposed to them. At different times in our life, music can play an incredibly important role. It can down right define who we think we are. Think how clearly you remember what you listened to in high school but then ask yourself…what were you checking out in your late 20’s? The late 20’s are kind of a blur, but you can still recite all of the lyrics to U2’s entire Joshua Tree. When we are young, much of our musical tastes are formed, we choose this band over that band, Dance Music over Metal, angry over sad….and for the most part, people usually stick with these early choices. Sure, once in a while a Nora Jones comes along and sweeps up a whole pile of new listeners and you might add Adult Alternative to your accepted genres, but really, if you ask yourself how truly open to new sounds you have been since those formative years, you will probably come to the same conclusion as many others, musical tastes get defined early.
Fast forward….Now your joining a band for the first or maybe second time (with a 20 year hiatus) and it comes time to pick songs to play. Naturally we choose those songs we always loved from way back in the day. We choose the martial that has defined our musical character for the last 20 years. Only problem is that the Metallica song you are SUPER psyched to work on isn’t even remotely close to the Bob Dylan song your band mate brought in. Or the Psychedelic Furs classic from Pretty In Pink (your favorite movie) that you are absolutely positively sure everyone can agree on (because who doesn’t love that drum beat), no one else has even heard before. What?! You have never heard this song before!
OK..So what is the right criteria for picking the perfect song for your new band? At Brooklyn Music Factory, we see four essential criteria:
1. Stay Democratic: Represent as many members of the group as possible. Or another way to put it, check the music ego at the door. There are always going to be new songs added and new gigs to play, so be sure to get every band members favorites in the mix.
2. Diversify: Open each band’s ears up to as many genres as possible. Goal = Maximum Exposure. Diversity, in our view, is the spice of life. So we love a set that has both Dance Music and Metal.
3. Learn Always: Every song is a learning opportunity. This point is essential but can be forgotten as ego creeps back into the music making process. The bands that form at Brooklyn Music Factory are gathering to learn the tools needed to make music as a group. At the end of each band rehearsal/class we want all the musicians to walk away with another nugget of truth. Execution and perfection are always secondary to learning the process. And I have never ever met a song that did not present at least a few nuggets of truth.
4. Avoid Frustration: Is the song within reach? This is where the teacher/coach is key. One basic criteria for any Brooklyn Music Factory Faculty member is that they have played lots and lots of gigs. And the simple reason is that we want our bands to learn from a pro what it takes to get to play lots and lots of shows. Some songs present more challenges than others, or another way to put it, many more nuggets of truth. If a song has too many sections, chord progressions that are too complicated, or a basic groove that is too advanced, there is no point in an absolute beginning group trying to tackle it. To be sure, each band needs to reach but only for material that is just within their grasp. Song choices need to stay right on your edge but never beyond it.
So, next time you are in a band meeting about possible song choices, and someone presents what you view as the the worst choice ever, take a moment to step back and ask yourself, does the song meet each one of the above criteria. If so, it might just be worth trying. Playing music is meant to surprise us and make us feel in a whole new way. Choosing the right song is part of that journey.