Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I have the good fortune of being in the new band of a well-known indie rocker, whose most famous bands were active in the 90s. He is encouraging the rest of us to bring our own song ideas to the band. Here's where I'm stuck, though. How do I psych myself up for doing this?
I have plenty of experience writing and recording my own music, but when faced with this task, I am completely intimidated. I am afraid of wasting my band's time with sub-par material, and of potentially looking like a fool. But moreover, I am petrified that we would actually try to work on one of my ideas, and fans and critics would see it as a watering-down of the band's material. I'd rather stick to contributing small arrangement ideas or melodies here and there than risk a situation like that! But at the same time, I want to give it a shot because our leader is really into the idea of working on everyone's material. What should I do?
Angst E. Demo
Being in the band with the dude you are in a band with is many people's dreams, a high-class indie rock problem. He has never written a bad song (this, dear reader, is how you know that this letter isn't from a member of The Jicks)! Now, you have to show him your songs – even if they're actually bad — because he would probably take no greater pleasure than being in a super democratic band where everyone is free and happy and his star-status is subverted. He is just that effusive and cool. The people reading this who are in a band with some egotistical, preening leader want to punch your letter in the face. Ah, but what to do, what to do?
First, you gotta ease up on yourself. Self-doubt avails you nothing. Being critical of your own work is important; being negative is a trap. Especially before you have even crossed the bridge to the world collectively giving your songs the Gas Face. It is unlikely, even if your songs are totally decent, that your a-game is on par with your bandleaders–it's good you have already accepted that much. You gotta trot out some ideas just the same. And here is the real gift of being in a band with this dude–you get to collaborate and learn from a master. You might find that you bring out something in his playing or songwriting that adds a new dimension to the band. The whole purpose is to work on your song as a band and make it better, not bring in a perfect song. Perhaps you and him have some special hashing-out-the-song time after practice and you guys polish it right up. Worst case scenario your songs are awful and everyone says so right to your face and that is the end of that–you still get to be in an awesome band. No one is going to kick you out for trying and no one in the band will put a bad song on a record just to be polite. Also, remember that last Fugazi record? Some people love those super weird Joe Lally songs. There is no accounting for taste–and maybe you will benefit from that. You just have to get your mettle up, man!
Also, maybe it goes without saying, but when you start tailoring your art and decisions out of fear of your critics or fans, you will grow to hate being in your band. This is why you are in a punk band, not Maroon 5, so that those are not your prime considerations.
Best of luck. I look forward to the new album!