Is simpler better?

Gene O.

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Have not been playing in a band situation for a few years but I'd toss my opinion here as a food for thought. When it comes down to money, the whole equation gets simple - the best option financially is to have a 1 man band if the audience really needs a "live" experience at all. If you care about logistics, get rid of the drummer and use some electronic gizmo instead. It seems to me that an exercise like "how many band members can I fire before anyone can spot the difference" makes not much of a sense. I know it may sound difficult to achieve but I'd stick to the sound you want to have and then figure out how many players and what instruments you need to have to achieve it. Once you get the sound that makes your band special and stand out, try to convince the bar owners to pay more for the more enjoyable experience. If you don't miss a second guitar much, than I'd ask myself if we utilize the two guitarist on stage set up to the fullest? Think of early E-Street Band - it's the overall wall of sound (aside from great songs and lyrics and the Boss's charisma) that made them stand out. And if managing larger band scares you, get some coaching or reading on team management - it's a skill to be learn, not a thing that should limit your chances to get the sound that's in your head. Think of the one guitar Rolling Stones gig - would you rather decide to manage Ron Wood and Keef, no matter how difficult it might be, or sacrifice the sound for the sake of peace?
Some irrelevance here, but you do bring up a good point or two.

I'm well aware of the "individual pay:number of band members" ratio, as well as logistics, etc, and we aren't looking to fire as many members as possible before anyone notices 😄. This is only about saying "the fifth member, and his sub, have issues, so maybe we should just stick with a 4-piece configuration (trio with a female lead vocalist) and call it a day.

Before I address the good points you made, I should probably update my original statement.

Since writing my OP, the young guitarist has removed one of the irons he had in the fire that automatically out him out of commission the minimum of every other month due to travel commitments. Since that change he has seemed to have a renewed interest in learning new material with the band. But he still has about 5 other projects going on, and they will eventually interfere with our band gigs.

The keyboardist played with us on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Friday night we also had the 2nd guitarist with us. That was the first time those two had met. First off, 6 pieces created some difficulties, but that was primarily because we weren't rehearsed. He didn't sing because he didn't need to with the young guitarist/singer there. It also increased the volume when needed to keep it down. At the end of the night the other guitarist said that he would just play acoustic guitar if all 6 of us play together again. But after that gig I doubt that all 6 of us will play any future gigs.

The keyboard guy played okay Friday night, but he played kind of bad on most of the songs Sat afternoon, and really butchered a few... and barely sang a word, probably because he had lost all confidence in what he was playing and couldn't release any brain cells for singing. So much for his good harmonies. He sounded pretty good at rehearsal on Thursday, but that all went out the window on a gig. You would think that someone who has been playing as long as he has wouldn't suffer from severe stage fright, but that seemed to be the case.

"stick to the sound you want to have and then figure out how many players and what instruments you need to have to achieve it"

That' not really possible because it isn't as though we have a catalog of available players that can fit in with us, or would want to. So we have to have to work the other way around - who and what instrumentation do we have available (and they have to be people we get along with), then choose material that fits our vibe and works with that config.

As I read all of the replies, and assess how our band gigs have been going, I'm starting to form the opinion that we should stop using the keyboardist after he fulfills his gigs with us this year, unless he shows a complete turnaround in his confidence and ability to play to our needs.

I'm also beginning to think that the 2nd guitarist should be relegated to acoustic guitar only. One of his faults (IMO) is that he still plays like he is in his old college trio where he never adjusts the volume on his electric guitar. It's always cranked at full gain. At least when he's playing acoustic, his playing falls to the background or comes to the foreground based on the dynamics the rest of us play with.

As for simple 4-piece vs expanded 5-piece, we may just work out a list of songs that we can play confidently as a 4-piece (which is almost anything), then use the other guitarist when he's available.

I don't want to manage anything except my own playing and vocals :twisted:. The others in the band have to manage theirs, and we should all manage to work out songs to our satisfaction together. The last thing I want to do is to tell someone else how to play their part so that it fits with the song, the style, the dynamics, etc. They need to be able to figure that out on their own.
 

regularslinky

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The vocals become a little more challenging with just 4 of us. The bass player and I sing the harmonies. My range is not so great anymore, but it's workable. The bass player has a better range, but sometimes complex bass lines prevent him from being able to sing parts. But just as with missing instrumentation, no one notices if there are mossing vocal harmonies.
I'm not so sure. Vocal harmonies don't need to be just like the recording by any means. But they need to be on pitch (of course) and I think laypeople would notice if they were missing entirely. For instance, we do "Already Gone" by the Eagles with 3 part harmony. If we had a 4th part, or if we only had 2 parts, I don't think most laypeople would notice the difference. But if we had no harmonies they would know that it sounded "wrong."

I've heard it said, and I tend to agree, that most laypeople key in on vocals and drums. If those things are good, they think the band is good, and vice versa.
 

Gene O.

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The more people in a band, the more problems you'll have ..... is my experience, so if you can cut it down then it's probably a good thing.
This... I cannot argue with!

I'm not so sure. Vocal harmonies don't need to be just like the recording by any means. But they need to be on pitch (of course) and I think laypeople would notice if they were missing entirely. For instance, we do "Already Gone" by the Eagles with 3 part harmony. If we had a 4th part, or if we only had 2 parts, I don't think most laypeople would notice the difference. But if we had no harmonies they some people would know that it sounded "wrong."

I've heard it said, and I tend to agree, that most laypeople key in on vocals and drums. If those things are good, they think the band is good, and vice versa.
I changed your Already Gone example to the degree that I think the harmonies would matter. Our singer wants to do that song, and we've tried it once or twice, but I started to exercise my veto power when she would bring it up because I just don't think we do the song any justice. I don't mind re-voicing harmonies according to our ranges, but if you want to do anything by the Eagles, the harmonies at least have to be dead on pitch, and both our lead singer and the bass player have not been to good at that on that particular song. The 3 of us do Peaceful Easy Feeling in an acoustic trio configuration, and I think we do that one just fine.

I agree that people key in on vocals, but mostly the lyrics (that they know).
 

loopfinding

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I play originals (so the material is totally dictated by us) but usually the core of my bands end up being myself and the drummer. I try to write in such a way that the music can still be executed with just guitar and drums (alternate/lower tunings, making solos sound right without a backing instrument, etc.).

But we usually have some bass player, guitarist, or keyboard player affiliates in the mix, who know or can learn the material quickly, well enough to join us for gigs if they’re free. So the size of the band can range from duo to quintet (though it’s usually max ever a quartet cause of people’s availability), and sometimes those groupings can be weird (two guitars and drums, or guitar, keyboard and drums).

Keeps things fresh without being dependent on anyone else but one person. Usually for recordings it will be myself on guitars and bass, and then the drummer. We might ask a keyboard player or another guitarist to contribute spice on top.
 
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Gene O.

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I play originals (so the material is totally dictated by us) but usually the core of my bands end up being myself and the drummer. I try to write in such a way that the music can still be executed with just guitar and drums (alternate/lower tunings, making solos sound right without a backing instrument, etc.).

But we usually have some bass player, guitarist, or keyboard player affiliates in the mix, who know or can learn the material quickly, well enough to join us for gigs if they’re free. So the size of the band can range from duo to quintet (though it’s usually max ever a quartet cause of people’s availability), and sometimes those groupings can be weird (two guitars and drums, or guitar, keyboard and drums).

Keeps things fresh without being dependent on anyone else but one person. Usually for recordings it will be myself on guitars and bass, and then the drummer. We might ask a keyboard player or another guitarist to contribute spice on top.
That's pretty much how we (the girl singer and I) operate - i.e. anything from duo to quintet. I started getting tired of working as a duo, so we've been forgoing some pay in order to expand to a trio, bringing in either the other guitarist or the bassist. Flexibility works! But for this discussion, it's about working as a 4 or 5 piece.

Wait… she SETS UP the PA? Where did you find her? Our female vocalist mostly just stands in the way.
She also paid for our demo videos. I know it sounds surreal, but it's true!
 

Quarter1969

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I appreciate your time to consider my remarks. I do hope no offense was taken for implying the "firing" approach :)

I don't want to manage anything except my own playing and vocals :twisted:. The others in the band have to manage theirs, and we should all manage to work out songs to our satisfaction together. The last thing I want to do is to tell someone else how to play their part so that it fits with the song, the style, the dynamics, etc. They need to be able to figure that out on their own.
I strongly believe in leadership in bands (not dictatorship, although it might be necessary once in a while) - at least a person with the best ear for overall musicality should be in charge of setting the volumes and influencing the sound character and quality of all the band, including asking someone to turn their volume down or up. If you do not interfere in such things than the band is not evolving and ppl are not learning anything. If a second guitarist is a gun for hire only, then you have all the right to expect some professionalism. If you don't get it from him, then I believe you should ask for changes in his playing that'd help the band sound better. At the end of the day is your band, your show and your reputation at stake. If you work with musicians a level or two below, say, Steve Morse, then it's perfectly OK to ask for certain things, for the common good and also for the benefit of the very guitarist. I have a tendency to be too loud myself but I'm not in Joe Bonamassa's position to say "I'm loud and I won't apologize for this" so I'd always react properly if someone would point it out and ask to turn the knob in the left direction.

I hope you'll manage to sort it out the way that will not negatively affect your sound as a band. Good luck!
 

Gene O.

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I appreciate your time to consider my remarks. I do hope no offense was taken for implying the "firing" approach :)


I strongly believe in leadership in bands (not dictatorship, although it might be necessary once in a while) - at least a person with the best ear for overall musicality should be in charge of setting the volumes and influencing the sound character and quality of all the band, including asking someone to turn their volume down or up. If you do not interfere in such things than the band is not evolving and ppl are not learning anything. If a second guitarist is a gun for hire only, then you have all the right to expect some professionalism. If you don't get it from him, then I believe you should ask for changes in his playing that'd help the band sound better. At the end of the day is your band, your show and your reputation at stake. If you work with musicians a level or two below, say, Steve Morse, then it's perfectly OK to ask for certain things, for the common good and also for the benefit of the very guitarist. I have a tendency to be too loud myself but I'm not in Joe Bonamassa's position to say "I'm loud and I won't apologize for this" so I'd always react properly if someone would point it out and ask to turn the knob in the left direction.

I hope you'll manage to sort it out the way that will not negatively affect your sound as a band. Good luck!
Haha! No offense. I completely got that firing remark. We'll just refer to it as "downsizing". :)

I'm pretty much in agreement with everything else, with a tweak here and there. I too hope we can get things sorted out, and I'm sure we will.
 

codamedia

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The 5th member is a 31 year old guitarist that is quite talented and adds a lot of the band with his acoustic/electric guitar and lead/harmony vocals. But he's got soooo many irons in the fire and this band isn't at the top of the list in his priorities. Consequently we've had to get a sub for him for a number of gigs

I am "that guy", albeit a lot older.
I have two very strong commitments, then fill in with many others.

This is my observation of how those other groups handle the transient member(s).

1: Make sure the core group is good enough to do a show without the "extra".
2: Keep the young "hot shot" in the group... there might come a time where YOU become his top priority.
3: Build a list of 3 subs... and create a silent pecking order. 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice, etc...
4: Don't expect those subs to want to rehearse... but do "demand" that they come to the show prepared.
5: Attitude > Ability.... Never give up on the sub with a great attitude.
5: Any extras/sub that doesn't come prepared, or shows up with a bad attitude... silently take them off your list.
 

Matt Sarad

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I was asked to audition for a gigging band after friend recommended me. They are busy.
I pitched it to the blues band I'm in.
They told me that it was not a good idea and it would cut into our schedule.
The new band plays 3 weekends a month.
the blues band is lucky to get 1.
 

Fiesta Red

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Our band (and our rigs) have been steadily shrinking for the past few years.

We were originally a quartet, occasionally a quintet…a couple of gigs with a horn section…now we’re a duo, lazily looking for a bassist or a second guitarist.

My rig is simpler, too, as is the drummer’s.

Maybe make all your songs “compete” without him, and let him join for special occasions or specific songs.
 

Spooky88

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Not much money in playing live. You do it because you enjoy it or at least I do. So keep the fun factor in your equation. Who adds to that? Is your setup and preparation better with one of the “extra” pieces? Do they make the gig easier to setup/tear down? There are no “wrong” decisions here. I suggest you do your best to keep an “open” door and hood musical relationships even if now is not the time to work together. Good luck!
 

pippoman

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My band will need to make some decisions going into next year. The core is the girl singer, bass player, drummer and me. The 5th member is a 31 year old guitarist that is quite talented and adds a lot of the band with his acoustic/electric guitar and lead/harmony vocals. But he's got soooo many irons in the fire and this band isn't at the top of the list in his priorities. Consequently we've had to get a sub for him for a number of gigs, and that has been a keyboardist who is pretty decent, but has his own faults when it comes to keys. He gets an A+ for putting in the work, but a B or B- for execution (sometimes he just doesn't get the style or feeling right). However, he does a pretty good job with harmony vocals, although his vocal range has suffered age-related reduction like mine.

We may cut the young guitarist loose and just use him for unrehearsed fill-in work, and cut the keyboardist completely, and just go back to where the band started - a trio with a lead vocalist. It would make a lot of sense in that simpler is better in regards to rehearsal and gig availability, band decisions, setup space and, of course, pay.
Where it becomes a little difficult let is the fullness of the sound. We don't play much or any of what I would call "rock". It's pop and dance-y covers that usually have lots of instrument parts and harmonies. A couple weekends ago we played a gig as a 4-piece and, as you would imagine, no one noticed a missing piece of the band. But we, the band members, do. However, we made some small adjustments in how we played a few songs - i.e. let the bass & drums start a songs instead the guitar rhythm, which has to drop out for a melody line. In other words, layer songs differently.

In some ways the idea of a small back sounds intriguing, whereas an 8-10 piece band with outstanding vocals and horns sounds like a dream. I'd love that dream to come true, but I probably won't. So maybe I should embrace th idea of being the sole provider of the bands instrumental harmony.
I’m in that situation with our band. The bassist is in 4 bands, one that gigs regularly and one not so much. The 4th band only plays 3 or 4 times annually and I’m in that one as well as our drummer, so there’s no conflict of interest. He’s a good bassist and great harmonist, loves our 5 piece group and tries to find a sub for one of other bands when our gigs overlap. Mind you, this is his only source of income, so our goal is to get a booking agent and go for the high paying gigs. He’ll follow the money, so the other bands will have to deal. We’re a few months from that goal, so next year we hope to be in a good place. If not, I’ll probably pack. I’d miss playing but wouldn’t miss the frustration.
 
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