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Writing for a big band


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There are like 2 indie bands in my town and I'm in one of them. The bassist for the other is leaving after the summer, so we've been talking about merging bands into one big band. We're all friends and we decided that there would be two songwriters (like Wolf Parade, if you listen to them). I think it would be really fun to have a big band, and we'd probably be more entertaining and get better gigs. So, first of all, what do you think of the idea? The other band has a loud PA so volume won't be a problem.

 

More importantly, a 7 piece group pretty much requires arrangement. I've played jams with that many people, and parts just don't come together as quickly as when you bring a song to a couple guys and ask them to play along. How can I keep up with the parts? Should I start scoring everything in music notation or just record rough tracks and ask the band members to play something like it?

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A big band can be very cool, but part of what makes it cool is that everyone has to know their role and play A LOT LESS than they would in a smaller band.

 

Arrangements are important - it's sort of an explicit definition of what everyone's role is and how they can manage to stay out of each other's way. But it is often easier to let people come to that conclusion on their own instead of just walking in and telling someone - "you have to lay out until the second chorus, and then you don't come back in until the outro". I would try to have a few jams first before bringing in song arrangements, but you know the personalities and the group dynamics that you are dealing with.

 

And this might be a Backstage with the Band issue, but even if you are playing bigger gigs your are splitting the take many more ways.

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Your post made me think of the New Pornographers. They're a great example of rsadasiv's point about holding back within songs. Some members only appear on a few songs on each record, and there's a lot of doubling parts live.

 

I think the key word here is ego. Most musicians have a sizeable desire to be in the spotlight for a fair amount of time. In a seven-piece band, there's a lot less spotlight to go around.

 

If everyone is cool with that idea -- and happy to focus on the group rather than the individual -- I think a big band would be a lot of fun.

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I have seen lots of big groups, mostly southern rock, blues or jazz. To be successful and not sound like a bunch of noise, make sure that you use those guitars wisely. Don't all play the same bar chord or exact same thing. Take a "G", for example. One person plays down low on the neck, another plays the bar chord. Another plays an accent high on the neck. Make sure that there are acoustics and electrics, even on a hardrock tune, that fills out the sound very nicely.

 

If you get my meaning... try those simple tricks and you will sound great, if you play "together". Jam sessions can sound fantastic with great musicians... or sound like {censored} if everyone blasts the same power-chords in a mish-mash of ill-timed one-up-man-ship.

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