How To Make Your Band Sound Great
How To Make Your Band Sound Great reveals:
• The answer to, “Why doesn’t my band sound as good as (fill in the blank)?
• The secrets to making your band play tighter
• How to get the most out of every rehearsal
• What a promoter or booker looks for when hiring a band
• How following the “3 P’s” will make you a better singer
• How to build your set list for maximum impact
• The steps to resolving conflicts in the band
• The arrangement techniques of the pros
• How to improve your stage presence
• and much more!
What It's About
Beyond the skill involved in playing an instrument, getting musicians to play together well is an art form in itself. The secrets of how a guitarist, bassist, vocalist, drummer, keyboard player, and more can come together to create a unified sound usually reveal themselves only after years of stage and studio experience – but this book is a shortcut!
If you’re ready to take your band beyond countless rehearsals and fast-forward to a professional sound, How to Make Your Band Sound Great is the guide you need to get you there.
How To Make Your Band Sound Great is a book that shows your band how to play to it’s fullest potential. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play, what your skill level is, or if you play covers or your own music, this book will make you tight, it will make you more dynamic, it will improve your show and it will improve your recordings.
The book also covers what you have to do as an individual player to make your band tighter. No matter what you play, there’s something there for all kinds of players, be it guitar, bass, drums, vocals, keyboards, horns, percussion, and even DJs.
The book covers all the things that bands need to know to play better together, like how to play dynamically and why that’s so important, how to pay attention to attacks and releases to make your band tighter, why playing at a faster tempo sometimes actually creates less excitement, how to play at different volume levels yet maintain the same intensity, why builds and turnarounds are so important, and how to find the right volume level for the room.
Plus you’ll find other useful tips important to the improvement of the band like how to get the most out of every rehearsal, how to write better songs, how to deal with a sore throat, the secret of playing with backing tracks, the easiest way to get a great recording of your gigs and rehearsals, studio tricks that the pros use to make great recordings, platinum-record arranging tips that work every time, and everything you wanted to know about making a professional live video.
And there’s loads of advice from successful pros who were once where you’re at right now.
Complete with a 40-minute instructional DVD, How to Make Your Band Sound Great supplies instant access to producer and engineer Bobby Owsinski’s years of real-life professional experience with bands of all types as a player, recording engineer, and record producer. The book-and-DVD package provides all you need to know to get your band on the way to sounding great using the techniques of veteran professional performing acts in the studio and on the stage.
Kind Words From Readers
Loved the book! I have learned so much and it’s really going to make me a better player
Alex McKenzie – Drummer for The Aggrolites
It’s stuff all pros would have picked up, but that a lot of amateurs desperately need to know! I passed this on to another musician when I finished with it.
…and dozens more like it!
Let's Look Inside
Table Of Contents
Chapter 1 – How do I sound make myself sound great?
Influence vs imitation
How to get the most out of your influences
Just because xxx does it…..
Know your limitations – just play what you play well
Use great sounding gear that fits
And on time
Chapter 2 – Guitar
2 Defining Moments For A Guitar Player
Less is more
That’s what tone controls are for
Clash of the guitar players
Laying in with the rhythm section
What your audience hears
The Recording Guitar Player
The Guitar Player’s Utility Kit
Chapter 3 – Bass
The defining moment for a bass player
What you hear isn’t necessarily what everyone else is hearing
Your sound – that’s what tone controls are for
The Recording Bass Player
The bass player’s utility kit
Chapter 4 – Drums
Simple is best
The Concepts of Feel and Internal Time
Rushed Or Lazy Fills
Are You Playing Too Loud?
Know Your Instrument
The Recording Drummer
The Drummer’s Utility Kit
Chapter 5 – Keys
Defining Moments Of A Keyboard Player
The Classic Patches
The Keyboard Player On-Stage
Getting To The Stage
The Quick Set-up
The Recording Keyboard Player
The Keyboard Player’s Utility Kit
Chapter 6 – Vocals
The 3 P’s – Pitch, Passion, Pocket
You’ve got to hear yourself
Change the key
Take care of yourself
If you get a sore throat
Take some lessons
Harmony Vocals take more time
Rehearse without the band first
Phrasing is everything
Attacks and, especially, releases
Background vocals need attention too
The Recording Vocalist
Chapter 7 – Percussion, Horns, DJ’s and Others
It doesn’t matter what you play, the rules are the same
For horn players
For other instruments
PART 2 – How Do I Make My Band Sound Great?
Chapter 8 – The Keys To Greatness
How To Learn To Play Dynamically
Don’t Confuse Volume Level With Intensity
Play Together – Listen to each other
Timing Is Everything
Starts and Stops
The Groove and the Pocket
How To Find The Pocket
Attack and Releases
Everything clean and crisp
“How are you playing it?”
Faster does not create more excitement
Calm down on the gig
A click can help
Play Big, Not Loud
You don’t have to be just like the record, just sound good
Chapter 9 – It’s All In The Song
Arrangements are the key
Clash of the guitar players
Cover Song Arrangements
Original Song Arrangements
Rules For Arrangements
Let’s Discuss Your Songs
Dynamics On Records
They’re not “Originals”
Chapter 10 – Rehearse Wisely – Plan Ahead
Have an agenda
Know your parts before you get there
Have any questions before you get there
Practice goo time management
A few rehearsal tips
You Gotta Hear Yourself
Practice in the round if possible
It’s the little things that count
The dress rehearsal
Chapter 11 – You Need the Stage Time
All gigs are welcome
How not to get gigs
Top 39 annoying things that bands do
How loud should we play?
Big instead of loud
Even frequency balance
Chapter 12 – Record Yourself
Recording Your Gigs
A simple track sheet
It’s time to mix
Now For Some Serious Recording
There’s no such thing as a demo
The way to make your recordings sound great
Pros are pros for a reason
It’s a different mindset
Different gear for the job
Tips for a great recording
You hardly ever sound great the first time
It’s a lot of work
The importance of a producer
This isn’t a party
Chapter 13 – The PA
Voices come first
The Graphic EQ Is Not A Tone Control
Why Is There Feedback?
Ringing Out The System
Let’s Hear Those Vocals
Benefits of IEMs
Disadvantages of IEMs
What’s In Your Mix?
Chapter 14 – Be Professional (at all levels)
What is a professional?
The importance of diplomacy
The importance of compromise
Steps to resolving a conflict
Sticky situations and how to unstick them
How to keep a band together
There’s always somebody else
Who’s the leader?
Chapter 15 – Your Show
It’s more than a collection of songs
An Amateur Show
A Tight, Professional Show
A Big Production Show
Your Set List
The big ending
Playing with backing tracks
The Stage Plot
Setting up on a large stage
Chapter 16 – The Importance Of Video
Video As A Learning Tool
Making A Great Live Video
Audio is 50% of the final product
Audio recording tips for video
Get a tripod
If You’re Making A Music Video
Get establishing shots
B-roll is so important
Shoot more than one take
Shoot a lot more than you need
Don’t mix formats
Some Special DVD’s To Check Out
Chapter 17 – To Summarize
PART 3 – The Interviews
Chapter 8 Excerpt - The Keys To Greatness
The Keys To Greatness
Now that you have a better idea of how your individual skill as a player determines how your band sounds, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of putting all the pieces together to make your band sound great.
This entire section has tips for taking your band’s performance to the next level. I promise you that if you spend even a little time on each of these items, you’ll see positive results immediately. As with everything in life, the more work you put in, the better the result will be.
If you learn only one thing from this book and DVD it’s that playing with dynamics is the greatest key to making your band sound great. It’s an improvement that both you (the band) and your audience will notice immediately, and will automatically separate you from about 90% of other bands on the planet.
So what are dynamics? Simply, it means playing quietly or with less intensity in certain places in a song, and louder or with more intensity in other places. Most bands are oblivious to dynamics and play at one volume throughout the entire song, song after song, set after set. This gets boring and tedious for the audience very quickly.
Generally speaking, here’s how you do it.
When the song starts the band plays fairly loudly, about 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
When the vocal or lead instrument (if the group is instrumental) comes in at the verse, the band drops down to about 4 or 5.
When the chorus comes in, the volume level comes back up to a 7 or 8.
When the 2nd verse begins, the band drops down to a 5 or 6 level (notice it’s a little louder than the first verse, but not as loud as the chorus).
When the 2nd chorus begins, the band comes back up to a 7 or 8.
When the bridge, or whatever section is the peak of the song, the band comes all the way up to 9 or 10.
The band drops down to 7 or 8 for the outro of the song.
If the song has a breakdown, the level might come down as low as a 1 or 2.
While the level of intensity (and as a result, volume level) may change from the numbers indicated above for each song and depending on what finally feels the best, that’s basically how it’s done. If the band plays the song dynamically, the song breathes volume-wise. Going from loud to quiet or quiet to loud is called “tension and release” and it’s a basic quality of all art forms (in painting it would be dark to light colors, photography it would be light to shadows, etc.). Tension and release keeps things interesting.
There are a few byproducts from playing dynamically too. The vocals can be heard better because there’s more space and fewer loud instruments to fight against (easier on the singer as well). Songs become more fun to play because there’s true interaction with the other players to make it work, and as a result, the band automatically gets tighter. And the audience perceives dynamics in a way that you wouldn’t expect – suddenly they’ll start telling you how tight you sound.
Dynamics also applies to a set or show as well. You might start off with a couple of songs that are a 7 or 8 in intensity, back off to a ballad or something acoustic in the middle of the set that’s a 3 or 4, then end the set with an 8 or 10. Once again, tension and release.
For a really great example of dynamics, listen to “Smells Like Team Spirit” by Nirvana where the verses are at about a 5, the pre-chorus at 7 and the chorus just roar at 10.
How to learn to play dynamically
Most bands learn to play dynamically naturally without thinking if just one player is dynamics-aware and the others follow (it helps if that one aware person is the drummer). Usually if a band is together for a long enough time and plays enough gigs, dynamics will magically seep into its playing after the band begins to get some self-awareness of just what it takes to get a crowd going. You can bypass years of waiting for these things to happen by themselves by just using the following method.
When the band learns a song, treat the dynamics as an integral part of the song (because they are) and spend as much time learning them the same way that you would with the chord changes and groove. As shown above, map out each section of the song on a loudness scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the loudest.
Now the next step is the most important – make sure that each band member agrees on how loud or quiet each dynamic number is. In other words, be sure that the drummer’s 8 level is the same as the rhythm guitar player’s, and the 2 level of the bass player is the same as the lead guitarist. After that’s commonly agreed upon, rehearse the dynamics of a song until they’re second nature, then watch the audience take notice.
Don’t Confuse Volume Level With Intensity
A common complaint from a band that’s being taught dynamics is, “The song just doesn’t drive when we play the verse (or any other section) quietly.” That’s because it’s easy to confuse volume level with intensity.
Most bands tend to get sloppier the softer they play. They begin to play the individual beats at slightly different levels and even have slight tempo variations between beats. As a result, playing softly sounds wimpy. Another thing that happens is that the band is so used to playing at one (usually loud) level, that anything compared to that level sounds so different that it’s perceived as less exciting. The same thing happens when you drive your car at 80 MPH for a long time. When you bring it back to 65, it feels slow even though it’s not. And finally, the internal dynamics of each individual (remember those from back in Chapter 1?) usually go out the window. Instead of playing crisp yet quiet with the same attack and releases as at the higher volume level, the attack and releases get relaxed so the playing becomes less precise.
So the real trick is learning to actually play with the same intensity at lower levels. Make sure the tempo is even, the groove stays the same as at the higher volume, and the attacks and releases are the crisp and you should be powerful at any volume level.
Another part to playing dynamically is playing attention to builds. Builds usually occur during turn-arounds (like the two or four bars between the verse and chorus), but can sometimes occur at the beginning or ending of a song too. For a good example you’ll find a build at the beginning of each section of Rush’s Spirit of Radio. Once again, all band members have to play the build the same way, starting from the same low volume to about the same high volume. Builds are easy to overlook and many times a band will think that it’s performing one well if it just plays the rhythm of the build cleanly. But a build is called that for a reason, since just playing it cleanly doesn’t mean much unless there’s an actual volume difference.
Play Together – Listen To Each Other
One of the fundamental errors that band members frequently make is not listening closely to the rest of the band. It’s easy to just focus on yourself, but in order to play well together, it’s listening to everyone else that really counts. This is the single most important action you can take when playing with other musicians.
Paul McCartney Guitarist Brian Ray Interview Excerpt
At a time in his life when many professional musicians are a bit jaded and burnt out, Brian Ray still has the same sense of fun and enthusiasm of a 15 year old in his first garage band. Never mind that he may be at what many might consider a musical pinnacle by being in Paul McCartney’s touring band, or that he’s had a career studded with great gigs and hit writing (like a #1 in three formats for Smokey Robinson), Brian’s still the same down-to-earth guy that you’d expect to find at the local Tuesday night jam.
Brian was kind enough to share some of his insights garnered from a wide range of experiences that vary from starting out playing clubs and parties to writing a number one song to sharing the stage with a number of musical legends all over the world.
How did you get the gig with McCartney?
At my birthday party my friend Abe (drummer Abe Laboriel Jr.), who toured with me with Mylene Farmer and Johnny Hallyday, told me he was now working with Paul McCartney and they were going on tour but were looking for a guitar player who could play bass. I just put my arm in the air and said, “I’d love a shot at that,” which was way out of my character to do something like that. I’d always gone from gig to gig by word of mouth and I was normally too shy to stick up for myself like that. A couple weeks later I got a call from Paul’s producer David Kahne to come to his office in Hollywood. We just talked music and then he handed me a bass and I played a little while we were just chatting. Then he handed me a guitar and we chatted some more when he finally said, “We’re doing one song at the Super Bowl in 2002 and we’re looking for someone to play bass. Are you into it?” Of course I was into it! He said that they were looking at a couple of other guys but he had a good feeling about me and would put my name forward. The next day I got a call to see if I could be on a plane to new Orleans the day after that to play a song with Paul McCartney!
I played the gig and it seemed to have worked out well. I was shaking Paul’s hand at the end where I said, “Thank you. It was a real privilege and if I don’t get to see you again, thank you very much,” when I realized that I couldn’t let go of his hand (laughs), but he invited me back to the bar for a drink with the rest of the band. At the end of the night he was saying his goodbyes to everyone when he said, “Welcome aboard, Brian. Stick with Abe and Rusty (guitar player Rusty Anderson) to show you the ropes and I’ll see you in five weeks.” I couldn’t believe that I was in after only one song! So I just ran home and started woodshedding and cramming. I set myself up like I was training for the Olympics and went through all his material from The Beatles to Wings to the solo stuff and just applied myself to it for five weeks, knowing that he may come in and change everything that I learned or even just let me go. So I didn’t treat it like I had the gig, I treated it like I had another audition. It just so happens that we had five days of rehearsal as a band before Paul got there so we were all prepared by the time he arrived. After the first rehearsal he said, “Hey guys, sounds great. I’ll see you tomorrow.” That was really the first time I allowed myself to think, “I’m going on tour with Paul McCartney.”
It must be intimidating to play his parts with him being there.
I just didn’t put that in my mind. I guess I was nervous but I just didn’t look up too much for the first couple of weeks. It was all I could do just to play and sing the parts right at the same time because there’s a lot of counterpoint vocals where you’re singing and playing in two directions. I didn’t have any time or energy for the existential idea of playing bass for The Beatles bass player (laughs).
What are your live rigs like?
I have two Ashdown bass rigs with the heads kept off-stage. Then I have two Divided By 13 guitar amps as well. I use two 19 watt 9/15 heads and two 2×12 cabinets on stage with a simple pedalboard. Also, I play 12 string on Band On The Run and acoustic 6 string on a lot of songs, so I have to be ready to play a different instrument on every song that we do.
What guitars and basses are you using?
When I’m playing with Paul I use a ’61 Les Paul SG, a ’65 Reissue SG and a ’59 Gretsch Double Anniversary that I like to use. For bass I use a Gibson SG bass and a Guild M85 bass from the early 80’s. I also use a Taylor 12 string and a ’63 Gibson Dove six string. Sometimes I’ll also sometimes use a James Trusart guitar, a Patick James Eggle guitar, or a variety of other guitars like Les Pauls, although I think I’m going to play Les Paul Jr.’s on the next tour.
You said you use a simple pedalboard. What are you using?
I’m using a Demeter Compulator, a Divided By 13 Joyride (a great overdrive pedal) and Dyna-Ranger treble boost, Line6 delay and modulation pedals, a volume pedal, and a Divided By 13 Switchazel that has a buffer in it. Then, believe it or not, I use an Alesis Mirco-Reverb for some of The Beatles stuff where you want some reverb on stage. It’s the best sounding stage reverb that I’ve heard.
How is it different playing with Paul than all the other gigs you’ve had?
He calls upon us to want to do everything we can at the highest possible level. He’s really great to work for and he’s not tough on us but the material itself is very demanding and keeps you focused. There’s a lot to think about when you have to sing some of those background vocal lines while playing that intensely during an almost three hour show. And lot of his post-Beatles stuff has a lot of the song structures that are not as simple or predictable as you would think they are. We just learned a song from Wings called Mrs. Vanderbuilt that we played in concert in Kiev recently. It only has three chords, then a release section with another three chords, and you’d think it’d be very simple but the song form is so strange and completely unpredictable that I defy anybody to play that song down faithfully the first time. So the music just requires a lot of concentration. You want to do your very best when you’re playing those songs along with that voice for that audience we get to play for.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out playing in bands?
I would say to listen more than you play. Pay attention to downbeats from the drums and bass and play those downbeats with total conviction. Play with good time and think of that as more important than playing with energy or technical ability. Playing with good time and with good attentive energy is the most important thing.
And keep your ears and your body pointed towards whomever is the singer. People just showboating and facing the other way when somebody’s carrying the song doesn’t help the whole. It’s really got to be about the singer when you’re playing.
Session Guitarist Pete Thorn Interview Excerpt
Session Guitarist Pete Thorn
Peter Thorn is the perfect example of the fact that if someone who is willing to take the giant step of leaving home for the big city and work hard at his craft, a lot of really good things can happen along the way. As you’ll soon read, Peter left his native Canada for Hollywood, soaked up as much information has he could, worked constantly on his chops and sound, and eventually became a much in-demand session and touring guitarist and artist in his own right. Peter is a shining example of a professional musician – excellent chops, excellent sounds (who sings great as well), yet easy-going, humble and approachable. Below he outlines his keys to success.
How about some of your background?
I grew up in Edmonton, Canada and started playing guitar when I was fourteen. When I was nineteen, I moved to Los Angeles to go to Musician’s Institute and attended that for a year. When I got out of school I joined a band with a couple of older musicians who were pretty well known in LA (Frank Simes and Jennifer Condos) who were touring with Don Henley at the time. Frank had a bunch of songs and was trying to get a record deal when he wasn’t playing with Don. It was cool because they were much older than me – they were in their mid-thirties and I was like nineteen – so I learned a lot from those people. I spent about five years in the band and we did a record for Japan and Southeast Asia. When that ended around 1995, I started doing a lot of sessions and touring.
Right now I’m playing with Chris Cornell but before I played with a bunch of other artists like Jewel, Daniel Powter, Alicia Keys and Courtney Love. I was also in the group Five For Fighting for a while and toured with them.
What’s your live setup like?
With Chris I’m using a “wet-dry-wet” rig which uses an typical head and speaker cabinet combination, but takes a tap taken off the signal that’s going to the cabinet. That’s fed at line level out to some some effects that are fed into a stereo power amp that’s connected to a couple of cabinets that sit on either side of the main one in the center. So the center cabinet is the dry, direct guitar sound and the outside cabs have a stereo delay or a bit of reverb in them. That allows both me and the sound man to have independent control over the dry signal and a blend of the stereo effects, so if I’ve got a stereo Leslie thing going on, or stereo delays bouncing back and forth on those outside cabs, he can control it if he thinks he’s got too much in the house. The other thing is I can mix the dry signal into the wet cabinets to get louder if I need to for a solo boost or something. It’s just a very flexible way to do it.
What kind of amps?
Right now I’m using a few different things. In the studio I’ll use all manner of different amps from vintage amps like Fenders and Marshalls and weird things like Supros, but on the road I use a combination of different heads. I’m using one built by a guy named John Suhr (suhrguitars.com) that’s a custom-made head based on his OD-100 amp and called a PT-100 for my name. It has two channels – one that’s Fender clean, and one that’s a Marshall-like distortion channel. I also use a Divided By Thirteen (dividedby13.com) RSA-31 head, which is another boutique amp. At times I’ll also use an amp by Comet (electrosonicamplifiers.com), so I’m sort of a boutique amp guy. I like the hand-wired, small company stuff.
What guitars do you take with you?
With Chris I’m using five different Les Pauls, as well as a Darco model which is like a 335, then I have a tele and two strat-like guitars built by John Suhr.
What are your effects?
Right now I’ve got the TC G-System which is my MIDI controller as well as a loop switcher that I can integrate various pedals like a Trinity overdrive, a Boss Fuzz, Line6 rotary simulator and a Peterson tuner that are on the pedal board. Back in the rack for the wet-dry-wet system I use a unit called the Axe-Fx (fractalaudio.com), which is a two rack space processor that’s like a big super powerful Pod because it has amp simulators and everything in it, but I’m only using it for effects. So I have the TC and all the pedals in front of the amp (signal-wise) and then post-amp I have the Axe-Fx for long delays and reverbs and stuff like that.
What do you usually bring with you to the studio?
I don’t bring much any more because if I’m working at (producer/writer) Linda Perry’s, she has so much stuff there that it’s sort of fun to go and just pick through the stuff that’s there. (authors note: Linda’s studio has the most fantastic collection of vintage gear I’ve ever seen in a studio, and I’ve been in 100’s of studios all over the word.) If I am going to do a session on my own and I need to bring something, I’ll bring the TC pedal board and either a 1×12 or a 2×12 speaker cabinet with these little heads built by Suhr called Badgers – there’s one that’s 18 watts and another that’s thirty watts. I really like them because they’re versatile and sound great with pedals. For guitars, I’ll try to bring a Les Paul, a Strat, a Tele, and maybe one acoustic.
Do you have any tips as a session musician?
I would say an important thing for me is to serve the song at all times. Try to keep an open mind and if someone has an idea in the room then always let that idea be heard. If it involves you trying something different in the part that you’re playing, you can’t get defensive about it. You have to just let it happen because that really goes a long way towards creating a good atmosphere in the room. When everybody drops their ego and just tries to serve the song, I find that the best idea will rise to the surface and everybody will recognize it. It’s human nature to want our ideas to be the best ones, but if you can be open to others suggestions you can learn something and maybe do something that you wouldn’t have thought of doing.
Now that you’ve worked your way up through the ranks to where you are now, what kind of advice would you give to someone who’s just working in a club or cover band?
If you’re in a bar band and playing covers, it really depends upon your goals and aspirations. A lot of people don’t want to write songs and go any further than that because they’re happy just playing on the weekends, so then it comes down to honing your songs and your chops and maybe taking singing lessons to make sure that your background vocals are really tight.
If what you’re trying to do is break out to have a career as an artist, I’d be playing in the clubs on the weekends but be constantly writing songs and recording as much as possible. When I first moved to LA in that band I was telling you about, we’d go play cover gigs two or three nights a week for fun and to make some money, but during the week we’d always be writing and recording. We cranked out about 50 songs over a couple year period and that eventually got us a record deal (which is what everyone wanted back then). When you do that you just get better and better at writing and honing the sound of your band. I’ve got a lot of friends who played in cover bands, particularly where I came from in Canada because there was a really strong cover band scene there, but they never were really able to bust out of that because all they did was play covers and never tried to write anything. But like I said, it all depends on your goals. Some people don’t want the work that comes along with developing your own music because they only want to do it for fun.
One of the things that will really help if you’re in a cover band is to work individually on your parts before you get to rehearsal because you can get so much more done. You can get through a lot of songs if everyone has done their homework because it’s just fine tuning the song in rehearsal at that point.