Stalking the Muse

I’d like to share a couple methods that certain bands/musicians have employed in the artistic process of music creation. This is a companion piece to the “why is so much music considered derivative” discussion. Copyright law is complex and ever evolving under judgements made by the courts in cases brought before them. I am not recommending any course of behavior on your part… just sharing anecdotal accounts that were told to me or witnessed. Each band is unique and so is their story. 

The prevalence of technology has expanded the possibilities of choice to a degree inconceivable just a couple decades ago. Who would have thought you could buy a guitar amp with multiple preamp sounds, multiple cabinets, multiple fx down to mic types and even mic positioning on specific speakers. 
It is easy to get so overwhelmed with choices that the philosophy of variant minimalism has naturally popped up on the radar. The idea is that, in advance, you limit yourself to very few choices and the act of limitation will determine a concise, focused outcome. We all know an electric guitar with its 20 plus frets is great for range, but is it ideal for writing songs? 

This story I heard from a producer familiar with the band. 
Paul Rogers, superb vocalist of Bad Company and later the Firm, utilized this technique when writing original material aimed for the rock radio market. No amps - no drums - no mic or PA. 

The drummer would play on a cardboard box with brushes. The bass was an acoustic hollow body or another acoustic guitar. The singer would write/modify lyrics. He sang without a mic and the guitarist was only allowed to play an acoustic guitar. Backing vocal harmonies were also developed here. In this way they stripped everything down to only essential elements. No cymbal crashes, no clever ride cymbal counter rhythms.

The nature of the acoustic guitar is limited by its design and no chords above the 5th fret were allowed. No E7b5 chords on the 12th fret. Extended range voicings can be tricky for the ears. C F G Gm D Dm E Em A7 Am B7 Gm etc … all with root or 5th bass notes as the lowest frequency. In such an intimate atmosphere lyrical suggestions can be expressed and decided upon. Once everyone in the group was satisfied, and only then, did they move the composition to the Marshall laden full stage for final Rock and Roll arrangement. 

I once auditioned for a group in Southern California and was immediately impressed with the coherency of the chord progressions. The tune stayed just the right amount of time on the intro, the verse was elegantly simple and the transitions to the chorus and hell yeah, cool bridges too.

This guitar player only really knew the two types of barre chords based on the E and A major chords and played no lead. That’s why I was there. To top it off the chord progression just pleaded for good old pentatonic minor rock scales. It all just jived, sounded great for a first rehearsal and as I left I wondered how gifted this fellow was. 

Well, as I came to learn, he had a method. What he would do is take a song from an album he liked. He would find the key and play the song over and over. He did not figure out the song’s harmony. By trial and error he would create a different riff and rhythm that fit the intro, each verse, chorus and bridge. If the verse was 8 bars… his verse was 8 bars etc. If the Intro was 4 bars… his was 4 bars. He then would memorize his counter rhythm through incessant repetition til he could play it without the actual song playing.

The bass player, not knowing which song this progression was derived from, would write his part at rehearsal, which of course sounded nothing like the original bass part. Same with the drums. The singer would slap his lyrics and his melody line on the tune and you would never have any idea where the song had originated.

He never told the band that he wrote this way. I only discovered it because I showed up at his house two hours early, by mistake, and heard him as I sat in the car. I thought he was just practicing. It was later that evening at rehearsal when he introduced the tune and as they say, the cat was “outta the bag.”

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