Let me ask you a VERY important question. You are a guitarist, but DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC LIKE A MUSIC PRODUCER LISTENS TO MUSIC?
Too many guitarists listen to music as a guitarist vs. listening to music as a music producer.
I've had the opportunity to work with a few Grammy award winning producers on recording sessions. I've observed two major characteristics which are common among these guys. First, they are EASY to work with - they make you feel good about your contributions and they maintain a relaxed atmosphere. Second, they have an INCREDIBLE set of ears. It is this second characteristic - the ability to listen - that I want to discuss today.
Here are some common signs that may indicate you are listening as a guitarist:
- You think its important that your guitar be out front in the mix at all times
- You think you must be playing thru the entire song - never sitting out for a verse or passage
- You think you must play something "impressive" and shy away from simple parts
- You primarily listen to and focus on your guitar and don't pay a lot of attention to what the other instruments and vocalists are doing
- You are playing licks and fills in the song at the same time another band member is doing the same thing, or you are walking on top of the vocalist while they sing
Here are some ways you can listen like a producer:
- Listen to the sound of the ENTIRE BAND - not just your instrument
- Seek out parts that compliment the sound of the band. This may mean playing very minimally (e.g. a small upstroke chord on the "and" of the 4th beat and nothing more) or not playing at all during an entire verse.
- Listen to the vocalist and play parts which compliment their singing. Don't walk on top of the vocals with too many fills - instead find holes which are asking to be filled, but also listen for SPACE that should be left unfilled.
- Pay atttention - focus - on what the bass, drums, keys, horns, other guitars, etc. are doing. Find a groove that fits with their parts. Again, listen to the whole of the band - not just your guitar.
- Just like the tone of your voice can convey more meaning than the actual words you speak, the tone of your guitar will convey more meaning and message than the notes you may choose to play. HEAR what tone will best compliment the song, what effects to use, etc.
- Focus on the DYNAMICS of the songs - where should they be down low and chilled vs. up and intense.
- Either thru spontaneous eye contact and/or body language, or pre-arranged agreement, have only one instrument providing fills (e.g the piano does the fills on the first verse, the guitar does fills on the chorus, etc.). You don't want to step on each others toes by both doing fills at the same time.
I can guarantee that the more you listen like a producer and the less you listen like a guitarist, the more invitations you will receive to play with other musicians. It's way too easy to overplay and attempt the make the guitar the focus of attention vs. playing parts that make the band sound incredible.
Take time to listen to your favorite bands and listen to what the guitar is NOT doing. Pay attention to the places where you don't hear the guitar, or the guitar is doing almost nothing. Study the DYNAMICS (the ebb and flow of volume/intensity) in your favorite songs. Dynamics keeps the audience engaged. If you maintain the same energy level thoughtout your songs without exploring the variations which exist in between subdued and intense, the audience will soon tune you out.
You will find as you spend more and more energy in LISTENING like a great producer listens, you will find more and more ideas coming to mind to improve the sound of your band. You will be seen more as a leader than the guy with the loudest amp who they all wish would turn down the volume a bit.
It's fun. It's part of maturing as a musican. And, your bandmates will love you for it.