Writing songs with other people is one of the most fun parts about being in a band but there’s a lot of trappings people don’t expect when it comes to working with other people in a creative aspect.

The Busker
They had a charisma about them. Or maybe they could just play rhythm guitar and keep eye contact with the crowd. The problem was though that he was a busker. And that meant that they’ve probably played Wonderwall a hundred times and still smile when they play it. Which means they’re probably a sociopath.

Anyone who’s busked has to play the most obvious songs to sing for the American tourists in Temple Bar in order for them to fork over a tenner before they remember how the exchange rate works. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. It’s always good to have people in your band who are experienced but a busker’s tolerance for obvious songs that everyone likes will make it hard to gauge their taste is in relation to yours when you talk music the first few times. Getting people in a band that you get along with is essential, as is getting people who are capable musicians; but what is grossly overlooked is getting people whose music taste’s gel with yours. That’s not to say that your tastes have to be the same. In fact, mixing and matching genres is how old genres reemerge or new genres get made but mixing up genres isn’t as easy as it first seems and the last thing you want is a Frankenstein’s monster of a song where even it’s own creators despise it.

If it’s just a cover band then this won’t be a big issue but if you’re writing original songs you need to all somewhat agree what sort of direction you’re heading. If you want to bring something unique to the mix, think about how it will mesh with what’s already there and explain the idea you have in mind to the band. Talk to your bandmates and try to be on the same page with them as much as possible. And make sure your taste’s overlap beyond Oasis, Pumped Up Kicks or whatever songs were playing in your local disco.

The Dick-tator

They’re really good in their role, whatever it may be. The problem is they can’t share. They’ll insist that “someone’s gotta be in charge” and “no one else is doing it” but you secretly think they wouldn’t have it any other way. This secret will come out when someone publicly protests a decision made by “The Regime” and the Dick-tator will cry out treason. Nothing but utter compliance will be tolerated and a small insurgency will develop in the background until a civil war tears the band apart. By the end of it, the Dick-tator will remind you of that kid who you went on a play-date with who started crying when you tried to play with their toys and wouldn’t give you a go on their Xbox.

It’s usually the singer. Sorry but it is. It could be anyone who feels their contribution is the most important, anyone who can easily overlook the input of other band members. But like I said, it’s usually the singer. It’s common enough for bands to turn into a benevolent dictatorship where everyone has a say but someone makes the final decision but this only works in three ways:
1. If the Dictator’s role is purely ceremonial and only extends to getting everyone’s asses to practice.
2. If the Dictator knows they don’t know everything and refers to their advisors on matters they are unfamiliar with.
3. If The Dictator is truly a gift from God above and knows all there is to know about writing a song. Their lyrics poetic, Their melodies angelic, Their bass lines phat, and Their drum beats tight, and their greatest blessing of all, they write the exact sort of songs you want play (see The “Visionary” for further details).

The key difference between a dictator and a Dick-tator is that a Dick-tator doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t know where their weaknesses lie. If other people know as much as the Dick-tator or more, then the Dick-tator should be open to sharing “the burden of power” and working with their bandmates. And if the person in charge can’t take feedback or criticism then the band is doomed to face civil war.

The “Visionary”

This guy’s like an evolved form of the guitarist who wishes it was 1971. Except their music “doesn’t conform to traditional genres”. What that means is they’re a douchebag that’ll do whatever they have to ensure their “vision” is achieved and will have no time for your creative input tarnishing their “vision”.

As well as taking on aspects of the Guitarist who wishes it was 1971, the “Visionary” at first seems quite similar to the Dick-tator. The key distinction is that they might actually be able to do everything themselves and make a decent songs. If you find yourself with this type of regime, you need to ask yourself three questions.

Do you enjoy the music you’re playing?
Do you enjoy the people you’re playing with?
Do you enjoy your role in the band?

if the answer to these questions is “no” then it might not be worth it. That being said, watching a competent songwriter write songs is better than any songwriting tutorial you’ll find on YouTube. And any real visionary knows how to use the musicians around him to elevate their “vision.” Not everyone needs to have a key role in the creative process and its up to you to ask yourself what role you’re looking for in your band. Even if your input doesn’t make the setlist, everyone should have the opportunity to be heard in a band. And if that doesn’t fit someone’s “vision” then maybe they should be a solo act.

I’ve never been in a band where one or more songwriters didn’t lean towards one or more of these archetypes but these are general things to avoid doing and definitely avoid putting up with. Songwriting isn’t the only pitfall to look out for when starting your band check out The 3 Musicians to Avoid to see what to look out for when it comes to the more technical side of things.