A new band manifesto

Experiments with becoming an agile songwriting machine

Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

Who starts a band in their mid-30s and decides to record on the other side of the world?

Over a beer with a good friend at exactly the right moment, I suggested that if I were to create a new band, I would approach it like a startup building a product. We would go for big, bold ideas; execute them quickly, worrying about editing later; just iterating interesting work in a more collaborative way.

I was inspired by design thinking, agility and Agile with a capital A. The band experiences I’ve valued most are studio time and traveling with friends. Now, the most essential thing for me is being creatively productive. I wanted a new discipline to enable that.

The danger of setting up a band to deliver an artistic project is that even a professional group can easily mismanage the time, focus and energy needed for songwriting. A typical scenario for rock musicians is:

  • Your independent band has a usual rehearsal time slot at a practice space
  • You spend 20 minute setting up the gear
  • You rehearsal your set list a couple of times
  • It will take you 20 minutes to pack down gear before the next band arrives or Noise Control gets called, so that leaves 10 minutes to show the band the new idea you wrote on the weekend
  • Repeating this workflow takes weeks or months to produce a song

Of course, you have means of speeding up this process: more frequent rehearsals or dedicated studio space (💰); less time spent rehearsing, possibly to the detriment of your live show; home recording and online collaboration. Generally, though, your creative energy is competing with you work, family and other “life” commitments.

A new project had to be more focused and output faster in order to sustain our interest. It had to compliment our other commitments, not detract from them. I felt that, with the right approach, reconnecting with a creative force would make me a better employee, partner and parent. So far, it has and I perhaps I’ll write about that in future.

“Experiment & Learn Rapidly”

The results are encouraging: we’ve produced about 40 songs or ideas in four months with about two hours’ effort per week. And we’ve done it remotely across two countries. Around idea 17, this project’s identity started to emerge. The collaborative approach has made the music so much more interesting than my individual contribution.

It’s tempting to describe in detail the Agile tools and other practices we’ve trialed, abandoned and adopted. However, Jewel Loree’s excellent post, “Getting Your Band’s Shit Together Using Agile Practices,” provides a great entry point for musicians. Instead, I want to underscore that we’re running an experiment with some human-centred principles to create exciting outcomes. Nothing has been more singularly powerful that having a real sense of purpose around this project: why it exists, how we want to experience it and what it will produce.

“Make Safety a Prerequisite”

Unlocking our real potential has been about developing the intent and psychological safety to encourage risk-taking. That requires trust, openness, feedback and, in my case, non-judgement. Previously, I never would have shared early iterations that felt half-baked or somehow inadequate. Such ideas have since led to our most interesting songs. I compare that to my last project. We released nearly every song we wrote (around 30) in three albums over about eight years partly due to the laborious effort of producing just one track. That was just the way I had always done it.

To clarify, not every idea is a full-formed, standalone concept; many are complimentary pieces that could be leveraged to make better compositions. However, the benefit of design thinking and “scrappiness” is the massive gain in creative diversity through vulnerability and iterative output.

We’re experimenting with becoming a writing machine — and it’s working.


So, with that IPA and inspiration, Brendon and I hashed out a manifesto that would guide our new initiative. It simply captured the why, what and how of an endeavour we could get excited about. Feel stuck? See the manifesto. Disagree? See the manifesto. It was our interpretation of the “Make People Awesome” principle.

Here it is, lightly edited but broadly capturing the spirit of our project.

Manifesto, April 2018

We have one year to prepare four or more songs to record in London with Dave Holmes.

We are drawing a line in the sand between what came before and what comes next. We’ll park any previous demos for now in order to think differently. To that end, we should consider this is a totally new endeavour where all options are available.

Our principles

  • Loud, big and bold
  • Make moments where the ground fall out from benefit your feet
  • The audience is us
  • Give meaningful feedback on ideas; use “I like…,” “I wish…,” “I wonder…”

How we want to work

  • Work quickly; go for volume/quantity of ideas and worry about editing/quality later
  • Make everything easy, collaborative, fast
  • [Add other constraints to focus the project as we go]

Platforms

  • Logic Pro X for pre-production
  • Share everything to Dropbox
  • Trello for visual management of ideas
  • Slack for chat

Roles and responsibilities

  • Everyone has unique skills and can bring their whole selves to the project; all ideas are welcome
  • We aim for consensus to achieve shared goals
  • Sometimes conflict/disagreement arises on the best way forward; we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable
  • No-one outranks another; we leverage the viewpoints, experience, musical skills and abilities of the entire group to make something special
  • If we get to a point where everyone has had the opportunity to share their opinion or test their idea and we still can’t reach a mutual decision, we defer to a final decision-maker who is trusted by the group to make the right call considering all the circumstances
  • When a final decision is needed on a production (engineering) matter, it goes to KAHI REVIEW
  • When a final decision is needed on a creative matter, it goes to HOLMES REVIEW

Issues from the past that we want to avoid

  • Not using the producer role enough. Force audits and editorials to make the thing holistically better.
  • Financing. Everyone pays their own way, invests equally and gets relative recognition.
  • Not having an opinion. If you need time to form a view before responding, take it so that you are contributing.
  • Worrying about the release or business-side during the creative process. Just do the work.

This is an experiment for us. Rather than wait until a “big bang” release, we want to share the journey in a transparent way with anyone curious about our art or independent music. Here we are, without any published material as yet but an open invitation to see it unfold.

We are Domes.

-Mathew

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