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Being The Keyboard Dude


cphollis

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So, in a world of guitar players, vocalists, harmonica players, etc.

 

What's it like being the keyboard dude?

 

I've found that most bands have no freaking idea what a decent keyboard dude can bring. We show up, we bring these totally amazing sounds and musicianship, and -- well -- most bands are like WTF?

 

I often find myself being asked to justifying my existence. I mean, really?

 

More often, I'm wanted to play whatever signature parts that need to be covered. OK, I can do that, but -- hey -- there's more to life, yes?

 

Do you want someone who can bring game? Someone who is willing to build off of the standard stuff and do something -- shocking -- original?

 

My negotiations with bar bands tend to be along similar paths: can y'all tolerate someone who brings decent game?

 

If not, oh well ..

Life is too short to be playing bad music.

 

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IMO, if a band cannot tell the differece between a good and a bad keyboard player -or even worse, between a keysman and no keysman at all- no worth being part of this band, unless the money is really good...
Be grateful for what you've got - a Nord, a laptop and two hands
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My two pet peeves..

 

"We want to bring keys in to fill out the sound a bit"

 

Bands who advertise for keys and the set list is all songs by bands with no keys in them

Remember - you can make a record without an organ on it, but it won't be as good

 

www.robpoyton.co.uk

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Just home from tonight's gig - the band without a set list.

 

An hour of jazz for dinner.

 

Then it's off to the races - 1st 3 songs called in advance, then everything called on the fly.

 

They ain't gonna pull this off without a keyboard player. Never felt more integral to the gig.

 

Last night's was another kind of gig - Great (and fetching) singer, bass, drums and me. Again, felt like an integral part of the whole thing (especially as the only harmonic instrument). Bass player was really good - so we were able to go on some interesting journeys on tunes.

 

I think I've been lucky when I read the posts here...I'm turning down more and more gigs, and probably the ones where a KB player would be...maybe not so integral.

..
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I've found that most bands have no freaking idea what a decent keyboard dude can bring. We show up, we bring these totally amazing sounds and musicianship, and -- well -- most bands are like WTF?
My experience is to the contrary. I get relatively many calls to bands or gigs that are

- not good musicians, but the pay is good (or it's a religious service)

- good musicians, but they play originals that are entirely unoriginal and boring

because it turns out that decent keyboardists are few and far between around here. When they hear me at a jam or audition or whatever, they give me numerous compliments. I may know a few things but I'm certainly not "the best keyboardist" (or "the best jazz pianist" as one guy put it - hell, I'm not even close to a jazz pianist).

Life is subtractive.
Genres: Jazz, funk, pop, Christian worship, BebHop
Wishlist: 80s-ish (synth)pop, symph pop, prog rock, fusion, musical theatre
Gear: NS2 + JUNO-G. SP6 at church.

 

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Keys are integral to all of my bands. I do enjoy seeing the "we need keys to fill out the sound" ads. Um, sorry, no.

Live: Korg Kronos 2 88, Nord Electro 5d Nord Lead A1

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As keyboard dude, your job is to make the singer and guitar player look and sound better (snark intended).

 

Sure you can play circles around 90% of the guitarists who want your services (I literally had one guitarist say to me "A-flat? I've never heard of A-flat"), that is not why you were hired.

 

You were hired to glorify the singer and guitar player. Now genuflect.

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Ads that say they're looking for a "piano player" and turns out they're looking for synth strings, horns, etc. :mad:

 

I'm really sensitive to sonic space, I guess. If the guitar(s) are playing long notes, I often do something the balance that like arpeggios or shorter duration notes like 8ths, triplets, etc., or vice versa, where I'll play organ pads while the guitar players are busy.

 

But, when one guitar player is playing slide, I'm :idk: as there's no space because of what he's playing. I need to talk to him about it.

 

The bandleader definitely wants keys, and even when the versions of the songs he suggests don't have keys, he usually gets how they should work. Except when he plays slide...

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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I've never been a standard piano/organ dude. I prefer stacks of synths and am willing to cover any instrument. I started in the 80's when sax solos were prominent. Part of my job was to cover those solos on synth, along with harmonica, flute, and any other instrument other than guitar. For me it was a challenge, and a way to be seen. The problem is consistency of parts. One song I would be relegated to covering rhythm guitar on an organ, next song I'm trying to play piano, organ, horn section, strings, and do a synth solo. My chops were developed as a "fill in the parts" musician and it served me well. While a guitarist or drummer of my talent level could easily go for months looking for a band, I never had to search for work. That is the biggest benefit of being a keyboardist.
This post edited for speling.
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Guess I'm going in the opposite direction from most of you folks.

 

First of all, I don't play any rock or pop, so I'm not subject to the "keyboardist as a tertiary role" situation. I only play jazz in small combos or big band, and normally with only two different guitar players (never at the same time). They are both very tasty and considerate musicians, and give plenty of space for other players. No ego issues at all.

 

Second, I'm moving away from the idea of the multi-instrumentalist and going back to primarily piano. I've gone back to taking piano lessons, and play AP or EP 90% of the time. I do a bit of organ in the jazz groups, and a small bit of synth in the fusion group when the situation requires.

 

But overall, everyone I play with sees each musician as a critical part of puzzle. Jazz is a very different situation it seems. I'm never relegated to a "fill in" role unless that's the part I want to play.

 

And, after reading what most of you talented musicians go through, I'm glad I don't play rock. I don't think I could handle it. It bugs me to even watch rock bands with keyboard players that you can't hear under the din.

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So, in a world of guitar players, vocalists, harmonica players, etc.

What's it like being the keyboard dude?

I......My negotiations with bar bands tend to be along similar paths: can y'all tolerate someone who brings decent game?

 

If not, oh well ..

 

You need to change genres.

Or scenes, circle of musicians, etc.

Live: Yamaha CP88, Roland VR-700

Home: Rebuilt 1910 Chickering 5'2", Fender Rhodes MKI 88k, Casio PX-560

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I will only work with bands that respect all other musicians and willing to work together for the purpose of the sound. I guess that means I am basically unemployed.

 

:(

 

But there have been those in my life starting back in the eighties. This was oddly enough a keys dominated band with the leader and I both on keys doing original music and the guitar player was the fill in. We used a drum machine. It was surreal and wonderful.

 

:)

 

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IIRC many great musicians in my era (late 60s early 70s) listened to a wide range of music. The long improvisations in the Allman Bros and Logins and Messina were influenced by Coltrane. And percussionists knew how to read, arrange and write music. They knew who Sun Ra was. And Ravel. This is truly old school.

 

When I work with 'well-listened' band mates they can recognize my musical ideas on stage, and even if they can't follow, they can appreciate. And if they can follow, then we can get into areas of exploration that make live playing worth while.

 

Now take your average rock player. Has a thousand CDs of everything inside the genre but nothing outside of the genre. Knows every Dwayne lick but doesn't know what Dwayne was listening to just before he recorded.

 

No wonder they're out of their element when they play with someone who started at eight with the Two-Part Inventions. They have no clue.

 

This isn't a knock on new music. It's a knock on incestuous music.

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I suppose it depends on what style of music, what your local scene is like, and what you can actually bring to the table.

 

In the styles of music I've played, keys are essential and bands know it. The problem is not enough good keyboard players who can play AND program sounds AND perform live well, AND sing, etc. Add to that the fact that some bands do a mix of songs where maybe 1/3 have no keyboards in the original and it starts to look attractive to just do tracks on the 15% of songs that NEED keys and just leave them off the rest or cover it with guitar. I can't say I blame hem if the keyboard player brings nothing else to the table besides eliminating a backing track in a few songs in the setlist. You wouldn't hire a sax plYer for solos on 3 songs.

 

I've been in demand because I can play well enough, I can nail all the sounds and get most of the parts in there that others skip because they think it's (close enough), I also play rhythm guitar and sax - so I can be a 2nd guitar on the "guitar songs" do the sax parts with a real sax instead of a cheesy synth emulation, and most important of all, by far, I sing well with a good range and a good ear for harmony - that's huge. Even if there are no keys on songs, there are often harmonies to be done. Good vocals separate the men from the boys in cover bands.

 

There was a recent thread about whether or not compliments from other musicians really mean anything or if their just being nice. For that reason, I take "good job tonight" as a nicety and always say "thanks" but don't really take anything from it. But I did one fill-in gig that was a last minute thing. While in break a girl that must have been a regular comes up and asked me where the other keyboard player was and said I did a good job. The drummer was walking up about then and they obviously knew each other. He started going on and on to her that there are really only a couple keyboard players in St. Louis who can pull off the gig and how good my vocals are....I think I may have blushed. But I think the big thing to him was the vocals because he sings most of the backup vocals. I have to just listen for what's missing and add that part. I'm guessing at times I'm filling in parts from the original at their regular guy doesn't do, so the drummer really appreciates it. My point is that those sorts of details really make an impression.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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When your talents are exploited, it's wonderful.

 

Unfortunately those opportunities are fewer and farther between.

 

I'm a multi-instrumentalist, primary instrument is keyboards. My recent experience with egocentric guitar hero in the southern rock band (my swan song is this week) was such that 70% of the time I spend on stage I have a guitar around my neck and despite spending two years being vocal about learning other southern rock songs where I can play keyboards, no one wants to play Allman Bros, Little Feat, etc. Guitar hero doesn't want to play anything that isn't fun to play on guitar. Dammit Jim I'm a keyboard player not a guitar player - I don't want the image that I am a guitar player.

 

That experience was so frustrating that I have become anti-guitar. After the last show this week, I don't even want to strum a frigging guitar for a year. I have talked to other local keyboard players who had the same frustrations. Many of them just gave up and quit the gigging scene. Frankly I don't think the southern rock band is going to find another keyboard player after I leave because most of them are no longer interested in gigging. I check out local bands here and a grand total of two have a keyboard player.

 

I'll get over it, but I'm going to be a lot more selective which bands to work with - no more than one guitar player, no friggin' high-gain shred artists, no rhythm players who use maximum overdrive that smothers the spectrum, and I refuse to work with a guitar player whose listening preferences are primarily guitar heroes IE Joe Bananamassa (pun intended), Govt Mule, Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, etc - artists who demand maximum sonic space for themselves. These people know everything about being attention whores and nothing about playing with a GROUP.

 

Show me a guitar player who knows when NOT to play and knows how to respect the space of other musicians, and I'm interested. These people are fewer and farther between these days. I'm starting my own group and not likely going to include a guitar player. There's a lot of good songs out there that aren't fun to play on guitar, and I intend to cover that gap. I'm tired of guitar players dominating the song selection.

 

Yeah I'm bitter...

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I'm actually quite bored with the sound of guitars. My sense is that the whole world is, too. My fantasy is to find a drummer who does wide ranging percussion and gets midi stuff and leave it at that. What more would you need (oh yeah, vocals but I could actually see minimizing those, also.)
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In a regular rock band, the keyboard player is kind of like the kicker on a football team;

 

the other band members generally don't respect you at first...you're not like the other guys...BUT you need one to be a complete and winning team.....they don't understand what you do.....and don't think you're cool because you don't get a music boner from making extra loud noises on drums or amps.

 

I get the last laugh every time I hear the all-guitar bands sounding cheezy trying to strum "Old Time Rock & Roll".

 

 

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I guess I've been fortunate that there is a market for keyboard-centric songs and bands that play then around here.

 

I kept extremely busy doing 80s pop, which requires keyboards without a doubt. I've been approached about filling in with a 80s hair band doing guitar and keys, I've filled in with pop bands and was approached by another - pop definitely needs keys. I played a few years in a classic rock band that was focused heavily on the keyboard-centric stuff - cars, supertramp, foreigner, Boston, etc. the band I'll be doing 50% duty with beginning January is a mix of classic rock and modern pop - Peter frampton to Uptown funk. Geared heavy towatrds the keyboard-centric Classic Rock and 80s - Bon Jovi, Journey, Foreigner, REO, Boston, but sprinkle in some Blurred Lines, Moves Like Jagger, Uptown Funk, etc.

 

I've been approached with side projects doing one hit wonders, yacht rock, and other things - plenty of work out there for a versatile keyboard player.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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"It so totally depends on the quality of musicians in your area."

 

Quote: Mate Stubb

 

This for me... my band members are quality and they expect the same from me.

 

The OP asked " what' s it like being the keyboard dude?"

 

It means carrying the entire song at times that feature keys prominently. It means comping along with the guitarist other times. It means offering creative additions to songs that may not feature keyboards. It can also give you the opportunity to shine as you tear up a solo (planned or improvisional)

 

As long as you as a keyboardist are contributing to, and not competing with your band mates, being the keyboard dude ( or dudess) can be gangs of fun, yessh?

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Congrats to those of you who have found deep and satisfying relationships with other musicians in your area. I am encouraged that -- yes -- that might be out there for me as well.

 

To be honest, I've had that in the past, just going through a dry spell as I've relocated from one state to another.

 

But geez, it's slim pickings where I am. Tired bar bands, grinding through the same old same old. However, I will perservere and continue my search.

 

Musical relationships and romantic relationships are disturbingly similar.

Life is too short to be playing bad music.

 

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Congrats to those of you who have found deep and satisfying relationships with other musicians in your area. I am encouraged that -- yes -- that might be out there for me as well.

 

To be honest, I've had that in the past, just going through a dry spell as I've relocated from one state to another.

 

But geez, it's slim pickings where I am. Tired bar bands, grinding through the same old same old. However, I will perservere and continue my search.

 

Musical relationships and romantic relationships are disturbingly similar.

 

A few things:

 

1) yes, I can only imagine trying to start over after moving. I get the calls because I've been playing in this town for 25 years and have networked every step of the way. To have to start out in a new town not having any of those relationships would be tough

 

2) Obviously you need decent establishments that support music. If you don't have that, it's going to make it very difficult but not impossible. It means you have to really show the value to the bar owners and in the very long term, convince them to invest continually over time. If there is good product and high demand, the distribution of the product (the bar) will eventually catch up.

 

3) Maybe your new town needs a breath of fresh air. Find the best musicians and lead your own band doing something that's in demand but not being delivered. The other bands may just be taking the path of least resistance. Put forth the effort, blow them out of the water, get all the gigs, and show the bars they need to invest more in bands like yours. Next thing you know, others will follow suit and you'll have more great bands creating more demand, etc, etc.

 

I know, sounds pie in the sky, but it happens. In my town, we had a great music scene in the 70s and 80s. It really started dying out and struggling in the 90s. 2000's saw a resurgence not driven by the market, but by one booking agent, a few good bands, and a few club owners who made the leap to invest and jump on that demand. We had a boom for a while. Lately it's getting tough again, but there's still a good scene.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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I don't take shit from other musicians, especially guitarists. 90% of them suck musically. I have two keyboard players in the band and wouldn't have it any other way. We are also the musical directors. I wonder why?

"Danny, ci manchi a tutti. La E-Street Band non e' la stessa senza di te. Riposa in pace, fratello"

 

 

noblevibes.com

 

 

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