Group composition: The collaborative act of songwriting shared by two or more individuals at once.
Song vision: A specified vision, or mission, of a particular song. I further refine this definition as the “sound,” “aesthetic appearance” (visual representation,) and “philosophy” (message or theme) of the song.
Group composition leadership: The composition leadership exerted by one member of a group of two or more musicians.
Group musical composition is difficult to master. There is the audience, always observing and always listening. There is the song, the sound, the message, and the experience. There is the band, aesthetic appearance, individual personalities, and individual creative and technical abilities. All of these elements come together to create a sophisticated, and often times disagreeable, environment. Some groups seem to have mastered the art; others seem to be “finding their wings,” and still others seem confined to the recording studio. How does a band’s composition remain relevant, lively, and creative all at the same time? Healthy group composition in any band requires at least four major fundamental elements: a clearly communicated and agreed upon group vision, a clearly communicated and agreed upon song vision, a group composition leader (in the “singular composer” sense,) and collaborative, creative contribution (in the “plural” sense). Essentially, the group needs to know “why” they are performing the song they are currently performing, “what” the song is about, “who” is leading the composition of that song, and “what” boundaries of creativity are set in place for that particular song piece.
Clearly Communicated and Agreed Upon Group Vision
“An archer cannot hit the bullseye if he doesn’t know where the target is.”—Anonymous (Quotes for Goals).
Aimlessness is not a trait of the “successful.” A group without a group vision, or mission, is comparable to a writer with no story to tell or a worker with no task to complete. The purpose of such a group’s work is seemingly “invisible.” A clearly communicated and agreed upon group vision creates tones of definition, measurement, and constructive manipulation.
It all begins with definition. Defining group vision creates a “right” and “wrong,” a “success” and “failure,” and a “win” and “lose” scenario. Without definition, there is no difference between right and wrong, success or failure, or winning and losing. The definition of group vision should be established by a favorable combination of the group visionary’s (entrepreneur’s) personal values and the values of each individual member in the group. If the values of any one member contradict the values of all other members, that member should reconsider becoming a part of the group, and the group should likewise reconsider allowing that particular member to be involved in the project. This is known in modern management practice as the concept of “person-organization fit,” and it should be taken with respect and common courtesy (Kinicki & Fugate, 2018, p. 546).
Definition is important to group work because once definition is established—in the form of a group vision or mission statement—group work becomes “measurable.” From an internal standpoint, there isn’t necessarily a difference between success and failure. However, perception is reality. Perception can be a trap to oneself, if he or she perceives himself or herself as “perfect;” but perception can also be a motivator if someone becomes cognitively aware of the expectations of those around him or her.
In order to establish how to measure a band’s vision, the band should establish some level of deadline or success. This can be a time-related deadline, a sales-related goal, or a qualitative measure. Qualitative measures can include certain words or phrases that a group receives as feedback. When group work becomes measurable, the group can assess overall group “success” and “failure” in group processes, procedures, and outcomes; and expectations become clear to all members involved.
Once measurable definitions are established, measurable production and outcomes can be “manipulated” or controlled. In a sense, if one can control his or her outcome, he or she can adjust or revise his or her outcome. If one can adjust his or her outcome, then he or she can adjust the perceptions of others around him or her. Essentially, one can actually change his or her environment if he or she can manipulate outcomes. A clearly communicated and agreed upon group vision allows a band to assess “success” and “failure,” address “success” and “failure,” constructively manipulate their processes to create “success,” and thus impact their surrounding environment.
Clearly Communicated and Agreed Upon Song Vision
Individual song vision is just as important as group vision. If the song’s vision doesn’t line up with the group’s vision, that song will quickly become irrelevant. Clearly communicated and agreed upon song vision affects the relevance of that band’s song on an aesthetic level, physical level, and philosophical level.
On the aesthetic level, if a song’s visual representation does not line up with the group’s overall visual representation, the group will look “awkward” and “out of place” while performing that particular song. Bands spend a lot of time determining what covers “fit” them, and with good reason. If a band has been working to produce a “head banging,” “fist-pumping” hard, rock sound, and then resorts to a soft, slow, blues piece, that soft, slow, blues piece is not going to “fit” the show. There are times when a band may choose to do this in order to bring attention to a particular song, but it generally isn’t a professional or “winning” approach to concert appeal.
On a physical level, if the song’s sound does not fit the group’s overall sound vision, then that song will also seem irrelevant. For one, such a song will “stick out like a sore thumb” on a record. Such a song will lose the attention of the audience during a live performance. The song won’t sound “right” either. Sound moves in mathematically manipulated waves. Some sounds simply don’t sound pleasing together, just like some food flavors don’t taste pleasing together. It is vital that a band knows its sound before it writes music so that it can efficiently benefit from its compositional practice time. In an effort to assess this, musicians can write down what they think their strongest musical influences are, collaboratively improvise, or answer questions such as “what are you playing on your instrument when you are having the most fun?”
On a philosophical level, if the song’s message does not line up with the group’s overall message, that song will not be heard. The audience wants to be directed and led by the band. The audience wants an experience—something that will take them somewhere. If a given band starts a show by explaining to their audience with the first five songs that “violets are blue,” and then resorts to singing “violets are red” on the sixth song, the audience is going to become confused and disconnected with the sixth song.
It is vital that song vision is clearly communicated before a song is ever delved into. This may take a band up to an hour or more of discussion on a particular piece! Isn’t that the point of songwriting; to make a long-standing point? Whether that “point” comes off as “friendly,” “angry,” “offensive,” or “kind,” there is some sort of point being made in the song. The actual content and poetic structure of the song lyrics may vary, but the vision of the song must “fit” the group’s overall vision in order for that song to remain relevant, interesting, and pleasing to the eyes and ears of the audience.
Group Composition Leadership
Human beings are weakest at determining their own weaknesses. It is a fact of psychological science. This is why teamwork was invented. Objectivity is the key to success in a diverse and sophisticated world full of information and bias; and strong leadership creates objectivity in each and every member of a given team. This being said, it is vital that all band members know “who” is leading the composition of any given song. Songs are produced most efficiently, accurately, and successfully when there is steady leadership throughout the group songwriting process.
The following bullet points outline characteristics of strong leadership in a team environment:
- Strong leaders keep their teams “on topic.”
- Strong leaders re-direct counterproductive behavior.
- Strong leaders correct subordinates.
- Strong leaders reward positive behavior.
- Strong leaders punish negative behavior.
- Strong leaders make tough, executive decisions in places of group indecision.
- Strong leaders uphold group values.
Essentially leaders “know” the way, “go” the way, and “show” the way to those around them (Wall poster, 2018).
Songs are produced most accurately when there is steady leadership in the group songwriting process. A leader’s job is to enforce group vision. Group vision can act as a healthy set of boundaries for the creative composition process. Group vision can allow a leader to determine what is “useful” in a song, and what is “wasteful” in a song. Group vision can also help give definition to an individual song when compared to other songs that the band performs. Group vision will inevitably give “flare” to each song, and it can answer the question “what makes this song special?” Without strong leadership in place, there is no one to “benchmark” the song production process. Anything goes, even music which is “not so pleasing.”
When overall group vision is established and enforced by a composition leader, a given song can actually be determined “successful” or “unsuccessful,” and the reasons for its success or non-success can be clearly identified. If a given song is “successful:”
- All band elements (instruments and musicians) will shine individualistically throughout the course of the song’s performance.
- It will have “pop.” It will “stand out” in an attractive way. It will carry its own identifiable meaning, and it will lead the audience in a very specific direction.
- It will sound, look, and feel “good” to both the band and the audience.
- It will build confidence in the band members who perform it.
On the other hand, if a song is “unsuccessful:”
- Certain band members may feel disengaged in the writing process.
- It will seem “boring” and “irrelevant.” It will lack power and influence over the audience.
- It will not inspire creativity and positivity in the group.
- Its main point will seem “unclear.”
Group composition leadership provides efficiency, accuracy, and success throughout the group songwriting process by establishing clear direction, focus, and positive outcomes. Without strong group composition leadership, individual band members may feel lost, disengaged, irrelevant, and confused. Group composition leadership is a major cog in the wheel of successful group composition.
Individual Creative Contribution
With a well-established composition leader, group vision, and song vision, individual band members will produce lively, creative, and focused music. To begin, the music being produced by each individual in the group will “shine.” It will be “catchy,” and it will have a “heart of its own.”
Likewise, a well-established composition leader, group vision, song vision will allow band members to perform creative music. New ideas will not be hard to come by during the songwriting process. Individuals will rarely run into “writers block,” and they will never feel like they are exhausting themselves in search of new ideas. Creativity will be stimulated by the work environment. New musical techniques will present themselves in the music that is being produced. The music will become driven more by an “idea” than a “sound.” The goal of each individual will be “to make the dream become reality.” The music will be fresh when it is produced, and it will never seem “boring.”
Lastly, a well-established composition leader, group vision, and song vision will allow band members to perform focused music. All members will demonstrate full, personal engagement in the songwriting process. No one will have to be “pried open” for their personal thoughts on the song. Individual members’ personal thoughts will come streaming through their instruments. The music in each song will look, sound, and feel unique; and an atmosphere will be created around each respective song. The music will make a definite point to every listener. There won’t be any questions, or anything left unsaid, in the music. What is intended will shine through the song without hindrance.
(2018). Wall poster in main lobby. Central Penn College.
Kinicki, A., & Fugate, M. (2018). Organizational Behavior: A Practical, Problem-Solving Approach. Retrieved from https://mbsdirect.vitalsource.com/#/books/1260373886/cfi/6/10!/4/2@0:0
Quotes for Goals. (n.d.). Goals Quotes: Achieve Your Goals Retrieved from http://www.motivatingquotes.com/goalsq.htm