I spent the day in the studio a few days ago with some of my band. This set of sessions has been going on for a while and we came armed with a list of parts that needed to be recorded and edited which would keep us busy enough for the day. These days band members tend to be more often on different continents than in Leeds, our spiritual home. It means we have had to radically examine our ideas about what ‘band’ and creative process mean in practice. In educational lingo that equates to how we enact our team creativity! More on education in a minute, but first let me outline something about the process of writing and recording in a band.
We write our own material. The ‘we’ is interesting. One of us (usually not the drummer!) arrives at a rehearsal either with ‘a song’ or a musical idea to build upon. But we don’t arrive with all the parts worked out. We may use adjectives to describe the essence of the ideas we bring or describe how they feel, as we see it. Often this is by comparing the new idea to other songs. But at that point, the initiator hands their right over the new song to the band who will deconstruct and reconstruct the idea. It may go nowhere but, in my experience, you can create a gem from anything if you are in the right collective frame of mind. Let’s call that having ‘team flow’. So, for every song, a long process begins; one that involves everyone in a constant process of making decisions until, to everyone’s surprise, you have allowed the idea to come to its fruition – at least as far as the rehearsal room is concerned.
In this most recent set of sessions, unusually, one of the band has been caught up recording an album with his other (more successful) band and doing gigs. That left the remaining three of us with a quandary – can we stay productive without one of the team in the room to be part of that continuous discourse of decision making? Well, with his consent, we decided we would. In some respects, being down one person has made us considerably more decisive and productive. The band is very sociable and we tend to spend as much time in banter as in being productive. Time is also a lot more precious for us than it used to be in the ’80s when we were a Leeds ‘Indie’ band on the dole. So the ‘dynamic’ is different. On the other hand, we have found ourselves thinking about our missing friend, asking, “what would he think/do?” And this demonstrates a capacity for surrogate creativity, the implications for educational teamwork being about the capacity of a team to think collectively in a critical and reflective way as the team dynamic evolves. You have to consciously put yourself into that mode and it takes some experience to know this.
Back to the studio, with the drummer now on tour too with another very successful band in America, we’re down to the two of us. This has never happened before in this band. Here we are working through our list of guitar parts, vocals, and more experimental additions like eBow, bottleneck guitar and hurdy gurdy ideas – the frivolous bits that can sometimes really make a song work. The two of us keep saying things like “I just want to try this idea…” Eventually we begin to think about our next day in the studio and how we will decide what to keep and where to take the tracks next. Well, the team remains in spirit even if half of its members can’t be there in person. Those who are there are tasked with making the team’s decisions, knowing that if they couldn’t be there, others would take on the team’s creative responsibility. There is a trust built around vision and design principles and those in the room need to bring both their personal experience and their commitment to the vision to bear.
At one point my fellow bandmate says he feels uneasy about making executive decisions. I know what he means. At this stage in the production we are making decisions that close down options and give the work its focus and character. But I realise that whoever is involved, the process of writing, arranging and producing a song can be understood quite simply as a continuous, intensive flow of individual and collective decision making in which you constantly respond to everything, from the nuanced to the structural. This goes for most team-based creative processes.
Being creative means being a responsive and imaginative decision maker. As someone who has always been in at least one band since the age of 13, I have always valued education as an opportunity for students to experience working creatively in groups – it’s a fantastic experience. While many students will have creative endeavours outside of the curriculum, group-based learning provides a structured environment to learn about being creatively responsible and effective in a structured way. To me, this is a key skill, the outcomes of which are valued in most situations.