“We play our own instruments, we write our own songs, we play live — we’re not a boy band.”
Michael Clifford, 5 Seconds Of Summer
With the rise of mega band 5 Seconds Of Summer and mega boy band One Direction, comparisons between the two groups have been frequent and intense. One of those comparisons was that 5SOS played their own instruments while 1D did not (with the exception of some backing guitar work by Niall Horan).
Fast forward to today and 5SOS is still going strong while 1D is on an extended (and possibly permanent) hiatus. Does the fact that 5SOS play their own instruments have anything to do with their longevity? (For a reference point, One Direction formed in 2010 and 5SOS formed in 2011). Let’s take a look.
Editor’s Note: To meet the “other” members of One Direction that are the actual musicians playing instruments, check out this post.
Interestingly, as a starting point, research has shown that playing your own instrument can have certain advantages such as developing group and social skills.
The consideration of playing an instrument (or not playing one) has also led to many asking if vocalists and rappers are in fact “musicians.” A quick internet search will show many forums where this very question is hotly debated with many coming out on both sides of the equation.
The playing of one’s instrument has also been an issue for several “television” bands. For example, in the beginning the Monkees had their bout with producers about playing their own instruments. Their television show ran from 1966 to 1968 and it was not until 1967 that the band was allowed to play for themselves.
In the case of the Partridge Family, it was relatively well known that a group of hired musicians known as the “Wrecking Crew” were the real players responsible for the signature sound although David Cassidy was also a real performer as he was the lead singer on the group’s tunes. Interestingly, despite both television series being very popular (i.e., the Monkees and the Patridge Family), both shows were also relatively short lived. The Monkees aired for only two years and the Partridge Family only aired for four seasons.
Editor’s Note: The story of the Wrecking Crew in and of itself is an interesting one. The group, sometimes referred to as Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound Orchestra, featured a large group of players that included icon Glen Campbell and drummer Hal Blaine, to name just a few. The group formed in the 1950s and they went on to perform and back a number of acts including Frank Sinatra and Sonny & Cher. The group also performed on the first two albums by the Monkees.
Returning to our subjects at hand, would it have made a difference if One Direction was constructed like 5SOS in that they played their own instruments? (In the picture below resident 1D musician Niall Horan teaches Harry Styles guitar chords).
There’s a pretty good argument that can be made that 1D would not have worked if the members had to play their own instruments. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the 1D members to have conveyed and displayed as much of their personalities as they did if they, for example, were sitting behind a drum set. However, to the contrary, much has been made of 5SOS playing their own instruments and in fact in a 2014 feature in People that was one of distinguishing factors that was identified that separated 5SOS from other “boy bands.” In fact, as a true testament to 5SOS drummer, Ashton Irwin, it is worth noting that despite being behind a set of drums Irwin has developed quite a presence and personality which is along the likes of other celebrity drummers like Tommy Lee. Playing his own instrument has clearly benefitted Irwin.
But don’t fret it for those who wonder if it’s all bad. In fact, it’s not. Research has found that musicians are actually more creative when they are not playing their instruments.
There’s also one more consideration to think about. Hasn’t the opposite also shown to be true particularly in the case of some drummers? In other words, hasn’t it been better for some drummers’ careers when they have come out from behind the kit and left the drumming to someone else? Case in point is Phil Collins who became a frontman while leaving the drumming responsibilities largely to Chester Thompson. Genesis, for the better, was never the same after Collins became their frontman. Imagine what would have happened to Genesis if he never did come out front.
This was also the case for Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters although Grohl traded in his drumsticks for guitar duties. Again, however, despite his infamous presence as the timekeeper for Nirvana, Grohl’s stock arguably spiked when he began fronting Foo Fighters.
What’s your opinion? Does playing an instrument make a difference to band longevity?