How do you part ways with a terrible bandmate who is also a dear friend?
June 3, 2013 11:48 AM   Subscribe

We're about to kick out our 5th bandmate (for legitimate reasons: skill is low, ear is bad, attitude is defensive and lazy), who also happens to be one of my best friends. I want to make sure we do it in the most compassionate, generous way possible. What are some things to do -- and to avoid doing -- when we finally sit down with him?

More details: Our 3 year old band is composed of 5 founding members. We've toured together, we practice 3 days a week, we hang out as friends. None of us are exceptional musicians, but together we make tunes we love. We have no lead member. We are all meant to contribute in equal measure.

BUT, for nearly 2 years, 4 of us have felt that our 5th member is seriously holding us back. His technical skill level is lower than ours, his ear is not so good, and he begrudgingly follows our advice, instead of proactively finding his own solutions. We've been telling him for over a year and a half that we feel he needs to seriously work on things, but he's not treated the problem as a top priority. He started a side project which he seems a million times more motived about. You'd think he'd be ready to quit our band, or that he'd be aware of the building frustration and the inevitabel fallout. You'd think he'd be sick of all this damn nagging! But no, he seems totally, utterly oblivious.

We're all at the end of our rope, we're very serious about this band and we want to get to the next level. We can't do it with him. So the 4 of us decided to tell him that he's out. This BREAKS our heart, and will no doubt break his, so I want to make sure we do it in the most compassionate, generous way possible. I want to do what I can to spare him any extra pain. Any experiences/insight around this are most appreciated.
posted by qzar to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can you phrase it not so much as "You suck, you're out" and more "Your new project seems to be a really good fit for you, much better fit than our band, and you seem to enjoy it more than I think you have ever seemed to enjoy being part of the band. We love you, you're our friend, and we'd rather see you happy and excited about your new project. If we're going to bring our band to the next level it is going to take even MORE time and dedication and hard work. We don't see how you could reasonably continue with the band while continuting with your new project. The new project is sparking something in you that we haven't seen in a long time, so we think it makes more sense for you to focus on that instead of forcing you to invest all your time in a band that doesn't seem to make you excited any more."

basically, make it seem more about how you see how much he enjoys his new project, and you know that the next phase in your band's life is going to basically remove his ability to enjoy it anymore, and that doesn't seem fair to him. Maybe even consider coming at it from a "We don't want you to come to resent us and your participation in the band because it is keeping you from doing something you really love."

Can you cement that your FRIENDSHIP isn't ending, just your relationship as bandmates, maybe by expressing interest in his new project, finding ways to cheer him on or support him in it? Or even just making a point of having hangouts with him with the same core people, only not have it be about the band at all?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:02 PM on June 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

You are kicking him out because he sucks. There is a limit to how much it is possible to soften that message. I think the best way is to tell him in person, straight - we have decided you are not cutting it, and we are going to make a change.
posted by thelonius at 12:04 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Keep stressing that you love him and that you all want to be friends, but for all concerned you think it would be better without him. He may be hanging in there to keep y'all happy and this may be music to his ears. (forgive the pun)

Talk to him about how much happier he seems to be with his side project and that he's been lacking that enthusiasm for your band for a long time.

He'll take it how he takes it. But if you're honest, kind and open to keeping him in your lives, there shouldn't be any lasting bad feelings.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:09 PM on June 3, 2013

You should also have a game plan for transitioning the business/financial side of your relationship, e.g., how to ensure that he's made whole if he's invested in any band equipment, receives his share of any pertinent revenue streams, is removed from the LLC, etc. Conveying these arrangements will help make your decision real to him while also demonstrating that you value his past contributions and plan to treat him fairly.
posted by carmicha at 12:13 PM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

At the end of the talk, make plans to hang out in a week or so, doing something non-music related. That'll send a stronger "we're still friends" message than any amount of saying it.
posted by Pwoink at 12:50 PM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, Bandmate, how do you feel about your participation in Band?
You know how we've been pressuring you to improve your skills in A and B?
You've missed N practices in the last X months.
You haven't helped plan tours, write/ choose music, and other work.

He should be getting the idea.

I'm a wuss, and I'd focus on practice and commitment, which are measurable: We're working on the band a lot, and want to tour more and practice more. You haven't shown the willingness to practice or commitment to working on the band, so we've decided to look for a new Instrument player. Nothing personal, dude, we love you and love playing with you.
posted by theora55 at 12:56 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the band is a serious endeavor for the 4 of you and not so much for him. You aren't all on the same page when it comes to commitment, so this sort of thing is inevitable if you want to go to the next level. (I quit/was kicked out of a couple of bands because they really wanted to tour/make records/be serious when I wanted to just have fun and play the odd show.)

No matter what it's going to sting and you probably can't avoid a cooling off period. Don't make it into a "Dude you suck and are holding us back" thing. He probably feels that way on some level. You've given him warnings. Take a, "We want to focus on this stuff going forward that you haven't shown any interest in. I think it's time we go in our different directions" Make it clear the band relationship is over, but it's for band stuff. And let him sulk and lick his wounds.

Good luck.
posted by kendrak at 1:03 PM on June 3, 2013

"Now that we've seen you working on your new project and how enthusiastic and proactive you are on that, we realise that by comparison you really just aren't that into this band, and we want someone who feels the way about the band that you feel about x"
posted by jacalata at 1:25 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Hey, it sucks for both of us and I'm sorry it's come to this, but you haven't made the effort we've been asking for and it's time for us to move forward without you. Your other project seems like it's more satisfying for you anyway. Again, I'm sorry, but I think it will turn out to be the best for all of us, including you."

I'd advise against a strategy of telling Sucky McBandmate "Your other project seems more interesting to you" and hoping it motivates him to decide to leave on his own. What if he doesn't take the hint? You'd have to level with him which would reveal your first attempt to be passive-aggressive bullshit. You can allude to it in order to soften the blow, but it shouldn't be your primary approach.

There's no way to be honest without hurting his feelings (unless he really does want out but can't bring himself to make the move), but that doesn't mean you have to be brutal. You should be honest because someone in the band (or associated with it) will inevitably blab and it will get back to him which will compound any damage to the friendship.

I would frame it as being about his unwillingness to work on things and prioritize the band rather than him being a bad musician/bandmate. He knows he hasn't been doing the necessary. Don't draw the situation out, have the conversation and be done with it.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:31 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was kicked out of a band once. Why? Because I had committed to attending a choir trip for my college choir and the band *might maybe possibly* be in a new band contest the same week. By not saying "I would skip the choir trip to go to the new band contest!" I was deemed "not committed enough" and was let go. My brother was the lead singer.

Years later, he tells everyone that I quit the band. But if that were true, why would I remember specific details (the contest was being held at The Wherehouse in Bartlesville, Oklahoma)?

Can you tell I'm still bitter?

My advice is to just be direct and honest and don't try to sugar-coat things or make them sound different than they are. He won't like it, but it's a kind mercy.
posted by tacodave at 4:33 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: In case this might be of interest to future others, here is what happened.

I took bits and pieces into account and here's what we told him when we sat him down (only one of us really did the talking until the end):

- that it's not working, hasn't been working for a while (he agreed).
- that it is never going to work (he didn't agree, but accepted)
- but that we wanted him to finish the record we are 90% done with if he wanted to (he did)

He took it as well as I could have hoped, with a touch of bitterness at most but no anger. Had a sense of humor throughout. The saddest part was how he really didn't see it coming. He knew there was a problem but didn't want to ever give up.

I wrote him a private email later, telling him that our biggest mistake was to let it go on for too long while his was to continue trying even after he'd lost interest in the band. I told him that I didn't pity him, but that I was going to miss him terribly. I told him if he needed space in our friendship I'd understand.

We've decided to tell industry people and non-intimates that he is focusing on his side project so he can save a little face, and he's going to play one last show with us. And we've also decided to really step up our game and hit the ground running, out of respect for him, so that this decision wasn't in vain.

Thanks for all the input everyone.
posted by qzar at 11:06 AM on June 7, 2013 [15 favorites]

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