Band drama alert! Need some advice
August 12, 2013 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Sorry everyone, I am sure you have all heard of similar stories. This is a classic "three-part collaboration and one person kind of is uncompromising/has an ego." The question I am ultimately asking is: is my what I plan on saying reasonable? would you say I am being a jerk?

What happened: Guy starts a band with Girl and myself. Guy is the lead singer. I have been a professional musician, but in an entirely different genre, and it's my first time playing in a rock band. Guy had been doing a solo act all his life, and has some prior experience performing as a rock musician. Girl and I are both multi-instrumentalists; we both sing backup. In the beginning Guy wrote most of the songs, and we wrote very good parts for our own instruments. As the band progresses, I start contributing significantly as a songwriter, and there were many songs that we wrote together. As far as contributing music, general time and labor, and money, I consider each of us pulling a full 1/3.

As we do well, and get bigger, artistic and marketing decisions become increasingly crucial. This is when Girl and I noticed that Guy has an artistic vision somewhat different from ours (Girl and I see eye to eye on many things). He is not really able to clearly define his vision, though, just a bunch of things he likes and wants. He is unwilling to compromise on that vision. We have talked to him several times, trying to explain where we each want to go musically, and asking to find a middle ground between all three. He says he understands, but then restate himself and saying things like "this is final, I don't want to discuss this further." He also has been making major decisions on his own, without telling us. Girl and I each have other creative projects, so that when we have a musical idea that doesn't fit this band we have a place to take it. Guy doesn't have any other projects. I don't know if this is why he is so unrelenting on what he wants. My general observation is that Guy feels like this is kind of a "Guy and some other people" situation (he might not even be aware he is doing this), while I am expecting to be a full 1/3 of the band. Guy is very very nice, a great person and a great friend, and his music is very good.

I am not angry at him or anything, but I am out of time and patience to gently nudge him to stop thinking of the band as his solo act with backup musicians. I am fairly sure that he doesn't actively think that way, but he has been acting like this is Guy and friends, not Band. Every time we have a major talk he gets better, than quickly reverts back.

I am planning on being very explicit in our next talk. My plan is to ask him to choose between a) develop his solo act separate from the band (rather than using the band as his solo act) and start treating the band as a collaborative project...not just talk, but respect that Girl and I each should have a vote in major decisions; should each have a vote in the direction of our project, etc., or b) If he really wants this band to be his solo project and see no way out, than Girl and I are basically session musicians. We should get paid for gigs, not contributing money to rent things for the band, and he should stop playing songs Girl or I wrote. We will also stop contributing writing to the band and he should come up with his own orchestration. And he should feel free to hire whichever musician he wants, so if it's not us we shouldn't take it personally either.

In other words, either we are equal partners all the way, or we are not partners at all. I will say it nicer, but he is a smart guy and will catch the drift. Is this too harsh? Am I being unreasonable wanting a vote?

*in addition to the gender thing, Guy and I also come from very different backgrounds with very different attitudes and work ethic. I am trained to compartmentalize my personal worth from my work; integrity of the project from my own personal goals; and work relations from friendship. I don't know about Guy but he seems to mix all these things together.

posted by redwaterman to Human Relations (8 answers total)
Your planned explicit talk sounds OK to me. Have you and Girl discussed moving on without Guy? If so, and you're ready for that (if Guy is negative with your 3-way proposal), then yes, explicate.

A friend was recently in the same situation (though there were four not three in the band), and the band of three moved on without Guy (who was in that case actually Girl.) It worked out well for everyone, after the dust settled.
posted by anadem at 6:02 PM on August 12, 2013

Response by poster: That's actually a good idea that I haven't really thought about. So far, Guy and Girl have had more obvious conflicts, so I had told Girl that if she ever splits I'm going with her. But nothing explicit yet. Thanks for the idea!
posted by redwaterman at 6:08 PM on August 12, 2013

I think your option B seems a little overly strict -- while if you are only "session musicians" its totally reasonable for you to be getting paid for gigs/practices, the arrangements are still your responsibility. If he had set out from the beginning with hired guns they still would likely have come up with their own parts -- with his editorial guidance -- that's part of what he's paying you for. Plus it's not like you can unlearn the parts that you've already come up with.
posted by modernserf at 7:40 PM on August 12, 2013

I know several bands who have a distinct front man/woman, and the other players don't make the decisions, but they are still bands, and everyone plays and has a lot of fun without getting paid. So, I don't think it's as simple as 2 choices. If the two of you feel like you would enjoy being in the band, even without making the choices, than let him run things, and just enjoy it. If this is the case, though, than I don't see why you should put effort into things like booking, or putting out any funds for anything, but you can still be a part of the band without being session musicians.

Honestly, though, life is too short and there are too many good musicians out there to be in a band you don't want to be in. It's not fair to anyone to be there if you don't think you want to stay with it. If you feel your best option is to leave with the girl and put together a project that suits you better, than that's great. Hell, you two could put your own thing together, and also keep playing in this band, while giving up the control to your "new" band leader.
posted by markblasco at 8:54 PM on August 12, 2013

i think rather than giving him the two choices, which feel a bit like an ultimatum, i'd tell him that you want the band to have a discussion about how to make decisions in the future. then, tell him what you'd like, without telling him option B, and see how he responds. maybe there is a creative solution to the problem that you all can come up with rather than just the two ideas you've set forth which do seem a little harsh considering he is a great friend. from his perspective he will probably regularly be on the losing end of decision-making if it is split 3 ways because you and the Girl seem to see eye-to-eye much of the time.
posted by wildflower at 9:55 PM on August 12, 2013

Being explicit is good. I don't see any upside to pussyfooting around this. You have to make something happen if you don't want to get stuck. He'll keep on as he has been if you don't make it clear.

If it were me I wouldn't present him with a stark set of choices as you've outlined though. I'd still be totally direct, but emphasize getting him to recognize the problem and consider his responsibility for it rather than focusing on a predetermined set of specific alternatives.

I'd lay it out like this...

"Hey Guy, I'm having trouble lately telling if I'm an equal member of a three-person band, or a backing musician for your solo act. I thought it was the former, which is what I'm looking for, but the way you're making decisions without us and your artistic inflexibility makes me think you're viewing it as the latter.

So how do you view it? Because if it's the former, then you need to start acting like it, and if it's the latter then maybe I can still work with that, but I'm probably going to be starting my own thing to satisfy myself instead."

And have specific, concrete examples of unilateral decisions and actions he's taken, and how those decisions would be made in a more equal scenario so he can see the difference.

Once he's heard your issues and offered some kind of response you can make an informed choice about what you need to do, not what he needs to do.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:58 PM on August 12, 2013

I think your two ultimatums make sense actually. If this is something you're expecting to work and that it will make money in the future, it will save a lot of headache to have it clear NOW, rather than wait till royalties, label advances, publishing money etc need split. If more bands were clear from the get-go there would be a lot less bands splitting up as soon as they get a little bit of attention.

I WOULD make it clear and I dont think your ultimatum's are too strict. This is essentially a work commitment and it's good to iron out the 'contract' before you get properly started.
posted by stevedawg at 4:43 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

"this is final, I don't want to discuss this further."

Crying wolf aside, you are certainly allowed to reply to this in a way that implies his intransigence may involve finding new bandmates. That, or, "whatever you say, Hitler."

But do you really give a crap whether this is his vision or not? It kind of sounds like the assertion of dominance, undemocratic aspects, are what's offensive, not the vision itself. You say yourself he writes good music, so why be dramatic? Does the girl, who you imply butts heads with him more, have a real vision, or does she chafe at having less of a voice? There certainly appear to be power trips going on here. What's behind the desire for control?

Frankly, it sounds like he's talented, and talented people can be headstrong. I'm a bit curious about your passing reference to "marketing decisions," though.
posted by rhizome at 10:54 AM on August 13, 2013

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