please help me figure out how to have this horrible conversation
June 23, 2022 3:39 PM   Subscribe

I need to have an awkward AF conversation with a member of my band, and it's making me anxious and breaking my heart. I'm looking for scripts to make this easier, and also maybe ways to make me feel better about it in general.

As I think I've mentioned here many times, I released a record back in January that got a good deal of attention for a little no-label indie holiday release when no one was paying attention.

I have a band. This band is made up of my best friends. Guitar Player, Bass Player, Keyboard Player, Drummer, Me (lead singer). Guitar, Bass, Keys are all seasoned session players who do music for a living professionally and mostly full time. Drummer has a lot of touring experience from the 90s when he was in a band, but is not a session-level drummer and has a fairly prestigious day job that has nothing to do with music. He is the first to admit that in this group of musicians, he is the weak link. (He's really good, but he's not session-player good.)

I have a Producer who not only helped me make this record, but also co-wrote all of the songs.

Producer is also a drummer.

Producer was originally supposed to drum in my band, but Producer's wife had a baby last November and he vastly underestimated how much time he would have during the baby's infancy, and had to bow out because he couldn't commit to show dates. That's when Drummer came on board.

We did two shows at the beginning of the year in upstate NY and we had a show in NYC planned in late February. That show ended up not happening because the venue screwed us over and double-booked us.

We all took a time out from shows and rehearsals for a few months because I was settling into a new job and also two of the band got COVID. In the meantime, some of my songs got radio play at various stations all over New York state, including WFUV in NYC. We booked another Hudson Valley show on September 9.

I got cold emailed by the creative director of a really big-time venue in NYC yesterday saying he was interested in booking me. He heard me on the radio and tracked me down via my website. I am now booked for a show there on September 16 (a week after the HV show).

This is all good stuff, except for one thing - Guitar, Bass, and Keys think that for the NYC show, which is pretty high profile (there will be tix and lots of promotion from the venue and technically it's our first NYC show ever), we should ask Producer to sit in on drums. He knows the material (he co-wrote it), and he's a session-level player. He would probably need one rehearsal, max. He's showed up to gigs in the past with no rehearsal because drummers have gotten sick or just not shown and played with no problem. He's a Ringo, basically. Having him play would also eliminate an element of ambiguity that has been prevalent at all of my live shows thus far, because Producer was a key reason why the record happened but no audience has seen him play this music with me. I talk him up like crazy at our live shows, but he can't swing trips to upstate venues, so he's like this mysterious figure who is responsible for my musical success but no one knows who he is. He lives in NYC, and Guitar, Bass, and Keys thinks this is the time to have him drum.

Producer wants to drum this show too, and is super excited about it.

I am totally on board with this idea except it fucking breaks my heart to have to tell Drummer that I want him to sit out the NYC show. Drummer is a really dear friend of mine. He is sweet and loveable and kind and I adore him. We've been using his rehearsal space for free and he feeds us and he's a professional photographer and took all of my headshots and took a bunch of band photos and he hasn't charged me a DIME for any of it.

The idea of having this conversation with Drummer makes me sick, especially since he'll be playing the Hudson Valley show one week prior. I'm scared it will make things awkward and horrible and he won't be invested in the HV show, or in any future shows we do as a band (Producer can't join the band full-time, this NYC show would be a one-off, and we could well get other NYC shows because of this one).

Drummer is gracious and won't be a jerk about this. Drummer will totally understand the reason why I'm asking him to stand down for this one show. Drummer is often self-deprecating about his drumming skills compared to the rest of the band. Drummer will know that at the end of the day it's about serving the music.

But Drummer is my friend, and I love him. Drummer is my boyfriend's friend, and they love each other. Drummer's image is all over all of my existing promotional materials. Drummer has done so much for me in general. Drummer is sweet and so enthusiastic and this conversation feels like I'm going to be kicking a kitten.

I mean, at the core of it, isn't what I'm saying basically "I think you're good enough to drum our upstate shows but not good enough for a Manhattan show." Along with "You're still my favorite drummer and I want you to drum in future shows we book... but not this one at the famous venue." And doesn't that kind of make me a jerk? There are enough jerks in the entertainment industry, I don't want to be one of them.

Asking Producer not to drum this show is not an option. My publicist wants me to play at least ONE show with Producer since we wrote the album together, and this is the opportunity that's landed in our laps, and publicist says we need to take this opportunity because we don't know when Producer's and my schedule will ever sync up this perfectly again (he has two small children, lives in Manhattan, and is mostly a SAHD when he's not doing music; I am childfree and live upstate - scheduling our recording sessions was hard enough!).

Can you please help me find a way to have this horrrible, horrible conversation with my lovely Drummer without burning a bridge and minimizing any hurt feelings? Is that even possible? This is my first time being in charge of a band, I don't know what I'm doing, and I just don't want to be an asshole here.

Please help me figure out how to talk to Drummer about this and also how to not feel so guilty and sad about it.
posted by nayantara to Human Relations (27 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: posters request -- frimble

Best answer: This might be a cop out (but also sounds like it’s true and your publicist’s advice), but could you frame this the way you do at the end of the question? Basically, Producer has been super involved in this music but can’t actually be a standing member of the band for life reasons, so this New York show is his chance to experience playing the music live and show his face as part of the group? That sounds completely reasonable to me and it sounds like Drummer is a reasonable guy.
posted by MadamM at 3:49 PM on June 23, 2022 [32 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I think you should just frame it in terms of giving Producer his one chance to shine and get some credit and love for all the work he's done. You don't have to say anything about their relative talent or skill level. And make it very clear your friend is not being edged out of the band (if he is indeed not).
posted by lunasol at 3:54 PM on June 23, 2022 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Leadership means making hard decisions sometimes. You do not get to decide or control how Drummer feels about this, you can only choose to be as kind as possible and use language you believe he will best understand and take to heart. All you can do is not DELIBERATELY be an asshole; you may have to embrace that this is a little bit of an asshole decision, even if it isn't particularly out of line. He may be hurt, he may be a little mad at you, but all you can do is try to make sure to communicate that he DOES have great value to you and this is just a crappy if correct call you have to make. This is how it is in the business they call show.

You can feel guilty, you will get over it. Just do not make him manage your feelings for you. Find someone else to help you deal with that part.

I think you should queue up the conversation by saying you've made a difficult decision about the NYC show, that Producer should sit in because it's the only opportunity he'll have to do so, and you know there's no way for that to not feel less than fantastic for him but it wouldn't have been such a difficult decision for you if you didn't value him so much. Don't drag out the conversation, leave room for anything he might want to say at the time and then make a date to talk again so you can check in with him.

Generally, an adult who's vaguely professional may find that this stings the ego a bit but is not an actual slap in the face, not if you clearly communicate about it. Not telling him, or leaving it until too late, or letting him find out some other way - those would be actively unfair.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:54 PM on June 23, 2022 [10 favorites]

"Hey, Drummer. Since this show is in NYC and Producer can actually make it for once, I was hoping we might be able to bring him on as a guest act [either for a few songs or the whole show*]. That would mean that you wouldn't be able to play, though, which obviously fucking sucks since you're an awesome and integral part of the band. What do you think?"

*Perhaps I'm missing something, but why not bring him on for a few songs instead of the whole show? You get all the benefits of bringing in Producer, but while still giving Drummer his due as a member of the band.
posted by mosst at 3:55 PM on June 23, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Lunasol has it. You’re trying to do Producer a solid. From your description, it sounds like Drummer will feel far less horrible than you are feeling or think he might feel. Also, he’s an adult, it’s not your job to keep him from feeling bad about things that happen just because Life.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 3:57 PM on June 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also you are articulate and thoughtful and have the emotional intelligence to be able to have an effective and sensitive conversation with Drummer.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 3:58 PM on June 23, 2022

Best answer: Thirding lunasol. If the drummer is your friend and you're being honest, it'll be fine.
posted by history is a weapon at 4:00 PM on June 23, 2022

Best answer: Man, I think you are way overthinking this.

Drummer plays for the love of the music, right? They seem to know their limits and skill sets, are generous with their time and expertise, and sound like an awesome friend. Producer, and you, are both in this for career reasons. You have a different view of the importance of shows, of your band as a whole, what skills are needed to cultivate success, even what success is, compared to Drummer.

Who are you to say that this would be such a horrible terrible no good very bad conversation? Maybe Drummer is intimidated by the pressure of a famous venue, and would love to be a Friend and Patron of the Band. Maybe they are feeling pulled between their day job commitments and band commitments and would welcome the decision. Maybe they haven’t bowed out because they didn’t want to leave you in a lurch?

It’s obvious that you have to have this conversation no matter what. So don’t go into it assuming you know how bad it will be. Go into it thinking of all the ways it could be a positive thing for the band and your friendships.
posted by Mizu at 4:01 PM on June 23, 2022 [6 favorites]

I agree with MadamM's framing, but I wanted to add that I don't think you're wrong to feel some anxiety, and even fear of bad karma, over this. The implicit message is that Drummer isn't up to scratch for your biggest show ever, and Producer is. You'd need to be serene indeed for that not to sting a little.
posted by praemunire at 4:42 PM on June 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

Hi! After all of Producer’s work on the album I’ve been wanting to have one show that he gets to actually drum on! Looks like scheduling will work out for him to drum for the Manhattan show on Date. I’d like to invite him to play that one show. You’d play the Hudson show on Date and I’m seeing about lining a couple* up later in Month too that of course you would play as well. (*this can be an exaggeration and not come to pass exactly as said in this email - no matter what, we know there will be more shows with Friend, so it’s ok if the exact plan you allude to here “falls through” - it’s more a concrete way to show your commitment to playing with him in future!) Just wanted to check in and see if that works for you? Thanks again for your amazing chops on the album, I was listening to it the other day, loved your (thing) on (song) and feeling so lucky to be working with you!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:44 PM on June 23, 2022

Would Drummer, a professional photographer, like to take the opportunity of not having to play the NYC show to take some sweet shots of the band in action at a hot venue?
posted by matildaben at 5:12 PM on June 23, 2022 [5 favorites]

Would Drummer, a professional photographer, like to take the opportunity of not having to play the NYC show to take some sweet shots of the band in action at a hot venue?
Right? If the guy's a professional photographer, pay him his part of the cut to take shots during the show. Win-win. I honestly think a professional photographer/rehearsal space owner/drummer is a far more valuable member of a band than a really excellent session drummer, but I don't know what kind of music you play.
posted by The_Vegetables at 5:25 PM on June 23, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Lots of good advice for you so far! One small suggestion about the language you use: I think as women we are taught to soften the blow in this type of conversation by asking rather than telling.

You have made this decision. This is happening. So, make sure that you don’t frame it as a request. You are respectfully and kindly telling him of your decision, letting him react, and giving him options on how he can choose to be included in the gig.

I also think that in addition to paying him, it would be good to acknowledge him during the gig.
posted by jenquat at 6:19 PM on June 23, 2022 [26 favorites]

Wow. Excellent guidance from jenquat. Professional and leader-like.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:36 PM on June 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

You really can’t control his response, and I actually don’t think you’re overthinking it to anticipate he might be less enthusiastic about future shows/his future in the band. It feels awkward because it is. It’s not WRONG and you’re not a jerk, of course, but it’s a demotion, and you can’t expect anyone to be happy about a demotion. I think you have to accept whatever the result is without trying to make it sound win-win, because that’s bs, and you shouldn’t bs your friend.

It sounds like this was a band decision so I personally wouldn’t do the dirty work for my band and frame this like it was my decision when it was everyone’s. Fwiw I’m the only woman in a band and I resent having to do all this kind of emotional labor for them so that’s where I’m coming from—not sure if that’s at play in your situation.
posted by kapers at 6:46 PM on June 23, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I'll be perfectly honest in that I feel like this decision was made for me on some level and I don't feel great about that part of it. But what's done is done, and at the end of the day it is also important to me to at least once get to play this show with the person who co-wrote it, because I don't know if it will ever happen again with our particular life circumstances - he has a toddler and a new(ish) baby and I recently relocated 3 hours away from the city. I also have to think in terms of preserving a relationship with my producer/co-writer (when we've just started working on a follow-up record), I feel like I gotta let him take a lap, get to finally introduce him and give him credit in person, and have him do the drumming this one time, you know? This record would not have happened without him. It wouldn't have happened at all. Yes, the band wouldn't have happened without Drummer but there wouldn't have been music for the band without Producer. So there's some politics here, too.

At the end of the day, my name is on the front of the record and the creative director of the venue tracked down my website to cold-email me. So yes, I could veto this decision and say Drummer does the drumming and that's that. But then, a really good producing/co-writing relationship might go to hell, and then I'll be starting from scratch. There's too much momentum going now for me to not give Producer one show to do his thing the way we had originally hoped to do this. It's important to me that Producer and I keep making music together so that the band can keep doing it's thing (including Drummer). A good producer/co-writer is hard to come by, especially when you're pushing 40 and nobody knows who you are. Producer knows people in the city who will come to this show. I don't even know if I have any friends left in NYC. Everyone I went to college with seems to have fled to Westchester or farther away, especially with COVID.

Yes, this is a LOT of emotional labor and yes I resent that.

But this is the right choice, for this gig (and this gig only).

Thank you all for your advice. I really appreciate it.
posted by nayantara at 7:10 PM on June 23, 2022

You might consider having two percussionists on your stage.
posted by effluvia at 7:11 PM on June 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hey, you sound thoughtful and lovely and it's going to be fine. You can totally frame this as a decision made for you. Let's call the producer john. Publicist really wants to see john play in just one show this year. John has done so much behind the scenes and you think it would be awesome for him to get to play in the manhattan show as a token for all of your gratitude for his hard work. That is also what works best for his schedule. This is a one-off and drummer will play in the rest of your upcoming shows. How does he feel about that? Remind him that he's awesome and one of your best friends and you're totally gonna shout him out onstage.

Keep it casual, light, and loving. This moment will pass, the show will go wonderfully, and everyone can escape without too many hurt feelings. Good luck!
posted by Amy93 at 7:44 PM on June 23, 2022

Seconding effluvia I really don’t see why they can’t *both* play? Unlike literally every other instrument in your band two drummers is often actually better than one.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:58 PM on June 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You’re making an assumption that Friend Drummer actually wants to play a very high profile event. Personally, if I was only a fair musician who did it as a hobby and knew I wasn’t great, a gig like that could be as intimidating as heck.

He may actually be grateful not to have to play that show and you may be taking a weight off his shoulders by having Producer step in. (I don’t know, I don’t know if this is an opportunity that people dream about or are terrified of!)

Anyway, just another point of view. I do like the phrasing upthread of giving Producer his one opportunity before handing it over to Drummer who it sounds like will get every other opportunity except this from hereon. Not a bad trade.
posted by Jubey at 10:32 PM on June 23, 2022

Can current drummer participate in some way? Or, sit in on a song or two?

Regardless, you song like a good person and a talented singer. Good luck! Maybe put the gig details in Projects so some local MeFites can attend and support?!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:04 PM on June 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

I would tell Drummer that this is the Producer Drummer's chance to actually visibly participate in the show and so you will be featuring him as the lead drummer for the show. I'd then give him space to talk about what he might be wanting out of the show- would he want to play a couple songs at the end of the set? (Or encore) Shoot photos for the band, with compensation? Hang out at the mercy booth and pop on stage at the end? Don't come up with his thoughts and feelings before he shares them with you. If he wants to be included, figure out a way to make that happen that works with the set you've decided. Having him actively participate in the decision makes it less exclusionary because you're not just kicking him to the side, you're letting him figure out where he wants to be outside of that role he usually fills. I'd also call it out at the beginning of your set- something like "were exciting to have PD with us this evening- we want to give a shout out to D for lying off the drums for the night so we can have PD with us, everyone give it up for D.." etc. If he's made it clear that he doesn't want something like being called out on stage, just make a short mention of it- it's courteous, builds excitement for having PD there with you, and reduces any confusion your usual fans might have by not seeing the normal drummer on stage.
posted by shesaysgo at 6:14 AM on June 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can you also stop thinking about it in terms this somehow you doing him a major wrong and reframe this as being about honouring existing collaborative relationships? Just don’t want your body language to telegraph this kind of thinking to your friend.

Don’t know much but as your band gets more successful this sort of thing must come up all the time? Getting those acknowledgements for all band members as stated above sounds like good practice.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 6:45 AM on June 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Asking Producer not to drum this show is not an option. My publicist wants me to play at least ONE show with Producer since we wrote the album together, and this is the opportunity that's landed in our laps, and publicist says we need to take this opportunity because we don't know when Producer's and my schedule will ever sync up this perfectly again (he has two small children, lives in Manhattan, and is mostly a SAHD when he's not doing music; I am childfree and live upstate - scheduling our recording sessions was hard enough!).

So, why can you not say this?? It sounds like you didn't actually decide your friend/regular drummer is not "good enough" for the NYC show, you're just worried about it coming across that way, but this wasn't your idea and you would otherwise not be considering finding a replacement for your friend? (If you are worried he's not good enough for the important gigs, and that this isn't a one time thing, that's kind of another problem, but if you're successful now perfect drumming is obviously not the thing driving your success, right?)

If it makes sense you can also talk to your friend about other options during the show, like perhaps you could have more than one drummer/percussionist, it doesn't seem inevitable that the other guy being lead drummer for a night means your friend can't participate and be part of the band at the big gig if he wants to.
posted by picardythird at 7:35 AM on June 24, 2022

Response by poster: Just broke the news to Drummer, using some of the helpful scripts y'all provided. Had to do it over text (I live 2 hours north of Drummer and I'm actually in the office today for work meetings when I normally WFH so ducking our for a call isn't a good look for me today) which really made me feel like a shithead, but he responded with "all good" . (I'm glad I didn't have to do this over voicemail or after a bunch of phone tag - he's at work too - it would have prolonged the agony.)

I made sure to tell him it was just for the one show, it's partly a decree from the publicist, and every show we get after this he'll still be the drummer, I'm not looking to replace him. I'll let him decide if he wants to come or not. I'd love to have him take photos but if he's feeling some ego sting right now I don't want to pressure him to do something that will make him feel bad.

I also talked to Bass Player last night (she's the big sister I wish I had), who has played shows with Drummer in other bands, and she reminded me that Drummer is easygoing, professional, not petty, not a child, and would totally understand Producer wanting a chance to play his own material at least once. That was reassuring. She goes back with him a long time.

I'm still worried that I've damaged my friendship with Drummer because of this but that's my anxiety I guess. Would really break my heart if that happens.

Being "in charge" sucks sometimes.
posted by nayantara at 7:54 AM on June 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Please post the event in Projects, and update here. Thx
posted by theora55 at 9:52 AM on June 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm still worried that I've damaged my friendship with Drummer because of this but that's my anxiety I guess

Yeah, it is. Sounds like you handled this pretty well, so you can give yourself some credit. Have fun at the show!
posted by obliterati at 10:03 AM on June 24, 2022

« Older Desk Snacks -- Pandemic Edition   |   Who said to send a potato into space? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.