Leader of the Band
March 16, 2004 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a band. We just got our first pressings of our first album in the mail (funded mostly by myself). This is pretty exciting, except for this : I feel that my singer/principle lyric writer has very little time and continues to ask me if he can "Have Thursday Off" (as though I am his boss), my guitarist is very loyal, but ultimatly doesn't really have a drive to practice and improve. How would you, as a person with the vested interest in the band, encourage these other needed band members and not seem like a control freak in the process? I suppose this goes for any type of business relationship you have with friends who don't have the ability to contribute monetarily.
posted by psychotic_venom to Human Relations (14 answers total)
If you push your bandmates, your band will implode and you will be bummed. You pretty much have to either accept that different members of the band will have different levels of commitment, and live with that; or dump the current membership and start over, this time screening prospective members for the commitment.

You've pretty much described the most universal reason for band destruction... one member hassling other members about commitment makes things stop being fun pretty fast; alternately, of course, if you're frustrated about their slacking, the band can't be a lot of fun for you, either.

I'd suggest talking to them openly and simultaneously lowering your expectations. It's not necessarily a bad thing if you're the driving force. Look at it this way: you'll get to make most of the creative decisions.
posted by COBRA! at 1:22 PM on March 16, 2004

Agree Cobra. I've been in a few bands that just came to a screeching halt, mainly because one person wanted to be master o' the band. Are you all gigging? If not, you should be. That's a motivator for a lot of musicians to work....getting to play live in public and feeding the adrenaline that only comes from a live show, becomes like an addiction.

Gig, and use that as the reason to practice. Make your practices a little more open and allow guests to watch. Make it a loose, fun, session. The band I'm in has been together for 8 years using this process.
posted by mkelley at 1:35 PM on March 16, 2004

Yes, what they said. Motivation is always self-generated, and everyone is motivated for different reasons. And someone else wanting you to be more committed is rarely motivating (think any relationship, never mind business or music ones).

Try to work out what motivates them, and create more of that; more gigs, certain types of gig, guests at practices, taking turns at song-writing, more input in choice of rep, longer list of rep, more difficult rep, informal demo's...?
posted by suleikacasilda at 1:58 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: We *are* gigging.. we have 6 gigs lined up in the next 3 weeks... which is cool--

It *is* exciting to play live, and I really *do* enjoy doing stuff with the guys. I already to enjoy the fact that I make nearly all of the creative decisions simply because my singer and guitarist seem to contribute very little in that area--but I question if that is simply because of my personality.

Ultimatly, *I* may be the worst part for the band, which kinda sucks... I guess I need to work on bringing the guys in and being MORE AND MORE PATIENT.

Patience is hard though.
posted by psychotic_venom at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2004

One thing that's made a big difference to me over the years is how much I feel is riding on the band... if you're really worried about making it, that'll drive all kinds of commitment-level issues. My first post-college band descended into empty-whiskey-bottle-hurling hell because we were all counting on the band to rescue us from our cruddy jobs. If you sort of half give up and admit that you're just doing it for yucks, and it's ok if you never get out of the local gigs where you play for 20 people (not that you'd run away if a Matador rep jumped out at you after a show), that makes the patience part a lot easier.
posted by COBRA! at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: Hmm... I think at the moment, my 2 reasons for doing it are the fun of playing/creating music, and the fact that I want to pay back the money that I put in and it not just be a money drain.

I'm definatly in the wrong business :)
posted by psychotic_venom at 2:24 PM on March 16, 2004

i have no experience with bands, but i think this is common across all walks of life. i'm useless at handling people in this situation so, if i were in your position, i'd learn to play/program the other instruments and start singing lessons.

and, when you get the chance to work with people who are good, be very very reluctant to give it up.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:27 PM on March 16, 2004

I would say that you are screwed either way psychotic.

I have been playing in bands for 15 years, and my current band has been weeded down two two members for the very same reason you mentioned. I am the principle lyricist/singer and my band *mate* is the principle musician. We pretty much just make up songs and record them, then send them out in short run EP's and Albums. We have our own studio, so it pretty much only costs us a small amount of money to release stuff.

What we have found is that our skills have gotten so much better without the added crap of having a bunch of wankers hanging around, and we have actually started to see some *limited* success from just sending stuff around.

So now we are in a fix because we want to start playing again, but can't find anyone.

So to solve your problem, you could move to Canada and play with us!
posted by Quartermass at 2:55 PM on March 16, 2004

You really ought to get some kind of understanding about where your bandmates, and the band as a whole, want to go. Is the idea to gig more, bigger, better? Expose more people to your music? Grow and evolve as an individual? Make a career out of it? Make a successful career out of it? Hang out and have a good time? Hang out and make music?

Knowing what each person wants to get out of being in the band, as well as getting some kind of consensus about what the band should be doing: Maybe that's building your draw, getting cred with bookers, touring. Or publishing, either indie or with an eye towards getting picked up by a major. Maybe it's making music first, and spreading it around as a side effect. Whatever it is, you have to have some kind of established and agreed direction, even if it's for the short term, or it's going to be hard to keep everyone together without band drama.

Being in a band is kind of a cross between a marriage, a bad Hollywood buddy movie, parenting, and running a business, and is subject to a lot of the same pitfalls from disparity of expectations. To keep it all from melting down, try stepping up the communication, maybe cut one practice a month short so you can sit down over dinner or coffee or beer or whatever and hash out hopes, dreams, and plans. Do it away from your practice space -- keep that for music and music only.

Good luck, and congratulations on your first album!
posted by majick at 3:02 PM on March 16, 2004

Please do not break up right after recording your album.

Having said that, the advice most people offer is pretty close to my own experiences.

My suggestion would be to sit down with your band members and find out what they want from the band and how much effort are they willing to put forth. If possible, figure out how to make everyone's goals work together. Sometimes though, band members are just incomptible.
posted by drezdn at 3:14 PM on March 16, 2004

If you are a professional band, then you can demand professional attitudes from all band members.

If you are not a professional band, then you cannot expect professional attitudes and compromise will be the order of the day.
posted by mischief at 6:40 PM on March 16, 2004

my singer ? my guitarist ?

keep trying to control and manipulate them until it becomes too painful for you.
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:43 PM on March 16, 2004

Hmmm ... I'm not sure that my experiences will be generalizable to anyone else's situation. On the other hand, I have held a band together for 14 years, with all the original members, so maybe I can offer something worthwhile.

As others have said, you need to find out what level of commitment the other band members are willing and able to put into the band at this time, and decide whether there is a compromise level that works for everyone. My band is pretty much an extended family, which has helped keep us together during musical rough spots. On the other hand, the music has helped keep the family unit together when we have family spats.

You say your guitarist doesn't have the drive to practice & improve. Our established method for technical improvement has been to consistently write songs which are just a little too difficult for us to play. This forces us to work hard to improve to the point where we can do the song justice. Then we repeat the process for the next song, continually stretching ourselves a little further. This has the added benefit of keeping practice interesting and keeping our creative juices flowing.

Also, whatever instrument you play, by spending time improving your own technique, you'll be in a better position to help pull your bandmates to a higher level.

As far as your singer/lyricist needing time off - it's important for the band to practice consistently. However, you may have to be flexible about when you practice. If he's busy on Thursday, find another day. My band has been averaging 2 nights a week of practice for the last 14 years, but we frequently change which 2 nights they are. Also, if we have to miss one of those nights, we'll try to make 3 practices the next week if possible.

Ultimately, you can't force anyone to stay motivated in your band. If you keep the creative process as fun and exciting as possible, then you've got the best shot at keeping things together.

Good luck!
posted by tdismukes at 7:25 AM on March 17, 2004

I hate to tell y'all this, but this is what I learned from playing in a lot of African bands, and from spending the last fifteen years learning from Gypsy bands in Hungary and Romania, a couple of years working with musicians in Turkey, and ten years playing professionally around Europe with my own band.

Now stand back, you are not going to like this:

Bands should not be democratic. Bands and music making are not naturally democratic institutions and sometimes should not be. You need a band leader (a benevolent fascist) to run the thing with an iron hand, aesthetically and administratively. All band members need to go into the band understanding that this is why said band gets gigs, contracts, and financial success.

Now, a band can be democratic, to an extent. But until I started playing in bands that were run this way - all coming from traditions in which you are born into a musician family - I experienced all the problems you are having in your band.

This isn't to say that I wouldn't let a band member off on a thursday. But if we have a gig on that thursday, you bet I called him a month ahead of time and a week ahead of time to make sure he knows it. And he may want to play piece A, but knows it is not worth arguing about it since I told him we are playing piece B. It takes a lot of work on my part to be a band fascist. I am 100% responsible and accountable. And my band pays me back with loyalty. And we are friends as well. And all of us have been professional, on the road musicians for over twenty years.

We used to have one American band member who constantly chafed under (my) iron fisted will. She felt things were insufficiently democratic. She was absolutely right. She finally left after trying unsuccessfully to break up the band while we were in the studio. We replaced her and carried on. Now things run smooth, we get paid well, everybody is happy. If band members want to do something different - say, their way... - they do it in a different band. And we all go into this knowing this beforehand, so there are no nasty surprises.

Just a bit of advice to use in the future. I doubt you can take your existing band and get them to adopt this system. You gotta be born into it. Good luck!
posted by zaelic at 9:50 AM on March 18, 2004

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