Last time I theorized a bunch of reasons why people remain in bands when they don’t want to do what the band does. I didn’t get much feedback but did have a couple of good exchanges that made me think of more reasons –
- being in the group becomes a habit (even an uncomfortable comfort)
- people WANT TO WANT to be in the band but just can’t admit to themselves they really don’t or don’t really have the gumption or time (the ass)
- no one wants to be a quitter. Like a bad marriage, no one went into this thing hoping it’d fail and now there’s a bunch of time and effort invested.
All of those things can be summed up as being in limbo – symptoms of half-assedness. If you are in limbo about being in a band, I recommend reading and heeding Derek Sivers’ “No More Yes. Hell Yeah or No” blog entry. You’ll be doing yourself and everyone in your band a favor if you determine if the project is a “Hell, Yeah,” a “Yes,” or a “No.” (though I’ll posit that if you’re pondering this, it’s probably not a “Hell Yeah”)
OK – on to Part 2 – Why do band leaders and members put up with their contrary and unwilling band mates for months – even years?
Again – it’s because we’re emotionally involved in our band and just like I said above – no one wants this thing to fail.
Here’s a list of reasons that I and/or others have used to justify continuing working with a contrary band mate:
- We don’t want to be the bad guy/parental figure/dictator – I put this first because I hear it more often than any other. Sometimes the bandleader has to play this role. On the bright side, laying down the law will keep your band going and show everyone involved how dedicated you really are. NOT doing it undermines any authority you have. (It took me a long, long time to do this. Hence the name of this blog and the loss of faith in me by many I’ve failed to lead well.)
- We don’t want to lose a friend – This is a close 2nd to the last one. Do you really want to remain friends with someone whose friendship with you is contingent upon them being able to hold your band and musical future hostage? Not healthy for you or your music.
- It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between distraction and disengagement: Is this person dealing with a temporary issue or is he/she switching paths? Many of us (me included) try to walk two paths at once (to juggle too many balls). It’s very, VERY hard to tell when to say something in such a situation. I’ve found, though, that it’s better say something sooner than later and run the risk of angering that person. Otherwise, we say nothing and that cycle of bad precedents begins – more on this below.
- They are a really good musician OR we match well musically – It doesn’t matter how good someone is if they can’t be present and solid. Recognize that there’s a different between antagonistic relationships that are productive (Faith No More, Sweetmeat) and that aren’t (Invincible Czars at various times). Don’t get hung up in a codependent relationship with gifted player and don’t fool yourself in to believing you found and lost your one true musical soul mate.
- Fear that we won’t find a replacement or that if/when we do, they won’t last – similar to the last item. I felt this way over and over for years because it truly was hard to find good players that were willing to commit to a challenging band. Solution: I stopped dreading the inevitable and started hiring people to fill space that was necessary OR working without that which wasn’t. (I’ve been surprised at what I thought was… but wasn’t)
- They have money or other resources you need – while you do need money to finance your musical habits/adventures, this is a terrible source. You’re already playing at the mercy of this person’s schedule and dedication level — why make yourself financially beholden to them? Not worth it in the long run.
- Seniority – Long standing bands owe a debt of gratitude to those who paved the way or paid the band’s dues. However, you might find that the very people once passionate and motivated lose enthusiasm over years of paying those dues and you’ll be confronting someone you NEVER thought you’d have to confront. Sometimes the road pavers don’t know how or (more importantly) don’t want to do anything else. Sometimes you’re one of them.
- We want to believe – Again – like a marriage, no one goes into it hoping it’ll fail. it takes a lot of faith and the ability to power-through difficult, embarrassing or unpleasant situations to be a band leader. It’s difficult to let go of something you believe – even in the face of hard evidence. We want to believe and there have been times that belief is all that has kept me going – but sometimes, you have to know when to let go. More on belief another time.
- They are the star of the show/face of the band – if this it the case, you have a huge problem but… ultimately everyone’s replaceable and don’t forget to include yourself in that list! If your contrary member is your band’s raison d’etre, then maybe you should consider your own status with the group! If your band hasn’t reached a critical mass where you’re known far and wide, it may not even be a big deal to switch the face of your band. Consider, though, that even big acts sometimes deal with the face of their bands changing – Iron Maiden (see graph at the top of this entry) and Pink Floyd actually prospered with new lead singers after they’d already reached critical mass.
All of the above reasoning is based on fear. While I’ll agree that fear can be a motivator, it will ultimately turn against you – so stop fearing your band and start loving it again! You’re the band leader. When someone’s attitude is hindering your band, it’s your responsibility to solve the problem. So do it – even if means professionally giving someone the boot.
Your band will be better for it and your relationship with this person probably will be, too – even if it means it has to end or take a break or goes down a rung.
I know why you don’t do it – you want them to do it so you can be the good guy… you value your reputation as a nice guy over your work. You’re squeaky clean…but your band sounds like crap because the bag pipe player won’t learn the songs and you won’t kick him out.
This doesn’t just set a bad precedent – it sets a cycle of bad precedents in motion – “I can get away with that… what else can I get away with?” I know from experience that once that cycle is in motion, you won’t break it without losing someone and you’ll often find yourself right back at the Molasses Swamp:
I was the squeaky clean guy from 2002 until 2012 but the price of being liked instead of respected eroded my enthusiasm and stifled my actual music work. It plagued my mind at restaurants, on vacation and at 4 AM. When I finally got the balls to fix the problems, it often damaged friendships and I came across much like the power-hungry dictator that our first accordionist, Manda, always said I was.
(SIDE NOTE: Manda was right about a lot of things about me – I just wish I’d recognized them as gifts instead of handicaps back then.)
To the point, when if you feel backed into a corner by bad precedents – don’t fear the idea of starting over back at square one. Embrace it. Pay that price sooner than later. At least you know what the next several steps hold because you’ve been there before. Plus, you had fun on the way. You may wind up back the Molasses Swamp but who didn’t enjoy staying at the Peanut Brittle House or hiking the Gumdrop Mountains along the way?
In fact, starting over is a great second-chance at several things you may have missed or done badly before!
Final thoughts –
If you went to your day job with a bad attitude and didn’t do any work most days… how long do you think you’d last before getting fired? Your band mate may not take your band seriously enough to think of it in those terms – but that does NOT mean you shouldn’t.
What would a professional, goal-oriented manager say to a slacking employee? Use that as a basis for how to confront contrary band mates without malice, fear or anger.
Parting ways does NOT have to be dramatic, negative or even permanent. I am slowly embracing the revolving door of my own band and though many have left The Invincible Czars unhappily, I’ve remained friends and even continued playing music with most of them in one band or another.
To those who felt mistreated – I apologize. I was, after all, a reluctant band leader and my intention was never to hurt – in fact it was the opposite. I think (hope) anyone who’s worked with me will attest to that.
If you have a better solution or more suggestions on the topic of band members who don’t want to contribute but want to be rewarded like those who do, I’d love to hear your thoughts. In spite of all my theories and experiences, I never know what’s going on others’ minds – until I ask.