Contrary Band Members Part 2 – Why We Live With It

Timeline/List of Iron Maiden members from Wikipedia. I see only one unbroken line on this whole thing. Proof that line-up changes are nothing to fear.

 

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.

The first Invincible Czars promo photo – back when I was the star of the show.   On the night we took it, the drummer didn’t show up and never did again. My relationships with many of the people to come and go over the years (including some of the people pictured) were damaged because I was too scared to communicate what I needed from them but even more scared of starting over or moving forward without them. When these issues came to a head, it was… dramatic. If I’d only seen the big picture I probably would’ve acted differently. In the grand scheme, the original line up of the Czars was a mere (but valuable and certainly memorable!) blip on the timeline and since then, someone has come/gone every 9-12 months. I got pretty used to replacing people… but it’s still not fun… even when it’s for the best.

 

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:

Dang… when you get sent back to the Molasses Swamp, you’re only a few squares from the beginning of the game!

All the way back there?!

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.

Dealing with Contrary Band Members – PART 1

Can you spot the contrary band member here? SIDE NOTE – I truly love Jim Martin’s tone and playing on all FNM releases and regret not seeing him with the band. I’m not sure how much of his contrary attitude was because FNM had a lot of drama between the members and how much was just overblown by the media. I think Jim just got a bad rap and wasn’t willing to put up with a bunch of BS. However, it is telling that he’s not playing with the band since it re-united. Regardless of anyone’s feelings or perspective on the matter, he’s clearly not on the same page with the others.

Does this sound familiar to you?

One or two people who are really passionate come up with the idea for a band.  They find others that are capable, like-minded, musically compatible and interested.  At first it’s all enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of what could be.  Songs are written.  Sets lists are ordered, re-ordered and rehearsed.   Things are moving… but there’s one person that misses every other practice or turns down gig offers for reasons ranging from schedule conflicts (often with other bands) to transportation issues to simply “not feeling it”.  He/she won’t help plan or promote or bring any ideas musically or otherwise to the table.  The rest of band presses forward choosing to focus on the positive but eventually, they start to feel held back by that one contrary band member.  No one is bold enough to confront the person directly, and so the whole group settles into an unproductive pattern operating at the mercy of the least willing/able among them.

Happens all the time.  Think about the last time you talked to someone who said, “we couldn’t do that show because so-and-so couldn’t make it.”  I hear this frequently… and it’s always the same person keeping the same band from doing stuff.

Now, I’m not talking about the people in your band who genuinely care about it but offer a differing opinion.

I’m talking about naysayers – complainers who offer no solutions to the problems they identify (akin to Seth Godin’s Meeting Trolls).  If they see no problem, they will pour over the idea and find or make one.

At your day job, these people remain with the org company because they want to collect a pay check while doing as little work as possible but… why do these contrary band members stay in bands when they clearly don’t want to be there?  Unless there’s some big money involved, it’s hard to understand.

Churchwood and ex-Invincible Czar bass player Adam Kahan always quotes Robert Fripp as saying that bands only need 2 of the following 3 things in order to function in what I call the Triangle of Musical Functionality –

Friendship, Music and Money.

I’ll refer to this later.

(It was actually Michael Giles’s concept.  See below for a quote from Fripp’s diary here*)

Most bewildering of all — what’s up with the manic ups and downs of these contrary members?  They’re surly and unprepared one week and then, just when the band leader’s had enough and is ready to kick them out, this person shows up with a great attitude and plays the best show of his/her life.

So what do you do when you’ve got someone teetering on the fence like this?

Well the “right” thing to do is easy to see when you’re not emotionally involved:

  1. Confront the person directly but tactfully by pointing out the fact that the band exists to (insert your goals here) and that he/she is not contributing to that end.
  2. Ask if he/she really wants to continue and communicate what needs to happen or change in order to do so.

But it’s not that simple.

Partly because we ARE emotionally involved and confronting someone in this manner makes us feel like the boss at an office job – a role that SEEMS about as far away from rockin’ the jams as it gets.  (I’m not the only reluctant band leader out there.  I know most musicians hate these confrontations but they happen in ALL relationships – don’t believe the rock n roll fairy tales.  Look at bands like Faith No More and Don Caballero for a reality check.)

In Don Cab’s case, it almost seems like the contrary member is Damon Che! He’s the only one that’s been in the band the whole time and I’ve seen his whole ling up change over multiple times in the last 10 years. The classic 4-piece line-up that inspired every band now on Sargent House Records (from The Mars Volta to Tera Melos) only lasted about 6 years and has been long gone for nearly 15!

It’s also partly that if we are bold enough to confront the person, they usually say, “yes,” to #2 above but nothing really changes.  That’s either because we didn’t clearly communicate what needed to change OR (more often) they simply don’t want to do it.

So instead of actually confronting the person, we try to attack the problem indirectly.  This leads to drama.

The most common reaction is to ignore the problem or, worse, to pretend it’s not happening and continue forward as if everyone’s on the same page.   I did that.  It communicates and solves nothing.  Tension builds.

Another reaction is to try to understand WHY it’s happening.  I always seem to want to understand WHY stuff happens – but after 11 years, I still only have a few clues as to why people who clearly don’t want to be there won’t just quit.  Here’s a list of reasons I’ve encountered or theorized and commentary on each:

  • They don’t want to let the rest of the band down – they don’t see that their behavior is actually FAR more of a let down to their band mates than if they were to simply leave.
  • They see the band as a group of friends and they don’t want to be excluded –  Remember Fripp’s/Giles’ Triangle from above?  Frienship is strong – but not strong enough on its own to keep someone engaged.  Their (in)actions tell us, “I’ll be hurt and angry if I get kicked out of the band…  but I refuse to do what’s required of me to maintain my status in it.”  Sounds like a 5 year old.  Being negative, contrary, unwilling and impatient doesn’t endear these people to anyone.  If they feel excluded, it’s often because they’ve excluded themselves.  Soon the friendship, the one thing they value, suffers.  Highly illogical, Captain.
  • They like the band enough to do it when it’s convenient and don’t want to miss out on any opportunities – this is a pretty classic reason in Austin, the Land of a Thousand Bands.  People recognize potential, but they’re unwilling to help realize it.  Sometimes they’ll even maintain membership in a band they don’t really like simply because they think the band might “make it”.  They don’t want to put forth the effort to create cool opportunities but they’ll be the first in line to take advantage of any the others create.   In elementary school, we called these people fair-weather friends.  If you’ve got a fair-weather band mate, I suggest turning the tables in your favor:  Make them a hired gun.    It keeps things open but gives you distance.  Be clear, think win/win and just pay them to play with you when it works for both parties.  Be prepared to never play with this person again – but don’t rule out the possibility.
  • The money is good – (if you’re band is making enough money that this is a problem you’ve encountered… why are you reading my blog?)  Back to Fripp’s Triangle – if money is all that keeps someone there, pay them an amount congruent to the value they bring.  I actually started doing this at one point.  I recognized that I and one or two other people were doing all the hard work while the others were just rehearsing and performing.  When money would come in for bigger gigs, the people who did more than just show up got paid more.  (One mistake I won’t make again – I didn’t actually tell anyone I was doing this.  I just did it.  I think I got an unspoken pass from everyone because they knew I was doing 80% of the work).

After considering all that that over and over again, I’ve realized that understanding the WHY, ultimately, has not ever given me any tools to alter a contrary band member’s path.  It has given me a glimpse through their lens – an understanding.

Lately, I’ve stopped trying to persuade them to my side of the fence and started just diplomatically nudging them to the other side (which is where they seem to be anyway).  This world is full of people who don’t know what they want OR who do know what they want but won’t admit/communicate/work for it.  There’s hardly anything more frustrating than trying to convince those without convictions and if neither the journey nor the destination are worth the effort to this person, NOTHING you can do will significantly or permanently change their mind.

That’s because, ultimately, their attitude and happiness are their responsibility and only in their control.  You can hold a gun to a man’s head and make him say what you want, but you can’t change what’s truly in his heart.

This brought me to another WHY:  If we can’t influence them, why in the hell do I and other band leaders continue to put up with contrary band mates?

MORE on that in PART 2.

 

*From Fripp’s diary –

Working with others in a group (any kind of group) provides mixed joys. Michael Giles observed (1967) that there were 3 factors involved in keeping a (music) group together and, if any two of them were present and active, the group would stay together. Michael’s 3 factors were these: music, friendship, and money.

The group may not articulate its common aim/s, but continue functioning despite mixed aims & mixed capacities on the basis of:

Music & friendship.
Music & money.

Friendship & money.

Where there is music, money & friendship, the group is likely to succeed. But if the success reaches a point where a manager & major label get involved, musical & social processes become mediated by commerce, then problems appear. Friendships fail, the music is undermined.

Another way of viewing group dynamics is by looking at the blind spots in each of the members, and watching collisions which result as combinations of blind spots coming into play. I refer interested visitors to better informed sources than myself: cf “chief feature” in “Work” litereature and “life script” in Transactional Analysis (eg Claude Steiner). Briefly, a blind spot is this: it is a fundamental, basic, structural strategy which informs & directs all of our behaviour…