…stays together. Or does it?
Well, not really. In 30 years of playing in bands, I can confidently state that simply “playing together” is not enough to keep a group of musicians functioning as a stable unit for an extended period of time.
And here’s the interesting thing: when I look at the experiences of musicians I’ve worked with and followed over the years, there’s been a consistent factor that’s caused each group to disband in the majority of instances:
The inability to function coherently as a team.
This can manifest itself through various symptoms, such as pay or publishing royalty disputes, personality clashes, inability to collectively find time for rehearsals and gigs and “musical differences” (whatever that means). But ultimately it boils down to this: no teamwork, no co-ordination, no morale, no future.
I’ve been lucky enough to be a member of the same party band since 1996. During that time we’ve had a hiatus (for reasons of geography), a name change, two changes of musical style and added an additional member, but the core lineup has remained stable. As has our ability to work together.
Last night we had our end of year “break up” dinner with our families, which gave me cause to reflect on why our musical partnership has endured so successfully for the past two decades. So here we go: our principles of teamwork and morale. Some of the examples below relate specifically to our band, some to bands that I’ve observed, but the principles themselves have been proven to hold firm and work consistently for us and others I know. Maybe they’ll work for your band too?
Have A Goal
This is really important.
If there’s no goal to work towards (the next gig, learning a new song, the next tour, world domination), it’s almost impossible to get motivated to work. It’s also important that all team members buy into and actually want to achieve the goal too.
Clear Job Roles
This goes way beyond who plays what instrument. That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is more like this – who books gigs, decides on song lists, writes the music, negotiates which songs are “in” or “out”, gets publishing credit, liaises with venues, arranges rehearsals, deals with financials, organises sound, does marketing, deals with management….the list goes on. In my experience many musicians would rate many of these activities as “not fun”. However they have to be done.
Shoulder The Load
I literally mean “shoulder the load”. There’s a lot of equipment to carry to and from rehearsal and gigs. Who has the most gear? Our sound guy. Next most? Our drummer. Do we leave them standing on the side of the road loading their car while we have a drink at the bar? No we do not. Everyone helps everyone else. Without all of our equipment, well…we’re not a band! There is a metaphorical application to this principle too. If one of us is struggling with a musical passage and another musician can help them – we should and do. We all need help from time to time. Even our guitarist, who I genuinely think might be a genius!
It’s also critically important that we all contribute equally to the work of learning songs, being prepared and professional at rehearsal and gigs. If one person feels they are being treated inequitably compared to peers, they won’t feel part of the team. And they’ll look to leave the team as soon as they’re able.
If something doesn’t seem right, say so. But say it with respect and courtesy. And offer to help fix it. Could be a wrong note, could be distribution of tasks, could be the kind of music being played. But we say something so it can be addressed, rather than chew on it until we have a huge passive/aggressive outburst.
I mentioned before there are lots of “not fun” things about being in a band. This makes it important for us to create fun wherever we can. Although we’re serious about our music, we don’t take ourselves at all seriously. A fly on the wall would observe that our rehearsal time is about 80% playing music and 20% hilarity and stupidity (on our more productive evenings). We believe this attitude manifests in our overall positive and happy demeanour on stage and in dealing with the outside world.
We’re way too old to be throwing TVs out of hotel windows, or parking our Rolls Royce in a swimming pool. But we do take time to enjoy the achievement of a milestone. And we have an annual Christmas dinner, like many other workplaces. As I mentioned in the intro, ours was last night!
It Still Seems To Be Working!
23 years later, we’re still out there gigging and having a great time doing it. Of course we have our low moments, but by following our principles of…
- Having a goal
- Clear job roles
- Shouldering the load
- Honest feedback
- Having fun
…we have been able to overcome even our most difficult challenges.