Conflict within a band is one of the most disruptive elements that can occur. Everyone has a disagreement with someone else at some time or other; it’s something that goes hand in hand with being a human being. Usually this type of situation doesn’t have a lasting impact, because if the band members who are experiencing contention actually discuss the issue at hand most frequently the issue will be resolved through the discussion and folks get back to work. The type of conflict that does the greatest harm is ongoing and long lasting where it becomes the usual order of business. This can develop into a downright toxic relationship that affects the entire group, not just those directly involved in the conflict. It develops into a poison, which creeps through the group and eventually will result in the band’s demise due to irreconcilable differences between the sources of the conflict, and/or other band members leaving due to the unnecessary stress that has been created. It can even get to the point where replacing departing band members can be a problem because the musicians auditioning witness the conflict at hand, or sense it during the audition and want nothing to do with it. Let’s face it, who wants to work in a hostile environment?
Many bands are comprised of people who initially come together as individuals in a start up situation and end up spending quite a bit of time together, working as a group to get the project off the ground and into the club circuit. This type of situation builds a sense of comraderie, friendship, and unity that can often be seen on stage and becomes a basis for long-term relationships between the members. The start up stage of any band is actually the easiest when it comes to building and maintaining relationships because, for one thing, everyone is clearly on the same page in terms of the goals for the band. The immediate goals are simply to gather and polish enough material to get out there and start gigging. Often the members have day jobs, and place limits on what the goals entail, like gigging, say twice a month, with a once a week rehearsal schedule. The members tend to be enthusiastic, partly because it’s a new fresh experience, and also because any issues or problems are in the future. Things continue to be good as the band starts to get the one to two gigs per month they were targeting.
Some bands simply continue with this model, either because they’re only good enough to do one or two performances a month or the person booking the band only has enough time to book one or two. Booking also becomes complicated by the individual members’ schedules and attitudes toward availability. Family time takes precedence and the members are content with being occasional weekend warriors. However, some bands discover that they are actually good bands that are capable of doing more than the occasional gig, and usually what happens in this situation is that it turns out that some members are more than willing to expand beyond the one to two gigs per month format. They want to see the band grow into something closer to their inner dreams, so as the doors start opening they start saying yes to performing more often. This is fine until one digs in his or her heels about it, particularly if that individual is the front for the band.
At this point we have a classic situation where the goals that were set have been met, but now the group wants to establish a new set of goals that will take the band’s growth beyond where a member or members is/are willing to pursue. If the band member doesn’t want to lose his or part in the band but is unwilling to move forward, conflict will ensue and become an ugly situation rather quickly. If one key person within the band doesn’t want to do something, he or she can very easily disrupt whatever progress the band is making, simply by saying no to bookings. The power of a key member’s “I’m not available on that date” can be the death knell for the band’s ability to work with booking and management agencies. It is the killer of the dreams of other members and the blockage to building the momentum required to take the group to the next level. It then becomes the catalyst for conflict due to escalating frustration levels on both sides of the coin, and can readily be the cancer that kills the band.
Ultimately what should happen in these situations is that there should be open and transparent discussion about what the entire group wants to do. If the bulk of the group honestly wants to welcome the opportunities as they come, then the outlier must either concede, come up with a shared role option (such as there being two front people in the band), or accept that the situation has changed and give notice while the band searches for a replacement. Fighting growth and the natural order of things is the surest way to kill a band, and any relationships that have been established in the band. It also shows a lack of professionalism, even if you are one of the founding members of the group. When conflict escalates to the point where people start leaving the band, particularly when they aren’t even the ones creating the conflict, it not only hurts the progress made by the band, but it also damages professional as well as personal relationships. If you are the source of the conflict you are basically ensuring that the people who leave due to the conflict aren’t going to be in any hurry to work with you in the future, nor are they going to recommend you to anyone else who is in need of a replacement or sub. This is not the type of drama people want to experience in their bands, nor is it what they pay for when they go to see a band.