Band Biz: The Value of Well Conducted Meetings

Bands are made up of people, and in most cases they tend to be democratic units where everyone has a say in how things are run. Sometimes this is not the case, mostly situations where a leader has hired musicians to fulfill his or her project’s needs. In these cases money is usually involved even to rehearse. However, most bands function outside of the full on pro level and so adopt a majority rules approach. You might have a semi official leader, someone who runs rehearsals, and a division of labor among the group members, but all of this is usually decided by the group as a whole. In order for things to run smoothly, and various jobs to be agreed upon, it is usually necessary to hold periodic meetings, often short ones before or after rehearsals. Sometimes longer meetings are held either in lieu of or in addition to scheduled rehearsals, but these are primarily on an as needed basis. In order for the group to get the most out of its short, or long, scheduled meetings each member must know in advance that the meeting is going to take place, there should be an actual written agenda for the meeting, someone needs to document the proceedings and any decisions made, and everyone must be comfortable with a majority rules decision making process.

Meetings must have a purpose and if they’re going to be conducted successfully should have a plan laid out in the form of an agenda. The agenda should include the topics that need to be discussed and can follow a template decided on by the group. Some things discussed will of course need more time than others, such as new material proposals. One of the benefits of an agenda is that it can be sent to the band members before the meeting so they can think about the topics before hand and come up with ideas. Proposing new material is one of the areas that each member should do some prep work on before the meeting so they are coming to the meeting with a potential list of suggestions in place. This can also include emailing or texting suggestions to whomever is going to run the meeting so he or she can make up a master list for discussion and decision making at the meeting. This kind of pre-meeting planning and preparation can save quite a bit of time for everyone and help to keep things focused.

When the meeting takes place, someone needs to document what has been discussed, what decisions have been made, and then what needs to be carried over to the next meeting either due to running out of time or needing additional time to think about, prep responses to, or do the work required. Without documentation all too often the time ends up being wasted. People will forget what they decided, who said yes to what, what needed to be done before the next meeting/rehearsal, which songs were supposed to be next on the list to work on, and all of the other various aspects that were covered. Whoever takes notes for the meeting should within a reasonable amount of time transcribe what was covered, what decisions were made, and what needs to be addressed on the next agenda, then send it to the other members/make it available. This ensures that people remain on track and that everyone knows what his or her responsibilities are in relation to those decisions.

Bands run best when everyone is satisfied with how things are being decided, and feel like they really have a say in where things are headed and what is being done. It is very important that everyone feels like they have a voice that is heard and taken into consideration. That being said, when a band is run as a democracy everyone needs to be able to handle that when decisions are made, the majority rules. There should be boundaries, of course, and if someone totally despises a piece of music, or finds something intolerable then that MUST be taken into account. While it is a democracy it still needs to be reasonable, otherwise people will leave. If you’ve got a good team player who is being consistently shorted, then you’ll probably end up having conflict, so bear in mind that everyone needs to get his or her way sometimes. Keeping things on equal footing helps immensely.

Bands that are successful are so for many reasons, but one thing they have in common, particularly the ones that are together for extended runs, is that their people work well together for a common goal. This takes effort, even if everyone gets along well. Organization can make a huge difference in being able to maintain that solid relationship as the band moves along, grows and meets with new challenges. A key to creating that organization is open communication and one of the only ways that is going to happen is through dedicated meetings. These meetings must be planned with advance notice, have agendas, and need to have written documentation of what was decided and discussed in order to ensure that everyone is still on the same page the following week, rehearsal or performance. This can and will make a huge difference in both the productivity of the band, and the relationships between the band members.

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When to Step Away: How Do I Know When It’s Time?

As musicians we frequently learn the most from playing in situations that push our boundaries, especially when we are playing with others who play at a more accomplished level than we do, or in a less familiar genre than we usually work in which requires us to learn, frequently quite a bit, quickly and adapt readily. While if we do this all the time it might be damaging to our egos, it often can be quite rewarding and teaches us that we are more capable than we thought we were. This is a healthy, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, challenging environment that does promote growth. These are situations which should be welcomed and sought after for the betterment of our abilities, but what do we do in situations where we aren’t getting what we need musically; when do we know we should step away and move onto something else?

Self-knowledge can go a long way in allowing us to realize that we’re stepping into situations that we aren’t compatible with to begin with, or to recognize when a situation is starting to veer away from where we want to be or go. If we know that a given type of situation is likely to lead to our being dissatisfied, unhappy, or even downright hostile, then it is up to us to take a pass on the job, regardless of how much it pays. Sometimes we still take the job despite this knowledge figuring we can deal with it for the short term or whatever justification we come up with, and sometimes it works. Most of the time it turns out as we expected and we end up kicking ourselves for making the move to begin with.

If you are a person who does well in situations where you are essentially a side-man(woman), or hired gun there are some situations that work beautifully for that type of individual. There are some bands where musicians are hired to fulfill specific functions by a bandleader who determines exactly what direction things are going to flow in and what the band’s goals are. This is fine when this is understood from the start. In fact, this type of situation is the norm in many types of music and in many types of gig situations, and are often some of the better paying gigs to hook up with. When going into one of these support positions it is very important to know if you are capable of happily fulfilling the requirements, and if you have an affinity for the type of music the band specializes in. If so, then these types of situations can become excellent bread and butter jobs.

The more complicated situation is where the band functions mostly as a democracy and this requires that the individuals can deal with a majority rules situation. Here, all voices should be heard and issues need to be discussed with full transparency. The sooner an issue arises, the sooner it must be dealt with in order for the band to keep functioning smoothly. It is extremely important that all of the band members share the same goals and aspirations for the band, otherwise conflict will ensue, either quickly or gradually. If you find yourself in a band that functions this way, but find that your voice seldom has an impact on things that matter to you, then you should seriously consider moving to a different band where you have more say in your fate. We work as performers largely out of a love for music; if we don’t like the music we have to perform, it shows and takes its toll. Talk things through with your bandmates. If things don’t change then it’s definitely time for you to make a change, and this can be accomplished with a minimum of fuss or hard feelings.

Situations inevitably become most fragile when the band members have goals that conflict with the overall goals of the band. If, for instance, your goal as a musician is to make a living performing, then joining a band that has a stated performance goal of twice a month is a sure fire way to end up needing to move on. The band has it’s own agenda while you have yours, which is fine, but I guarantee that the end result is going to lead to stress. They are going to have rehearsal expectations that often will take time away from you’re possibly taking outside gigs. You’ll definitely need to work with additional groups in order to book enough dates in a month to make your money, which is going to result in scheduling conflicts between the various groups and someone is going to end up upset. So if your goals are significantly different from the band you’re plugging in with as an active member, make sure that it’s clear at the outset. Even then in all likelihood you’ll need to eventually part ways for something that matches your goals and expectations more closely.

Sometimes the dynamics change in the band that we’ve been with. Whether it is a shift in direction, too much time playing the same material, issues with existing members or new members, or personal issues within our families on the home front, change is inevitable. In these situations transparency is the best option. If you’re no longer satisfied with what you’re doing then do everyone a favor, especially yourself, and find something else that better suits your needs. In this, as in all of the cases noted above, always approach the situation calmly and professionally. If you decide to move on be honest about it and give your notice so you’re not leaving your soon to be co-workers in a lurch. You always want to make sure that to the best of your ability you leave on a positive note and don’t burn bridges. Burning bridges usually has a way of coming back and haunting those that torch them.

Covers vs. Originals: Really? Another Argument?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed arguments in band situations about whether the band should perform original music or covers. I’ve also seen online arguments between original devotees and cover bands, which have essentially degenerated into accusations of selling out as if the concept of walking away from a gig with payment in hand is a bad thing. With bands it seems to all too often boil down to either/or, rather than a happy combination of the two, and it’s often not even a question of whether the band members can write material. Instead, it becomes a battle of concepts and whether or not members want to get paid to play, because somewhere along the line bands that play originals don’t expect to get paying gigs unless they “make it” in the grand scheme. Personally I’m the kind of guy who wants to get the cake and eat it too, so the entire back and forth makes no sense to me. Plus, having come from a conservatory background with intensive training in classical music the whole concept of an evil associated with playing “covers” is kind of preposterous. It’s repertoire, the bread and butter of making a living. Additionally, there is a long history of guitarists producing new works while simultaneously performing other folks’ pieces as well.

Let’s face it, not everyone can, or is willing to put in the time to create their own pieces of music. This does not mean that they can’t be stellar performers of other people’s creations, nor does it mean that they are not creative. It takes an immense amount of skill and creativity to translate someone else’s ideas into a living piece of music. Whether it is reproducing an existing piece note for note, or re-arranging a piece to better fit the performer’s personalities, it is a creative act, and it is work. Simply playing all the right notes at the right time doesn’t breathe life into a piece; there’s something more that happens when the performer has come to live with the music and reflect his or her own experience through it and the relationship that has been built with the piece, whether it is Beethoven, Bruce Springsteen, Prince or Charlie Parker.

And then there’s jazz. Yes, some groups and individuals write their own material, but it is truly amazing how many folks are still recording and performing standards that have been in place for decades. There have even been movements to start incorporating more contemporary pop/rock tunes into a new group of standards in order to break fresh ground while maintaining a common jumping off point. Jazz is particularly interesting from this perspective because it is often based on essentially playing covers, however the end goal is that each time the cover is performed the end result is different due to the improvisational nature of the genre. The individual tune provides an overall structural map, complete with a melodic starting/ending point. There is also healthy respect between those individuals who are writing new pieces and those who are performing standards. Both camps willingly recognize the creativity and skills required by what they are doing. This is also generally the case with much of the Blues that is performed as well.

No, this seems to be something that is relegated to the current pop and rock performers and I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve played; East coast, Southwest and Midwest, mostly among the younger folks who seem to be eager to suffer for their art and decry anyone they deem as not suffering the same way they do. The concept of working out sets of covers that can coexist with the bands’ original material seems to be something from the past, back when you got the gigs and expected to be paid, worked in your own angle on things and gradually worked in your own material until it was what people were coming out to hear, people who weren’t just your friends, current squeezes or coworkers. When you got a gig, you played for the night, at least three 45-50 minute sets and you didn’t wait to gig until you had enough original material. You put together a show, and started moving in your original material as you produced it and mixed it in with other material that made sense stylistically.

We all pay dues, and at the end of the day the real questions are how we performed and who did we touch with our performance. We also all have egos, as well as superiority and inferiority complexes. Over the years I’ve played in fully original bands, cover bands, bands that mixed covers with originals as well as both a classical soloist and ensemble player. The situations that brought the most pleasure inevitably were the ones that mixed things up, which brought the audiences closer to the band. Music requires an audience; for most performers it is not a complete experience without an audience and the more actively attentive and positively interactive the audience is, the better the experience becomes for everyone involved. The whole either/or exclusive approach, particularly when coupled with embattled egos, does no one any good. If anything, it stifles an art that is all about expression.

How to Get Fired from a Band

Often bands are faced with the dilemma of what to do about a band member who isn’t quite cutting it on one level or another, and all too frequently it can be a situation where the member in question has brought the band to the edge of dissolution. Bands that work are made up of people who share the same goals and aspirations for the band, who maintain mutual respect for each other and where each member is contributing to the best of his or her ability. Problems with members do arise and frequently can be resolved without it being a make it or break it situation, but just as often a problematic band member can result in the demise of a band if he or she is not fired. The two areas that most often lead to band members being asked to leave are being difficult to work with, and a lack of professionalism either during rehearsals or performances.

Any time we work with other people we must deal with personalities and differences of opinion. Being in a band is no different and there will be issues of varying severity. It is not necessary to be friends, but there must be a certain level of mutual respect present if things are going to run smoothly. Some people are drawn to drama like vultures to road kill and where ever they go drama soon follows. Drama kings/queens spread issues like cancer and these issues can become terminal cancers for the band if not surgically removed quickly and efficiently. Drama takes many shapes and forms but is not the only negative personality issue that can lead to being released; being disrespectful of others whether through verbal abuse, physical actions or general abrasive behavior can lead to dismissal. Threatening band-mates physically, being difficult to work with, and threatening to quit in order to get one’s way, particularly in conjunction with any of the above are prime motivators for the band to release a problematic member.

A lack of professionalism on the part of a band-mate is another reason people are asked to leave, whether it is during rehearsals, live performances or both. Respectful behavior is part of professionalism and is expected whether you are in a garage band, semi-pro or professional group. Rehearsals, while fun for many, are also work time. The purpose is to work on the tunes that are the current focus, put together set lists, determine who is doing what and various other things. If people show up intoxicated from alcohol or other substances, this impacts the quality of the work being done and takes away from productive time. Repeated lateness, or not showing for rehearsals, impacts what can be accomplished, as does not being prepared to work on the tunes assigned for rehearsals. Disruptive behavior, such as abusive and abrasive interjections, temper tantrums or bringing non-band members to rehearsals, also negatively affects the quality of work done. Most of us have a limited amount of time to accomplish things so any detraction from this can have a major negative effect on the band. Repeated incidents of these types of behaviors, especially when there are multiple infractions or types of disruptions, usually will result in a band member being asked to leave the group.

Some folks are willing to be more lax with professionalism during rehearsals but a lack of professionalism at a performance is completely unacceptable by any group that is trying to be successful at any level. It really doesn’t matter how big the venue is, or even how many people are in the audience. Every performance should be dealt with as a performance. If unprofessional behavior is tolerated at “unimportant performances,” it will show in larger venues as well, and may very well determine if the band is going to get to those venues at all. Establishing a reputation as being a band that is consistently late also harms bands. Similarly, having crucial members not show for performances has a major negative impact on the band’s reputation as does finishing before the agreed upon stop times. Band members who have temper tantrums on stage hurt performances and stage presence. Playing too loudly in relationship to the other members also has a negative impact on the band as a whole and actively resenting and pushing back against requests to turn down volume levels causes strife, resentment, and a bad performance experience. Being impaired, whether through anger or chemical issues, brings the same result, a sub-standard performance that effects everyone on stage negatively, which in turn effects the audience negatively, which leads to bad ticket receipts and not being asked back. Band members who consistently exhibit these types of behaviors should expect that they will be asked to leave the band.

Granted, we all have our moments, our errors, and our bad days and it would be a sad thing if one such incident would result in our being asked to leave. Sometimes we make one single unforgivable error that results in banishment, but usually getting fired from a band results from the culmination of many things. If a band is going to survive as a unit for any amount of time at all, the bottom line always comes down to what is best for the band. Happy band members ultimately produce the best music and it is important to maintain a healthy environment for all of the members to express themselves in. However, if one member is poisoning the environment, then that member must be sacrificed for the benefit of the many.