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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Setting Up for the Gig: Proper Etiquette

Gigging requires a good deal of equipment that needs to be set up before the gig and torn down after the gig is done. If a band plays a venue that doesn’t have a house PA system then the amount of equipment being hauled, set up and torn down increases quite a bit. It’s all part of the job and what gets done by whom is mostly a common sense drill. For bands that cannot afford roadies, which is most of us, the basic tenet is if you bring it, it’s your responsibility to haul it in, set it up, use it, tear it down and load it back into your vehicle. Most musicians would prefer not to have someone else haul their gear anyway. They’ve sunk quite a bit of cash into their tools of the trade and would rather not have someone else bang it around, unless it’s someone they know quite well who hasn’t been drinking all night and even then they’ll often decline assistance.

There are some areas that bands traditionally do combine efforts on and those are primarily things that the whole band uses. When the group is tasked with providing the sound system, has lighting and promotional gear like banners or signs, this is usually the area where the members pool their efforts and usually the drummer is excused from this given the amount of gear he or she has to deal with. Usually the person with the fastest set up takes lead on getting the sound system set up and then as the others wrap up they join in, helping to put speakers on stands and get the lights up and running. Banners are usually undeniably a two-person job and all of the work gets done very quickly when people help.

If you’re a newbie when it comes to set ups and tear downs, it can be a bit confusing, and not all bands do things the same way. Some folks end up with different band members providing different parts of the system and cables might end up belonging to different folks as well. If you’re not sure what goes where, just ask and someone will tell you. Different people also have different preferred methods of cable storage as well, so it’s always wise to check how they wrap them up so you’re on the same page and not putting kinks in the wires that shorten lifespans. Always be gentle with the equipment: tossing a cable might not harm it, but tossing a microphone could kill it and earn you a spot on someone’s shit list really quickly. The same thing goes with lighting arrays. Would you throw a light bulb toward a bag and hope it went in? I didn’t think so.

Problems primarily arise when people don’t pull their weight with set up and tear downs. This can lead to resentment on the part of the people who always get stuck with it, which in turn can lead to some disagreeable interactions. If you occasionally have to cut out before the PA is broken down, your bandmates will understand. They’ll also be pretty understanding if you have an injury or health condition that prevents you from helping, but if it’s just because you don’t want to, they won’t take that well. If you’re one of the vocalists and all you have is your mic and mic stand to set up and you’re not helping haul and set up the PA system, folks won’t be pleased, regardless of what gender you are.

Personally I like to travel as light as I can, which takes some planning as a bass player. I’ve done my research and spent the effort to find reliable equipment that doesn’t take too much out of me getting in and out of the clubs. I run either one or two 15” speaker cabinets with a 500 watt head, and if one cab will do I’m more than happy to oblige. I usually also have a music stand and a guitar stand. I load as much as I can onto my collapsible hand truck, usually my full rig, put my bass on my back and haul everything in and out in one trip each. I can reliably load in within 15 minutes, if that, and be ready to perform. Once I’m set up, I’ll help set up the PA if help is needed. The gigs I usually play are at least a forty-five minute drive from home, so I’ve planned my equipment usage to allow me to hit the road after work as soon as I can. Getting my gear loaded is a priority for me and it’s not unusual for me to already be fully loaded out before some of the other guys have even started breaking down their equipment. If there’s a PA to set up or tear down, I help with that before hitting the road.

The hard and fast rule to all of this is that if it’s your instrument, it’s your responsibility. You should know how long it takes to set up your equipment and have it ready for sound check on time. You should also have a good idea of how long it takes to tear it down and get it stowed away. If you need a little help and your bandmates can and are willing to provide it, just ask. Hauling in a full-scale old Hammond B3 organ, for example, is not a one person job and if it’s part of the act, then the others will expect that you need help with it. However, if you’re a bass player, guitarist, drummer or keyboard player the expectation is that you’ll take care of your own equipment. Don’t expect help. If you get it upon occasion, count it as a bonus.