Main reasons bands split up

The following things that I have encountered in my own limited experience are I think, the normal reasons for bands splitting up.

1. Yokos: this has been the number one source of band members quitting or at least curtailing their involvement in the band. Girlfriends and wives who either put their foot down and say “it’s either me or the band, you decide.” Or they exert pressure on the guy to play less and spend more time with the woman and the family.

2. Fighting: people just got sick of the bickering over songs, and direction and the motivated guys pushing too hard on the unmotivated guys until they get fed up and quit. Or the motivated guys get fed up and throw the unmotivated guys out. Fighting wrecks the whole fun of being in a band and I don’t blame anyone for tossing in the towel for that reason and looking for another band.

3. Artistic Direction: this is when someone or some ones in the band decide they want to play a different style and the others bail. Usually this is when the band decides to go more mainstream and someone’s artistic sensibilities are offended. “You guys are selling out,” they will cry.

4. The B word. This is when someone says in the band, “it’s just business, man” and whoa, just like with #3, the artistic direction thing, they bail, claiming you are selling out. For the vast majority of musicians I have met, they just want to have fun, so for them, speaking of the band in terms of business is taboo.

5. Hobby vs. Serious. Also akin to the last two. One or more members in the band are just there for the fun, it’s their hobby, it’s a very serious hobby and they work really hard at it, but unfortunately for the rest, they don’t really want to get anywhere and hold the others back. The Serious ones appear too “serious” and spoil the fun for the others. Also lots of stress and fighting may occur as the Serious ones push to get the Hobbyists to work more and, well, get serious.

6. Dominator. This is when one guy is either really good or has a really big ego (usually both) and he dominates the whole band, choosing music, and arrangements and running the practice like a dictator. His ideas are so good, no one can really argue, though deep down they feel it’s not their band anymore and eventually they toss the egomaniac, much to his surprise, because after all, he knows he’s the ringer and why on earth would you fire the best player??!

7. Addiction. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, women. what else can I say. The guy gets so hammered he can’t play, misses too many practices, screws things up for everybody, and soon he’s out the door, (thanks for coming over.)

My biggest piece of advise, after learning everything the hard way, is NEVER get involved with amateur/hobbyists if you are serious about getting anywhere…because you will never get anywhere with people who don’t want to go anywhere in music.

If one of the key factors for your band getting things off the ground is someone in the band “changing” …then just forget it. People’s goals in life rarely change, once someone makes up his or her mind about something as huge as their main goals in life, don’t expect them to suddenly get a revelation and see things your way. Some things are written in stone.

Commitment is the number one factor for a band’s success. Everyone’s got to be really motivated, or at the very leas, willing to show up for every and all practices and shows, no matter what. One of the hardest things to find is a really together guy with no life. Seems a contradiction in terms. Really together people have full productive lives. You need a guy who has no life besides music, hard to find and has his personal act together. Good luck, may the force be with you.


The Three Legged Stool

A band is unique among the arts because it has the social/family side to it. Most, if not all bands are rooted in friendship between the band mates. Very few bands are cold professionals who view their band and music as a profession and their bandmates as colleagues or associates.

A band is built on three legs:

1. Art

2. Business

3. Friendship

The combination of art and business is nothing new: architecture, sculpture, writing, theatre, movies, dance, all have their business side. And there is a great deal of friendship between members especially in theatre and movies. Actors form very strong friendships which last for a lifetime in many cases.

The big difference with bands is the length and intensity of the friendships. Bands who stay together for years and years, like the Rolling Stones for example, have a lengthy history spanning 5 decades, (longer than most marriages today.) A band is a unique society which expands as the band gets bigger and more popular.

Bands usually fail because they are weak in one or more areas of these three legs. Each one is equally important which is why the three legged stool is such a good analogy: without the support of all three legs, the stool will tip.

Bands fail because their music (art) is not strong enough; they are not good businessmen and don’t understand or refuse to understand the business aspect of music; or because they just can’t get along and they fight until someone or everyone quits.

After playing in many bands and having many of them blow up in my face, I conclude it is easier to stay married with kids than it is to keep a band together. In marriage you only have two people to really deal with, the children just follow the parents. The children are never the deciding factor for divorce.

With a band you have 3, 4, 5 sometimes more people with different agendas, different ways of doing things, different viewpoints and different levels of commitment. For a band to succeed the commitment level must be very high for everyone. The work ethic is really necessary.


Firing Band Members

The one thing I really hate the most about being in a band and being the leader is that I have to do the dirty job of tossing the guy who is just screwing everything up for everybody. When the other members come forward and basically say, “it’s him, or us”, then I really have no choice but to kick the bad guy off the team.

This usually does not go over well. I have been called names and yelled at. And the worst part is they always want to know why! Being told the other guys in the band think you are a huge ass is the bubble being popped for most musicians, especially those with big, fragile egos who thought they were so shit hot cause they were in a cool band.

My own policy with band members has been tolerant to a point. When the others in the band rise up enmasse complaining about a certain member, then usually that’s a pretty good sign something has to change or someone has to go.

On the other hand, I have always left the door open for those who quit or were asked to leave to come back at some future time. In fact, most of my bandmates did come back again for another round, though most of them also, repeated their previous behavior and were asked to leave or they quit again.

The band Mercy Me went through 26 drummers before they eventually settled on their current drummer. Hopefully, that’s not your fate, (or mine!) though, at times it sure looks like that’s the way it’s going to be!

There’s really no nice way to go about it. Getting fired from a job is easier and probably less painful than getting tossed out of the band, especially when you thought everybody was your friend and the band loved you almost as much as you loved yourself. Ouch.

If you are just a hobby band and get together on Friday nights to blow off some steam and have a few beers, then you will probably never have to fire someone. If you are a serious band, then sooner or later it’s going to come up.



High Maintenance

What kind of a guy (or girl) are we looking for in a band mate? I suppose the real clue to answer this question is what kind of qualities do we not want in a musician. In a nutshell, I’d like to say I don’t wanna play with or be involved with lazy show-up-late-for-practice people. There’s nothing worse than organizing your whole day around a practice and then nobody shows up, which I have had happen a couple times. Nothing is more demoralizing.

You work really hard and people mess things up for you and everybody else. It is extremely difficult to succeed in the music industry. (in case, you hadn’t figured that out yet.) Having poor bandmates is only going to make it even harder or impossible for your band to get off the ground.

The great bandmate is looking for ways he or she can contribute and help to make it all happen.

This is what makes it difficult: if your bandmate is looking for the band to provide him with things, such as cash, gas money, “can I borrow your guitar?”, “can you give me a lift?” and doesn’t want to make any financial contribution towards gear, recordings or whatever. If he or she is the type who only likes a few of your tunes and won’t play the rest, or shows up complaining about what a bad day they had, how tired they are, and “do you have anything to eat?”

Regardless of skill level, you really need dedicated, hard working people in your band. They must have a strong work ethic and a positive attitude. Those with weak or even beginner musical skills can improve in time if you are patient and encourage them. But people with bad attitudes, poor work habits and little to offer rarely improve. Hey, let’s face it, without divine intervention, people don’t usually change.

And now, to almost, (but not quite) completely contradict myself, I would have to add that some people do in fact change. If you stick with some people, and if they have the burning desire in their heart, they will eventually come round. Knowing who those people are however, is very difficult to figure out.

It would be nice if all bands were like the Beatles or U2: boyhood friends from high school who started a band together and got rich and famous. However, most of us are jumping from band to band and changing players all the time. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example have never had the same line-up for any length of time. Only Flea and Anthony Kiedis are original members, and even Anthony left for a year, leaving Flea holding the bag.

We don’t really want a band of high maintenance divas, members who have to be catered to and think they are already rock stars with private jets and lifestyle coaches who tour with them.

We want a band of enthusiastic, hard-working selfless people who want to put into the project whole-heartedly.

Right, you’re saying…let me know when you find a whole band of people like that, I’ll join.


Hockey

One thing I have noticed about bands, and specifically rock bands, is that all bands seem to unconsciously form in numbered groups. What I mean is that a trio is always a trio, and a quartet is always a quartet. Very rarely do bands add or subtract the magic number that works for them. They very often change personnel, but not the requisite number.

There are exceptions of course, Genesis, for one went from a five piece to a three piece (sort of), replacing Peter Gabriel with Phil Collins and hiring session player, Chester Thompson, to bang on de drums when touring. So in reality they are actually a four piece, using Phil in the studio for the dual function of singer and drummer. Which leads to my next point, that all rock bands are really a six-piece. And that is because the essential elements of rock and roll are as follows:

Drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, vocals and keyboards.

And more specifically, electric bass, electric guitar and electronic keyboard as opposed to a piano. It is the electric-ness which differentiates rock from all other musical art forms. Though, you might argue jazz, blues, country, hip-hop, soul, funk all use electric instruments, it is the degree and sheer volume that rock bands generate which separate them from other genres. Sure, rock bands also use many other instruments. Like sax, violin, harmonica, percussion, banjo, flute and so on and so on, but these instruments are add-ons and not essential components.

Some would argue that a rock band is really a three-piece: bass, drums, guitar and vocals, with the guitarist singing. But every trio I can think of adds in rhythm guitar, keys and often a whole lot more when they record. For example, Rush is really a six-piece band with Geddy Lee singing, playing bass and playing keyboards, and Alex Lifeson playing lead when playing live but on cd he plays both lead and rhythm parts. And well, Neil Peart is kinda like two or three guys so hey, they are a really like an eight-piece band?!

Now to explain why I have called this section Hockey:

A band is like a hockey team, the drummer is the goalie, the bass and rhythm guitarist are the two defensemen and the singer is the center with the lead guitar and keys acting as the wingers. The forwards (or frontmen) handle all the crowd pleasing action, display high skill and complexity of movement, whereas the defense, watch the angles, skate where they are needed, support the forwards and defend the goalie at all cost. They are often under-rated because it is more difficult to gauge their performance, and they are not as exciting to watch. The forwards score! And you know how good a center is by how many goals and assists he gets each season.

Every good forward, like every good singer knows, without a strong supportive defense (rhythm section) he or she is just not going to feel confident out there in front of the crowd. And like a hockey team, a band has to work together to make it all happen. And the weaknesses in the band members will show up live.


The Three-Fold Path

1. The Way of Discipline

The first way to becoming really good at something, whether it is music or athletics or business, is through the path of discipline, or to be blunt, hard work. Many, if not all great musicians are great through continuous deliberate practice over many years. Most virtuosos spend hours practicing scales and progressions to become the excellent musicians they are.

I once played in a band with a guitar player from Romania. Robert the Romanian. He was 6’9” and made me feel like a midget. He used to sit in his basement with the lights out and play for hours and hours in the dark. Then he would record his licks over and over again, and listen to them and re-record them and replay them until he got them perfect. He is, without a doubt one of the best guitarist I have ever played with.

I have tried on many occasions to set a schedule and with my iron will I resolved to practice scales every day for a set period of time. Alas, my iron will melted like aluminum foil in a fire and after a few days I went back to my old habits of playing when I felt like it. Other times, I have been able to stick with a routine of practice every day for months at a time and I have been able to see the tremendous progress I have made. So what was missing in my resolve in the first instance?

2. The Way of Study and Analysis

By the use of will and determination it is possible to learn very much about art. Music, being the technical and somewhat academic art that it is, can be approached by a studious person. There is a lot to learn. Theory is sometimes complicated and many highly-educated professorial types have dissected symphonies and musical scores with the precision of a nuclear physicist. Volumes of books are written on the subject of musical theory.

Pop musicians are probably the least academic of musicians and the most illiterate. Most are self-taught and unschooled. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, pop music is not that complicated and doesn’t require huge theoretical knowledge. Secondly, many of the musicians who get into pop music are young disaffected teens with nothing better to do with their time than thrash out some juvenile anger and angst on a cheap guitar and a big amp.

Academia does help to provide a foundation for higher levels of achievement and the musicians with the longest staying power in the music industry seem to be the ones who never seem to run out of new ideas and are not content to stick with one style or one sound. Sting, for example, has gone from reggae to new wave dance to world rhythms and everything in-between. There are many different styles incorporated in his music. Jazz, classical, Brazilian etc. Though, I do not believe he has a lot of formal training, the fact that he has studied and pondered many musical forms is obvious. By concentrated listening and analysis he has learned the intricacies of many styles. Perhaps more intuitively than from a scholarly standpoint, granted, but nevertheless it is study.

The scientific approach, however has its downside. Analysis causes paralysis. Many overly academic musicians should not even bother with pop music as they are too complex and intellectual in their thinking. The pursuit of theoretical knowledge to soothe your intellectual pride and stimulate your cerebellum often results in cold and uninspired songwriting. And what we are talking about here, is songwriting, not rocket science. A song should be simple, not too long and not too cerebral. It’s like baking a cake, throw the right ingredients together, pop it in the oven and voila, angel food cake!

3. The Way of the Heart

And this is what is missing: heart, feel, soul, guts, spirit, love. The reason the way of discipline and the way of study, eventually fail is that they are empty pursuits. They are self-driven and self is eventually empty. Love, however has no master and exists for the benefit of all. Those who truly love what they do and continue to love it are truly blessed. It is a gift from God to love your work. And art is one of those works which is imminently loveable. There is something about the fact that is doesn’t really serve any utilitarian purpose that makes it loveable. The allure of pursuing the higher ideal, of being more than you are, and of creating something which is better than your self is a tremendous draw.

It is sad that the music industry has so cheapened popular culture in our new age that bands and artists are manufactured like toasters. What is sadder still, is that the general public have become so consumerized and desensitized to the finer things in life, that no one seems to mind that music and musicians have become a commodity. The top-selling artists these days are not even bands, just four or five singer/dancers fronting a huge production team, all financed, founded and foisted upon us by the big label.

There was definitely a freedom in the sixties in the art world. The hippies were unafraid to try new things and experiment with different musical concepts. (much of their experimenting was, of course with drugs and sex and rejecting the values of their families, basically self-indulgent pursuits.) However, they had ideals and integrity about art. The current market-lead art world has almost completely eradicated ideals and integrity from music. Success is god, money is king, sex is for sale.

Music is the language of love and therefore, a universal language. Love affects everyone’s life in some way or another. If we have been abused or abandoned, it is the absence of love which affects us. And it is the pain associated with love and loving others which has produced the vast majority of great songs and music in general. The Book of Psalms, one of the oldest collections of songs, is one long love letter between God and Man, a correspondence of pain and hope and anguish and ecstasy.

All the world of emotional life is found in music.

I don’t think that discipline and study are a waste, however. To be competent at anything you must work hard. To be successful at anything you must study hard and give the fullness of your thought to the task at hand. These things, however, will soon enough fail as they have no root. Combined with the love of the art, hard work and study are powerful allies. A triple braided cord is not easily broken.

My resolve fails me because my heart is not in it. My hands fail me because they just do what they are told. My analysis paralyzes me because my intellect has no understanding, only theories and stratagems. My pride fails because it is blind. My self fails because it only desires selfish things.

My soul understands and doesn’t care if I succeed or not. My soul wants to remain a child and enjoy life and others. The child in me forgives easily and loves others without effort. A child just wants to play and that is what I need to learn again.

The reason, I believe, Shakespeare’s plays have endured for so many hundreds of years, is that Shakespeare understood human nature in all its varying shades. He knew about ambition and lust and greed and love and conquest. He wrote for kings and paupers alike and could penetrate the minds of poets and philosophers and expose the world for all to see. He didn’t take sides, he only presented the issues with all their complexities.

Songwriters can take a few tips from him: a writer ought to understand human nature and what motivates people. We need to deal with universal concepts, keeping an eye on the pulse of the populace, probing the inner desires of current society. I know this is starting to sound like a journalism course, but hey, how we can raise the level of the collective consciousness if we aren’t conscious of the collective? Me, I go to bingo halls if I need to study human behaviour. I haven’t won yet but its only because the grannies won’t let me in on their system!


The Three Great Laws of Songwriting

1. Less is More Here is one of the greatest principles of music, art, life, you name it. Keep your lyric free of redundant, repetitive words. Make every word count. The ability to say something complex and profound in a few words is approaching genius. Don’t settle for clichés and tired phrases. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to say?” Then say it. Avoid complicated intros and arrangements. They usually only serve to confuse your audience and obscure your meaning.

2. Keep it Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.)The second of the three great laws of songwriting. Your audience for the most part is not interested in you showing off your musical virtuosity or intense lyrical ability. They want to be moved, that is, emotionally affected by your song. Don’t confuse simple with plain though. The minimalistic approach is often boring due to its lack of substance.

3. There Are No Rules Great art is made by ordinary men and women (like you and me) who courageously go where no man has gone before. For every rule of art there is the exception. The really difficult part of art is originality. To rise above all the things you have been taught and really create something new and exciting is the stuff of dreams. To find a novel solution to an old existing problem is getting close to genius. Einstein said he really wasn’t all that smart, he just asked the right questions. 

And while you are busy forget pursuing art don’t forget to Get A Life and not just an ordinary, ho-hum, get-up-in-the-morning-go-to-work life either. Give up boredom and fear and do the things you’ve always wanted to do. And in this, you will find that the real focus is on growing and learning as a person, being generous and keeping your love and fascination alive.

 


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