Many serious bands happily sacrifice money, relationships and careers in the hopes that they’ll find an audience for their music. But while focusing on the musical parts of being in a band is important, the way the musicians who form a band respect and communicate with each other is just as vital for acts that hope to create, record and perform music over the long-term.
Bands break up for all sorts of reasons. Some musicians throw everything they have into music for a few years only to give it all up when they can’t find the success they’d hoped for, but others upend otherwise perfectly good projects because they simply can’t work with the other musicians in their band anymore. It’s become routine for bands with massive talent and untapped potential to call it quits because they fail to focus their efforts on communication and mutual respect.
What Bands Do and Don’t Do Well
When musicians set out to create new projects, they probably think about making music and not much else, and this makes sense. If the purpose of a band is to create music, it should exclusively focus on writing, recording and performing, right?
Bands obviously need to spend time developing their identity as musicians, but alongside non-musical relationship skills like communication, openness and respect. Musicians in newer bands with plenty of enthusiasm and energy tend to be great at writing lots of songs and playing shows, but they’re notoriously bad at making goals, being open about feelings and speaking up when they feel unheard or disrespected.
Blame it on the male-driven culture behind so many bands out there or the fact that making serious music requires musicians to frequently enter vulnerable territories they’re not usually comfortable in, but most bands are simply not great at being open with how they feel about things, and this is a big problem.
All Relationships Take Work. Why Would Your Band Be Any Different?
Whether you realize it or not, a band is a relationship unlike any other. Falling somewhere between a friendship, marriage and creative business partnership, the personality dynamic behind every band is completely unique. But like all other relationships, it takes effort and sacrifice to keep a band healthy and together.
The work that makes the other relationships in your life possible is similar to the work you’ll need to do to keep your band healthy and on track. Some bands, most famously Metallica, even go as far as to get professional counseling for their issues. Your band might not need therapy, but you will have to learn to speak openly and respectfully to each other if you want to stay together.
Opening the Lines of Communication
It can be awkward and unnatural for some musicians to open up and talk about their needs and feelings, but for bands to be successful, they have to be able to really talk and listen to each other. Communication in band settings is so vital because making music with other people is complicated on every level and there’s often so much at stake.
Bands routinely deal with everything from complicated finances and contracts to spending months together touring crammed together in a small van or car. Sure, at band practice once a week you’ll be able to stay quiet and let some things you’re not happy with slide, but when you’re on tour for two months promoting an album you’ve just put a couple thousand of your own dollars into, it might be a little harder to hold your tongue. Opening up the lines of communication now will keep you from saying things you might regret later.
Respect, Openness and Empathy
Musicians in successful bands find ways to respect and empathize with each other, even when it’s not easy to. Under ideal conditions, it doesn’t take a lot of work for some like-minded musicians to be kind and patient with one another, but like in any other relationship, people show their true colors in the face of real challenges.
Who you are when the van breaks down or when your band blows the show? It’s more important for that person to be kind, open and respectful to your other bandmates than the person you are when things are going swimmingly. Easier said than done, of course, but the effort here is the important thing.
Taking Stock of the Health of Your Band
It can be uncomfortable to address underlying issues in your band, but ignoring them will only make things worse. Setting aside time after rehearsals is a good way to make time for getting things off your chest, making plans and opening up a dialogue about what your band is doing and where you want to go.
Rather than waiting for disasters to appear and become unmanageable, getting in the habit of creating opportunities for respectful dialogue now will help your band stay together and make music for years to come.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.