Last week, we talked about how band relationships are in some ways similar to romantic relationships. We covered the honeymoon phase of a new band or band member, as well as some of the work you should do on yourself if you want to keep your band healthy. This week, I'd like to discuss a few of the behaviors, personality types, and problems that can damage or end your band relationships.
This is a personality type that you've probably encountered more than once if you've met a decent number of musicians. They believe that they're more talented than everyone else. They feel the need to broadcast their high opinion of themselves to anyone they meet. They don't care about other human beings. Jerks stay on stage past their time-slot, talk badly about other musicians, and hit on every woman in the room, whether or not said woman came with someone else, and they do it while the rest of the band is loading in the gear.
No one wants to work with a Jerk
In my experience, Jerks typically ARE very talented, but it's almost like their empathy switch got stuck in the "off" position. Early on in your "relationship," it can be tempting to overlook their behavior because their talent sort of makes up for it. The other benefit is that it sometimes takes a Jerk to motivate lazy people to get off their asses. The only problem is (and it's a big one), no one wants to work with these people for any significant period of time. Anyone I've known who runs their musical career with this kind of attitude is now bandless or has dropped their pursuit of music altogether.
If you're in a situation where you're getting paid for your music, it's a bit easier to overlook Jerkish behavior. But if you're slogging through the lowest levels of the music industrial complex where getting paid gas money is a rare blessing, it's hard to put up with it, and much easier to just walk away and find someone else who knows how to treat other members of the human race.
Finding a balance of being healthily assertive without being aggressive or confrontational is difficult for some people. Some people end up being too aggressive (see the section on "Jerks"), while others under-compensate and turn into spineless weasels who can't stand up for themselves or their needs at all. They're afraid or uncomfortable with how they imagine you'll react to a certain situation, so they disguise their actions and true feelings.
This kind of musician is a little harder to spot than a Jerk, because their behavior typically takes longer to manifest. It's also harder to argue with someone who's smiling at you, and Passive-Aggressives LOVE to smile. They will smile when they first meet you, they will smile when you're asking them why they're a half-hour late for practice every week, and they will add a smiley emoticon when they send out a text saying that they started playing with another band and won't be coming out to the show tonight.
If you have someone like this in your band, I suggest doing some networking and keeping a contact log of musicians who are able to step in at a moment's notice if and when your passive-aggressive bandmate fails to show for a serious gig.
Older musicians will probably know all about this kind of person. Some of you younger folk, however, will want to pay special attention to this section. An addict is someone who struggles with balance. They have a "passion," let's say it's drinking, drugs, sex, or self-sabotage, and they pursue that passion at the expense of their other responsibilities, like family, education, jobs, or music. You'll know you have an addict in your midst when you realize that they're always apologizing. They're sorry they're late, they're sorry they forgot to learn the new songs, they're sorry they missed the band meeting, they're sorry they ruined the last set.
For whatever reason, addicts are drawn to the arts, so if you haven't run into one yet, you will. They love to express themselves, and because addiction is typically surrounded by drama, they have stories to tell. I'll grant you, many of these stories are going to be hilarious, or fascinating. However, addicts are only funny or interesting in small doses. When they black out in between sets, or when they get a DUI on the way home from the show, and now need you to drive them to practice, it's much harder to find their story about running from the cops as funny as you used to.
It's easy to feel sorry for addicts. There's several of them in my personal life, and I can easily see where that behavior could manifest in myself if I didn't have some people in my life who call me on my BS. I believe we're all one or two steps away from being in their position, so I certainly can't judge them for their behavior. Plus, they've developed great apologizing skills, so it's often hard to say no to them. The problem is, if you always forgive an addict his failings, they will simply use that as an excuse to keep failing, and it can end up costing you or others. The only way to handle them is to cut them out of your life until they're sober, or cut them out permanently. It seems harsh, but if you give them multiple chances, you will find that you just keep giving them more chances.
Addicts & Depressives are drawn to the arts
This is another personality type that is naturally drawn to the arts. Jon Bon Jovi, Rivers Cuomo, and Ray Charles are just some of the names you'll find on this list of famous persons who identify with this disorder. We depressives have got drama and sadness and other fun stuff churning around in our brains, and it's often therapeutic to get that stuff out of our heads and onto paper or into music. (You'll notice I said "we" in this case. That's because I also fall into this category.) Realistically, we could lump other behavioral or mental health disorders in here as well, as depression is sort of a side effect of many other mood disorders like bipolar disorder, or even addiction.
You might think that the symptoms for depression would be easy to read, that the person will just be mopey or miserable all the time, unable to work up the energy to practice or just be sort of "blah." While it can go that way sometimes, it could also be that they are irritable (they keep snapping at me during practice!), that they can't think straight (they just can't get that song right no matter how many times they go over it!), or they just don't care about the fact that they're putting in zero effort towards music or promotion, etc.
This could be a whole article on its own, but I think the best way to sum it up is this: if you think someone in your world is experiencing depression, whether as the result of a specific event, like a death in the family, or just because they're "down" all the time, the best thing you can do is treat it like a medical condition, because that's exactly what it is. If someone came to you and said, "I think I feel a lump under my armpit," you would tell them to go to a doctor. If someone says, "I just don't feel like playing anymore," or they break out into crying fits, or they're irritable about anything and everything, then you need to tell them to get help. Take it seriously.
Many musicians have unrealistic ideas about how many things they can fit in their life. Your drummer has 3 kids under the age of 7, works 60 hours a week at a blue-collar job, and is also in a steady-gigging cover band? You really think he can give your band the time and attention it needs to be taken seriously? Sometimes, you have to do the thinking for someone. If they swear they can handle their insane schedule, but you have a bad feeling that it's going to be an issue, chances are... it's going to be an issue. Deal with it before it's a problem, not after.
Romantic relationships can also get tricky when it comes to music. It seems like girlfriends in particular are very good at convincing musicians to just skip practice and go out to dinner instead. My SO's have always understood (and appreciated) that the band must be taken seriously. If I'm not puking my guts out, I'm going to practice. I don't care if there's a football game on, I don't care if there's a show I really want to watch, I don't care who's in town this weekend. The band comes first.
If you have sex with someone in or near the band, you are risking the band itself.
I have one piece of advice for you when it comes to sex and music... don't. Don't sleep with your bandmates. Don't sleep with people your bandmates have slept with. Don't sleep with your bandmates' family members. All of these situations are perfect incubators for feelings of jealousy, anger, betrayal, etc., and none of these things contribute to a healthy band.
Human brains are adept at rationalizing the "need" for sex, so when presented with the opportunity to hop into bed with someone who you wouldn't dare go near in a healthy state of mind, you can very easily find a way to make it happen, especially if you're in a dry spell. No good can come from it. You need to realize that if you have sex with someone who is connected to the band, you are risking the band itself. Is that worth it to you?
When it comes time to separate from a band, or to help someone else leave the band, the same rule applies from your professional life: DO NOT BURN YOUR BRIDGES. It's very tempting to want to tell someone that you've always hated them and that you never want to see their stupid face again. The problem is, you never know when that person will pop back into your life - even if you aren't aware of it.
As an example, I had a guitarist in a band who was late for practice. I texted him to see where he was. He responded that he wasn't going to be playing with us anymore. (He was a Passive-Aggressive.) Strangely, our singer quit a week later. I found out later that the guitar player had convinced the singer to start a new band. That band quickly failed, and this guy ended up joining a friend's band, which meant I ran into him at several shows.
Had I lost my temper with him and gave him my honest opinion about his behavior, those run-ins would have become very awkward. What would I have solved by getting angry with him? Isn't it better to just move forward and find someone to replace him? I pretty much laugh about the situation now that a couple years have passed, so did it really matter in the grander scheme of things? The momentary relief you get from unleashing your anger at someone usually isn't worth the amount of smack-talk he will spread around the very small music community about you and your band.
Letting someone go sucks no matter what.
If you have to let someone go, you need to realize that it's going to suck no matter what. Take a lesson from the film "Moneyball" and just be transparent with the person. Don't dance around the topic because you're uncomfortable. Tell them clearly, honestly, and quickly that you won't be working together anymore, and here are the reasons why. They will freak out, or they will accept it, they will throw a bass, or they will cry in the bathroom - you can't change their reaction, and you aren't responsible for it. It's your job to just deliver the news like a professional, and leave it up to them to decide how they want to deal with it.
Don't apologize when letting someone go. That makes it seem like you're doing something wrong. Don't give them "one more chance." Let your yes be yes and your no be no. If they're fired, that means that you have thought about this long and hard, that you've lost sleep over it, and you have come to this decision with the rest of the band, and it is unanimous, or as close to unanimous as it can be. If you tell someone they're canned, and then you let them back in the band, the same problems that led to the firing will pop back up, and you will just have to go through the unpleasant situation all over again. Being a professional means that you are a clear communicator and that you mean business. So tell them how it is, and let it be.
Some of the best relationship advice I have ever received was from people who have been divorced. Giving someone advice on what to do in a relationship can only help a person so much, but telling them what NOT to do could save their relationships. I hope I've given you some words of wisdom from someone who's been through a fair number of musical "breakups."