Welcome everyone once again to the FrigginJerk column. This installment will be an extension of my previous articles on forming a band, and leading a band. The topic today? When and how to fire a member of your band. I'll be relating back to some points I made in previous articles, but hopefully I won't sound like a broken record. I am assuming that the reader is currently in a leadership role in their band, and is therefore in a position to make such decisions. You're going to learn how to tell what kind of problem you are dealing with, and how to best deal with those problems. You are going to learn the best times to replace a band member, and you are going to learn some sad truths about forming bands with your best friends. But before we learn when it's necessary to remove someone from the band, we need to determine something else:
Do You Even Have a Band?
Something to remember is that there is a huge difference between a group of your friends jamming in your basement for fun, and a "real" band. There's nothing wrong with just jamming, and in your formative years as a musician, it can be the best thing for you. But to be in a serious band requires that everyone is on the same page in terms of (approximate) skill level, commitment, and overall vision for the band.
If you simply have two entry-level guitar players who like different kinds of music, a bass player who only plays bass because you made him take it up so you'd have a bassist, and a drummer who's been playing for 10 years, you do not have a band. You have a room full of people who all want different things, and none of whom will be able to mesh in terms of style OR skill. It might be productive if you want to learn something, or explore different ideas, but it will NOT be productive in terms of playing as a band.
I can't count the number of times I've been browsing the Musician's Talk Forum here at UG, and seen some semblance of the following message:
"PLz H3Lp me pplZ!! I 4md a BanD w1th my m8ts @Nd nun 0f tHm like th same mUzik as me! My bass playr sux balls @nd Evry-1 is way better thn HiM. shUd I kiK him out? I no I shud but he's my best frend!"
A person like this does not have a band. A band consists of an organized group of musicians who know what they are doing, and have committed to playing music together. What most people like this do have is a junior high or high school "band" that is really just three pals jamming in their basement.
The problem is that people take the word "band" way too seriously. They are too quick to decide that they are a band. The obvious reason for this is that bands are cool. People love to be "cool," and so as soon as the opportunity arises to label themselves as a band, they leap at it, even though they probably aren't even remotely qualified to do so.
So if you are having band problems, consider your situation. Are you guys really a band? Have you played shows? Do you all actually know how to play your instruments? Can you play entire songs together as a unit? Do you all know what the goals of the band are? If not, you are simply jamming with friends. In this case, you can simply find other people to play with. Remove yourself, not others.
Regardless of whether you are the most talented person in the room, or the least talented, or if you just want to play different music, you are the one who need to be removed in this situation. If people get mad about it, have you really lost anything? It's not like you're leaving a successful band, or anything, right? There's no band for you to lead, so you must go and find one, or make your own.
So, Now You've Got A Real Band...
Congratulations! You read my article on how to form a band, and you are following my advice on how to run a band, and things are going smoothly... or are they? You've got a member who never shows up for practice. And another member who suddenly decided that he is the greatest player in the country and he doesn't need to practice anymore. And you've got another one who can't compromise with anyone. And your drummer just plain hates your guts. Even though you all like the same kind of music, and want the same thing, your particular group is dysfunctional. Here's how to (hopefully) resolve these problems, if possible:
For your band to accomplish anything at all, your members need to show up for practices, gigs and meetings. You shouldn't hold a full practice without all the members there, and if everyone agrees to a practice time, everyone must show up. So here's the rundown of a typical absentee band member:
He never makes an effort to arrange a practice
He either won't commit to a practice time, or cancels at the last minute
When he does show up, he's late, and has to leave early
Never wants to discuss long-term goals of the band
If this behaviour reminds you of someone in your band, you are dealing with an absentee. This can be the most frustrating of band problems, because it ruins everyone's schedule, and it largely affects the entire band. There are three general reasons why a band member would act this way:
01. He is not happy with the way the band is going. If this is the case, talk with the guy and find out if the situation is fixable. Compromise is key when you're leading a band, so if all he wants is to do a few different cover tunes, or add another layer to the band's sound, then by all means, try to accommodate it.
02. He just plain old doesn't want to be in the band. Maybe he doesn't like you guys. Maybe he's grown tired of it. Maybe it's not all he thought it was cracked up to be.
03. He is simply too busy to be in the band. Lots of people join bands for fun, but have too much on their plate. After a while, something has to be marginalized, and in this case, it's the band. This is often the case with kids who go to school, work part-time and have a girl or boyfriend in addition to joining the band.
It's important to keep things in perspective as well. Don't get an ulcer over someone having to miss a couple of practices. Everyone's schedule is bound to get busy at some point or another, and if you're not a full-time musician, other stuff will eventually come up. The time to worry is when a member is constantly missing practices, and giving a bad attitude, when you know that they could be there if they really wanted to.
The only way to handle an absentee is to give them an ultimatum: Either they start showing up for practice, or they will be replaced. It's not an issue of skill on their instrument, or of your friendship with them, it's a matter of them showing up. A band must play together, or they aren't a band.
The Rock Star:
Some people think that the road to being a rock star is ten feet long. They join a band, play a song, and sit back. They become more interested in their image and in acting like a rock star than in working on music. Here's the rundown:
They never practice on their own time, and it shows in rehearsals.
Generally act cooler than they are, just because they're "in a band, dude!"
Spends more time partying like a rock star than he does playing like a rock star
Is unaware that his/her playing is not up to par, possibly blinded by the bright lights of "fame"
This situation is a little more fixable than the absentee. The Rock Star will usually show up for practice, and probably has enough potential skill to get back up to par. It's simply a matter of an ego check. I suggest that you simply sit down with the whole band, and tell the guy what's up. Tell him he needs to practice more, and remind him that you've still got a ways to go before it's time to live like a rock star. Led Zeppelin wasn't great because they partied so hard. They partied so hard because they worked all their lives at becoming such skilled musicians, and they earned their right to party.
Depending on the person, they will either take the hint and get back to work, or they will storm out because they are "too cool for you assholes!" Either way, you can't lose. If one person's ego gets out of control, the band is doomed. Teamwork is key, so don't let someone's ego get out of control; otherwise you'll have a problem with...
The Control Freak:
As I've said, compromise is the name of the game when you're in a band. If one member decides that only his way is right, and everyone else should just do what he says, then there will inevitably be a problem. Here are some traits:
Usually the lead singer or songwriter
Tries to tell everyone exactly what notes to play, etc...
Throws a fit if his ideas are turned down, or aren't working out
Turns down lyrics or music that he doesn't write
Now, it's one thing if the guy has written something really good, and he knows exactly how it should sound, and you'll just have to indulge him on this one thing. But you can't have all the power all the time. Once again, this kind of problem should be dealt with by an ultimatum. Once everyone has had enough of the guy, simply sit him down and remind him that there are other musicians in the band who would like to express themselves as well. You're happy to indulge him a little, but he has to give some back.
As with the Rock Star situation, you can't really lose. Either he'll get back in line, or he'll storm out, thus eliminating your problem once and for all.
Who You Should (Probably) Never Hire In The First Place:
There are some people whom you should never hire in the first place. Even if they are of similar skill levels and have the same interests, there are still obvious traits to look for that will almost certainly cause a problem.
If you want your band to go anywhere, don't hire people who are either way less or way more talented than you are. It will be frustrating for everyone involved. Some people will struggle to keep up; others will be bored with simplifying things too much.
Do not hire your girlfriend or boyfriend, or anyone who is romantically involved with another band member. This should be obvious, but I'll explain anyways. Suppose you invite a guy and his girlfriend to join the band. You all become great friends over a few months. Then the couple breaks up, and everyone has to take a side, depending on how it happened, and who they are better friends with. Then the band dissolves. No matter how much you think these people are in love and will never break up, there is no point in risking it. If you keep the two relationships apart, they can't hurt each other. But if you mix them, they both stand to be harmed.
Don't hire someone who has any kind of drug or alcohol problem. It's fine if they just like to party, but if it's a real problem, don't bother with it. Addicts can quickly become absentees, and they are unreliable. What if he gets really nervous before a gig, and drinks himself into a stupor? You can't really play if you bassist can't even stand up.
I personally don't like the idea of mixing genders in a band. My reasoning is that if you have a band of guys with a girl singer, you won't be taken seriously as a "rock" group, and your lead singer will instantly be sexualized. Whenever a woman is performing, she is judged by her looks first. It's not right, but that's how society reacts. And there's also the issue of comfort. Unless you are really close with the person, there's always that little barrier between men and women that makes it just a little awkward all of the time. You should be able to trust your band with anything, and be completely comfortable with them at all times.
And if you are the only guy in a girl band, people simply make unfair assumptions about you being gay. If that doesn't bother you, then fine. But then there's the problem of being the odd man (no pun intended) out. People will spend more time wondering why there's a guy in the band than they will listening to the music.
It's fine to hire you close friends, but keep in mind that if they don't fit right in with you in terms of skill and style, you might eventually have to fire them, and that can be unpleasant. I'll get more into that issue later on.
When to Fire Someone:
If you've tried and tried to fix your band's problems internally, and it's just not working, then you need to take action. The longer you wait, the older you get, and the quicker life will pass you (and your band) by. First and foremost, you should discuss the firing with the other members first, to make sure everyone knows that it's coming, and why.
But the question of when to fire someone is always tough. If the person in question is causing band practice to be absolutely no fun at all, or is preventing it from even happening, then you should can him as soon as possible.
If the offending member is simply a person who you know is not going to be a long-term member, but you can still make progress with him around, then you should seek out a replacement for him before firing him. That way you can make a seamless switch, and not sacrifice a ton of lost time by firing him before finding a replacement.
I know that lots of my readers live in small towns or communities where there aren't very many musicians at all; much less musicians who are the same age, skill level, and share your interests. I honestly have no idea what to do if your band starts falling apart and there is nobody to replace your members. It's not something I've had to deal with, as I live in a big city. I guess you'll just have to wait until you can move someplace with more people.
If there is a really problematic member in your band, and the band is starting to get some real business, I suggest replacing him before you do anything too serious in terms of gigs, recordings, etc... A person will take it a lot harder if they are let go after tasting some success, and your public image will change when you alter your lineup anyways. Never make serious commitments about your music unless you are sure that all your members are solid. What if you get a foot inside the door at a record label, and are about to record a breakthrough album and your band can no longer stand to be in the same room as each other? Should have taken care of that little problem six months ago, right? Right.
When To Fire Yourself:
If you are in a band with three other people, and you are the only one who wants to play a certain kind of music, or if you are way more talented or far less talented than the other members, it's best to quit. There's no sense in cutting apart the other three guys if they all get along fine. It's only wise to fire someone if they are the only one causing the problem. If two or more of the members are being truly problematic, and you are the only one suffering from it, then it's best to step down gracefully.
And finally, we get to the biggest hurdle of all. You started a band with your best friend in the whole wide world, but he's a terrible musician, never practices, never shows up for rehearsal and always wants things his way. He's got to be fired, but you know that if you fire him, you could lose your best friend. Well, tough! It's a cold hard fact of life that if you go into any kind of business with a friend, and things go sour, you will likely lose that friend.
If he's really such a great friend, he will understand that you are too passionate about music to be held back by your differences. The sad truth is that there is no good way to do this. It comes down to you deciding if you'd rather have a band or have your best friend be mad at you.
The best advice I can give is to think very carefully about forming a serious band with your best friend. As I said at the start of the article, it's fine to just jam at home and have fun, but if you want to make a serious attempt at being a professional musician, you should choose your bandmates wisely. If you know your friend is not up to par in terms of skill, don't invite him to join. If you know that the two of you simply can't work together in that kind of environment, don't invite him to join.
So there you have it. Firing people is always nasty business, but sometimes it has to be done. The worst thing you can do for your band is to not deal with problems as they appear. Letting a problem sit there and grow just leads to bigger problems.
Firing people can usually be avoided by choosing your bandmates wisely, and I reccomend not simply leaping at the first opportunity you get to join a serious band. I hope I've helped a few people to be able to try and fix their band problems before they simply give up, or needlessly fire someone.
Tom LeBlanc, aka: FrigginJerk, email@example.com.
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