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So Happy Together
How to keep your band together
(in spite of its members)

By Brett McCarron

(Continued from page 1)

  1. How is everyone paid? In a typical four-piece band, the members share whatever proceeds equally. Along comes a sound man. Does this person take an equal share? Or is he/she paid as an expense item off the top, and the remaining proceeds divided among the members? Does the band leader take an extra share (or half share)? Is transportation an expense item, or do you give your roadie(s) a full or half share? Equipment maintenance? Discuss it now, or otherwise you may have members quitting when they discover that the leader has been getting an extra share. The downtime to replace a member will hurt everyone's earnings, so be up front with the split.

  2. Who gets the gigs? One band I was in had a band rule that whomever got the gig, as long as it was over an agreed-upon minimum amount, received a 10% finder's fee bonus. This was off the gross amount received, not just 10% added to his/he regular share. This turned out to be a nice incentive to find private party gigs to keep the band's calendar full. This is a fair percentage, equal to what we later gave our booking agent for finding venues for the band to play. The reason we agreed on a minimum threshold amount was that it would be easy for members to find scores of low-paying gigs, which would wear us out physically without adequate financial compensation. The minimum amount was also raised periodically, as we became busier, due to the laws of supply and demand.

  3. Vacation time! The more members you have, the tougher it is to agree on a schedule for gigs, practices, and band meetings. One option to consider is setting aside an entire month for a band vacation. The members will arrange their individual vacations with their families, allowing them some much-needed rest and time away from the band. Everyone will come back energized, and ready to get back to "band work." Get everyone to agree on the band's vacation schedule and you won't have to say no to gigs later in the year.

  4. Set up a communication network. Get each member to identify a primary and secondary means of contact and the best times to be reached. Quite often this is a personal cell phone number. But it could also be a home or work landline number. Email addresses should also be collected. If a work email address is provided, ensure that it is permissible for the member to send/receive personal emails at work. Often this is prohibited, and many employers use this as grounds for termination. You may also want to include the numbers of spouses and/or significant others to use in case of emergency.

    In one of the best bands I was in, our booking agent contacted me one Friday afternoon at 2 pm, asking if we could perform that evening at a club some 75 miles away. We had earlier agreed with the agent that we would have the weekend off, having played the previous five weekends. But since the club was a trendy one we hadn't performed at before, it was my job as band leader to offer up the opportunity to the other members. Using our communication network, I was able to contact everyone but the lead singer. I did reach his wife, who said it was okay with her, but that he wouldn't be home until 4:30 pm, which would leave us no time to pack and little travel time to get to the gig. The rest of the band decided to do the gig, subject to our singer's availability. I called the agent, she faxed me the contract paperwork, I signed it, we loaded up our gear, and waited in our singer's driveway for him to get home and learn of the gig. Lucky for us, when he did get home, he agreed to do the show, and while we were late getting started because of the last-minute notice, the performance went well, and we even made a little extra money (our agent gave us a performance bonus for helping her out). This would have been impossible if we didn't have contact and alternate numbers in advance.

  5. Set up a comfortable practice space and make efficient use of practice time. I've written a separate article about making efficient use of practice space and time here.

  6. Are you ready to add a new member? Adding a member can add a new dimension to the band. If you're a three-piece, adding a keyboard player or second guitarist gives variety during solos, and a fuller, more complex rhythm sound. If you're already a four-piece, an additional musician will allow rhythmic variation and a sound "closer to the record" if you're performing covers. The additional musician may also sing, giving your lead singer a break, and enabling sweet-sounding harmonies. Chances are, the new member also knows several songs that would be great to add to your existing repertoire.

    But new members add another dimension to a band's political makeup. Does he/she agree with your band's original direction? Does he/she fit in with your band's image? For example, when soul keyboardist/singer Michael McDonald joined the Doobie Brothers rock band in the late 1970's, it changed the direction and style of the entire band. Will any of the existing members feel threatened by the new addition? Does he/she have any bad habits you should know about? If at all possible, treat the audition like a job interview, and ask the prospective member to provide you with musical references. Call those references! It could save you time ... and possibly your band.

  7. It's time for a change. Sometimes the best thing is to step away. When a member leaves, it won't be the same band. That's a fact. Or perhaps you've outgrown the other members. Or the band has moved in a different direction than you're looking for. If, after giving it your best, you honestly feel that you can no longer give the band your best, then it's time to take a break.

    It could be a permanent vacation (to quote a Rush album title), or a sabbatical where you step away from the whole music scene to rediscover yourself. Whatever it is, discuss it with your band mates. You may or may not wish to discuss it with your significant other. That's because it may lead to extra pressure for you if your band makes a concession to keep you in the group, while your significant other makes plans for your free time because she/he thought you had quit the band.

    During your time away from the band, if that's the direction you decide, there are several things you can do to say busy with music. You can write songs, record a CD of original material using musicians you've met during your time in the band, learn to play new songs that you've never had time to master, take lessons on a new instrument, set up a home recording studio, acquire new instruments and repair those you already own, or even join a different band. If all else fails, you can always start up a brand new band, establish yourself as leader, and start again from scratch!

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