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

By Brett McCarron

Your band has lost it's focus. Members are late for rehearsals; or they don't show up at all. When everyone does show up, the sessions deteriorate into a lot of bitching, leaving everyone angry and resentful.

If your band is no longer the well-oiled machine it once was, perhaps these tips will help restore everything to its former order and glory.

  1. Have a band meeting once every six months. Ideally a band meeting is held at a neutral location, such as a bar or restaurant. This helps everyone feel at ease. Try not to hold them at your rehearsal location and whatever you do, don't allow anyone to bring instruments or significant others. You don't need noodling guitars or whispered conversations between lovers to detract from the meeting.

    Use this time to air suggestions for new songs, critiquing past performances (not just went wrong, but also highlighting what went right), promotion ideas, performance and rehearsal schedules, new venues to consider, and brainstorming ways to improve the group.

    If you can find something to do after the meeting to build camaraderie and blow off steam, so much the better. How about having the band meeting in a bowling alley snack bar, then bowling a game or two after the meeting? Never bowled before? It'll be a new experience for you, and lots of fun for your band mates!

  2. Revisit your band's common goals. Are you a cover band, or do you play originals? Does everyone want to play six-nights-a-week, weekends only, or casuals? How often should you rehearse? How many members does it take to remove a song from your set list? Is there a certain style or genre of music that you are aiming for? Are things getting stale the way they are? Are there adequate performing opportunities in your area, or do you need to branch out to surrounding communities? Revisiting your band's goals -- and reaching agreement on them -- is a great salve to put on a sore situation.

  3. Voice your opinion. Silence is tacit acceptance that you agree. Try not to remain silent when you should be voicing your disagreement. A healthy band is one that promotes discussion and communication. An unhealthy band has festering problems that will eventually lead to the band's demise.

  4. Encourage discussion. While it's not always possible to reach a consensus agreement on every issue, it helps to allow each member the opportunity to discuss their opinion. Especially encourage the shyest member to contribute. He/she may have an insight that the rest of you will find helpful.

  5. Identify the main problem. It helps if you can break down the symptoms into manageable chunks. From there you can point to the main, overriding problem -- and correct it. Is there a band mate with a drug or alcohol problem? A girlfriend or spouse that attends practices and insists on giving her/his opinion (the Yoko Syndrome)? One or more band members that have come to hate the style of music the band is playing? Or perhaps the band leader is treating the other players like inferiors, and a mutiny is ready to occur?

  6. Elect a leader. It can be the best musician, the player with the most performing experience, the lead singer, the person who put the band together, or simply the person who has been in the band the longest. Agree on this person, and their duties. Does the leader have an equal voice in band politics, or the deciding vote? Does the leader contact the members to remind everyone of practice and upcoming gigs? Is the leader the main point of contact between the manager, booking agent, and gig contacts? Is there a term for the leader, or is it for the life of the group? Don't assume anything. Discuss it and get band acceptance.

  7. We already have a leader, but it's not working. Then perhaps it's time for a manager. This person, surprisingly enough, manages the day-to-day activities of the group. The manager works with the band, booking agents, venue owners, members of the press, web sites, recording label A&R staff, and other interested parties to free up time that would otherwise be spent by the band leader. The manager will also visit with the band to help it agree on an image, and will work with the members to help them reach their goal.

    Some managers may demand as much as 35% of the gross in exchange for their services. This might be fine for a band just starting out, but the term (length) of the contract should not be for the life of the band, so that the members can renegotiate the contract at a later date, once the band begins commanding higher performance fees. (You've heard it before, always seek legal help before signing a contract.)

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