Are You ‘That’ Band Member?

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There are very few bands out there that don’t have at least some drama. Rock history is rife with tales of inner turmoil in otherwise successful bands. Sometimes, though, it’s the members themselves who are contributing to their own unhappiness. Occasionally, the trouble can be traced back to one particularly grouchy member: perhaps a ham-fisted dictator of a band leader or a member that’s just impossible to please.

Now, don’t worry, we don’t actually think you’re the one causing problems in your band, but if the following traits sound familiar in describing either you or someone you play with, you might have an issue on your hands.

1. You Complain About Everything

You hate the covers you play, you hate the new song you guys are writing, you hate the venues you play. Perhaps most importantly, you make your opinions known loudly and often, whether or not they’re requested.

The other members may not say it, but these complaints are bringing down the rest of the band. There’s nothing like a stick in the mud to ruin the vibe and suck the fun out of everything. The bottom line is, you should be having fun doing what you do — and if you’re not, why are you here?

This project might not be for you, and that’s OK. Or, if you really do love playing with this band, and there are compelling reasons to stay, you may just have to adopt a more positive outlook. Try to find the upside in everything. Did that last gig really suck? Well, what were the positives? Sure, the sound was wretched and the crowd was small, but there were a handful of people who were really into it, and you guys got asked back in the future. Focus on the open doors, not the closed ones.

2. You’re Late All the Time

Running a few minutes behind now and then is no big deal, but it starts to get on people’s nerves if it becomes a regular thing. Whether or not it was intended, being late wastes other people’s valuable time and money if you’re renting a studio space. Being late to practice, while it is a problem in itself, is usually somewhat manageable.

On the other hand, being late to shows, interviews, recording sessions, or photo shoots is a much more serious offense. In these cases, you’re not only wasting your fellow bandmates’ time but also that of the venue manager, photographer, recording engineer, etc. Worse, it reflects poorly on the reputation of the band as a whole.

Some people are just chronically late. This is especially true in artistic circles, but if this is something that you struggle with, there’s no reason you can’t improve. I recommend tricking yourself by noting that the practice is earlier than it is. If practice is 11, tell yourself it starts at 10:30. At worst, you’ll be on time… which is an improvement!

Bassist and bandleader Carter Lee has a ton of advice about running smoother rehearsals, gigs, and recording sessions — all of which he shares in his free course on leadership tactics for Soundfly, Building a Better Band. Here’s a snippet from the course.

3. You’re Not Pulling Your Weight

Small contributions go a long way. Sure, you’ll show up to practices and shows, but if getting you to contribute anything to the group in your downtime is like pulling teeth, that sends a negative message.

The fact of the matter is, if you’re in a band, you’re part of a team, and that means you’re going to need to be an active member. Nobody wants someone who only ever does the bare minimum and rolls their eyes when asked to be a little more invested. This is something that I’ve seen create real problems in bands; when only a couple of the members do all the work, resentment starts to set in.

Everyone has obligations outside of music, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask the rest of the group what you can do to help out. It might be as simple as posting on social media, packing and shipping records, reaching out to friends to tell them about upcoming gigs, etc. — or try suggesting that you utilize a specific skill set, like graphic design or producing in your home studio. Either way, it shouldn’t be an imposition for you to do your part to help the band.

Some more suggestions: If you’re a people person, offer to help at the merch table at shows and get people to sign up for your mailing list. If you’re particularly well-organized, offer to supervise load-in and make spreadsheets for an upcoming tour. If you’re comfortable with paperwork, you can look over agreements, get your tech rider in order, and perhaps write out a press release template.

If you feel reluctant or resentful about doing these types of things, explore the reasons: Are you overworked in other areas of your life? Not happy with the band’s musical direction? Burnt out? Knowing yourself and improving yourself will ultimately make you a better band member.

Not everyone has the right attitude to be in a band. But if it’s something that’s important to you, it may be worth doing a self-check to see if you’re the one creating drama. If that’s the case, that’s good news, because you’ve got a huge amount of control over the situation. But now comes the hard part: talking to your fellow band members, owning up to your mistakes, and repairing bridges.

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