Dealing with Band Politics: why it doesn’t have to be so complex

October 27, 2011{ 26 Comments }

This article was written by guest contributor Brian Botkiller.

Band Politics- the very phrase strikes fear into the hearts of musicians everywhere.  But, it doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds.

Let’s face it; no one likes to think about the politics of music-making.  We’d all rather just make music, and let everything else work itself out- but in reality, we have to confront these issues from time to time.

Who leads the pack? 

One of the most common ways in which “band politics” rears its ugly head is in the power struggle of who’s “in charge”- something that can cause a lot of stress on the everyday band. It’s important to talk about the interests of each band member, and rather than knighting one member as the “leader,” allow each member to offer their own skills to the greater good of the band. By sitting down and talking to each other about how your non-musical skills and interests could be applied to the band, you can avoid the power-plays and struggles that often come with a group of people working towards one common goal.


That brings me to our next important note: goals.  Everyone has different goals in music-making – fame, money, personal accomplishment; all of these are common in a band.  However, it’s good to talk about these things when you take band politics into consideration. Sit down and talk about what you each want out of your band experience.  It will help to give you an idea about where you’re headed together.  What do you do if one member isn’t interested in touring or in being a working band (preferring to be a hobbyist musician) and the rest of you want to play huge festivals?  These things, if left unchecked, can lead to fierce arguments. Talk about it ahead of time!  Make a list of each member’s goals and think about how you can roll them into your one unified vision. It might be easier than you think.

Arguments – they’ll happen! 

Speaking of arguing, it’s a common occurrence in the everyday band, but it’s not as bad as you think it is. In reality, it’s better to argue (constructively) than to bottle stuff up and start resenting each other.  You probably spend more time with your band members than you do with some of your family, so be ready to get to know each other and what sets each member off!  Try to think of arguments as friendly debates.  Whatever you might debate about, try to approach the issues with respect. Understand there will be differences of opinion. Be sympathetic to the needs and goals of your bandmates; put yourself in their shoes and think about their position. This can give you real insight into how they operate.  You’ll find that it will be easier to reach a good outcome if you approach things with a sympathetic and understanding tone, rather than a stalwart, “I’m always right”-stance.

Don’t sweat the small stuff! 

Finally, try to not let petty things tear you apart.  A million small issues come up daily in a band – how your drummer interacted with a fan, what someone said about you on Facebook, etc. etc.  These small things, whatever they may be, can really turn into large issues and lead to the stresses that rip bands u, if you don’t talk about how to handle them.  Don’t stress the small stuff, but pay attention to it.  If one member has an issue with the way another handles one aspect of your business, it’s better that they talk about it and come to an agreement, rather than it stewing on the back burner for too long.  Create an air of understanding on how you will each approach issues as they arise, rather than letting a big queue of small things turn into a huge boulder.

In closing… 

You’ll notice a common theme in everything I’m saying here; communication.  Communication is the best way to avoid issues with band politics.  If you don’t talk, you don’t progress. Being open and transparent makes it easier to allow for those band members in charge of specific needs to make the decisions they need to make without feeling like you all must converse a million times over about the same thing.  If you know that someone has something under control, you can go on doing what you all need to do to be successful, and the little things won’t matter as much.  Try to not hold large, drawn-out band meetings a few times a year.  Rather, sit down and go over what’s going on in your band quickly before practice.  You’ll get through things faster, and you’ll find yourselves communicating with each other more often, and with more efficiency.

I know that some of these things might seem to be plain knowledge, but you’d be surprised how often I talk to bands wherein one member does everything – marketing/management/etc., and the others “just make music.”  This isn’t the way things can work anymore, not if you want to be a successful band.  It may seem like the President of the United States does everything himself, but in reality, he has a team of people who are constantly working with him.  Treat your band the same; you may have a leader (most bands do, after all), but you are all working towards the same goals.  Share in the work, and you will share in the success. Remember; no one does it alone.

  • Nate

    Great article man!

  • Or to congress!

  • Cool. Thanks for sharing.

  • Good comparison.

  • Sounds like fertile grounds for launching your solo career!

  • Glad you've settled into something that works AND seems sustainable.

  • Very wise.

  • Keep 'em on their toes!

  • Spoonwood

    Funny when you do these things and it still go to crap….

  • Good argument against creative democracy.

  • Musaicnyc

    wow, I've dealt with that before. Having people cancel on gigs the week of is very frustrating. That's why it's sometimes good to pay people(of course that means having the cash). I can see why someone would feel bad about themselves because you need to pay people. One might think well if they're only in it for the money then it's not a team and I only want to be on a team. I think it's more of a valuation of someone's time. Time is money as you said you get what you pay for.

    I do play most instruments for that reason but mainly to clearly dictate what I want to hear. Anyways, I live in NYC where paying musicians is pretty common. I've been on both sides of the spectrum(both paying musicians, and getting paid, I'm a bassist and guitarist and producer) and thought it would be nice to hear that I totally understand your frustration.

  • on a different note

    I work in three different bands with my brother (under different names) he is terrible at communicating stuff with me and always has this "I'm always right" ego going on. He won't tell me stuff and then get totally mad about me doing something towards that. Or he will tell me one thing, and then tell me the total opposite the next time I talk to him. I worry about his memory and sanity, and wish that he would just chill sometimes and relax. It seems like he can do that just fine around everyone else except me, the person he works with (and possibly needs) the most….

  • So true. A simple solo/duo thing can be so… drama-free!

  • Yeah. Sounds like a tough spot to be in when you're the guy that always has to speak up in opposition to the rest of the band. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • That is the funniest advice about "getting screwed" I've ever heard. haha.

  • Yeah. It's tough to get attached to the big arrangements and then have to go out solo and play the same tunes naked. I usually feel way better if there's even just one additional person on stage with me.

  • Yes. Balancing democracy with quickness and efficiency is a challenge, for sure.

  • Doug Blake

    I'm used to having to do everything and just hire sidemen, but I wish the club scene paid enough that I could take a leader fee. I've been told I have a reputation for being very fair; I guess I have to receive some satisfaction in that.

  • Anthony

    Despite the column's advice to not designate a clear leader, the opposite is usually true-a good/strong leader sets the tone for discussion and decision-making; sets the direction for the band, that is, it's goals; inspires and motivates band mates; and, keeps band members aligned with the goals of the band. This is rarely done by consensus, as this article incorrectly implies. The leader should sure listen to and respect opinions and advice of his/her band mates, but his is the final decision re: any given issue, or problem.

    I offer these observations based of 40 years of professional experience as a team development and leadership consultant, who has worked with many groups and teams to develop and apply the competencies any team – bands included – needs to be successful and accomplish its common objectives.

  • Timcello

    Here's a piece of advice: write stuff down. If you can go back and say, well you told me you wanted X and then you told me you wanted Y. It helps people really think about what they want since they know you're keeping track. But don't use it as an I gotcha trick. Just as a tool for keeping people from shooting from the hip without thinking first.

  • I'm doing the Trent Reznor thing. One man band with side musicians on tour. It has it's pros and cons, but I see no better way to protect your hard work and career path. Bands rarely work out and if you're the creative force and the most driven person, you don't gain much from being equal partners with other people. And computers make it easy to say to side musicians, "look, you're not so valuable that I can't replace you with the touch of a button on my lap top until I find another human."

    • You've rendered side-musicians with bad attitudes obsolete!

  • A tranquilizer gun comes in handy, too.

  • Moody Blues? Yeah. Not many good examples.

  • Cool. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out.