How to Keep Your Band from Breaking Up

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How to Avoid a Band Breakup“All things must pass / All things must pass away,” George Harrison once sang. And while that may be true for all of us in a final, existential sense, not every band’s days need to be so shortly numbered. Some band breakups CAN be avoided — though if you’re like me, you’ll probably learn a few of these lessons the hard way.

Here are 7 tips to help you keep your band together

1. Sign a band agreement —

What is each member’s role? How do you split profits and ownership of publishing rights, trademarks, etc? What are your goals and expectations? What happens if someone leaves the band? How do you dismiss someone from the band?

Get all of this stuff out of the way up-front so you can move forward within a framework everyone on the team has agreed to. It may be a sticky process negotiating the terms of this agreement, but you’ll be happier once it’s behind you.

For more detailed info about drafting a band agreement, check out our article “Want Long-Term Success? Create Your Band Agreement TODAY

2. Meet once a month outside of band obligations—

Yeah, I know — after all that touring and gigging and recording you’re plenty sick of each other already. But meeting on a regular basis outside of those events will help you stay more connected as people — and you can discuss band matters without the time-crunch of a practice, gig, or recording session hanging over the conversation.

Are you happy with the band’s musical direction, the types of gigs you’re getting, the attitude and input of the engineer or producer you hired recently? Now’s the best time to talk about it.

3. Avoid factions —

Even within a single band, it’s easy to form little cliques. That’s natural; but you should try your best to minimize the effects. Don’t let strange power-dynamics, passive aggression, or gossip eat away at your band from the inside.

If you split up into smaller groups during the day when you’re touring, make sure to rotate and hang out with a different band member in each city. If you’re accustomed to sectional rehearsals (drums & bass, guitar & vocal, etc.), switch up the instrument pairings every once in a while. Change your carpool arrangements for practice every other week. And so forth.

4. Give everyone a voice —

In order for everyone in the band to continue working hard, they need to feel a sense of ownership. One of the easiest ways to encourage this is to make sure everyone feels like they’re free to give input about the band’s business, music, performances, aesthetic, and marketing.

You don’t always have to agree, and you don’t always have to act on every bit of input from each member (that’d drive you crazy real fast) — but make sure everyone has been “heard.” The process for HOW to make a final decision based on differing input should be a key item in the band agreement mentioned above.

5. Have a solo side-project —

On the flip side of things, sometimes you just won’t want to compromise. Maybe you introduce a new song that your drummer really hates — but you insist on playing it, or you want to do something really innovative with your website that the rest of the band is confused by, or maybe you want to replace the bass player with pre-recorded synth tracks. Don’t!

Save all those ideas for your solo side-project, where you have complete control without the risk of offending anyone (save yourself). In the interest of band longevity, don’t force something on your fellow members that they’re overly uncomfortable with.

6. Discuss and limit drug-use —

I’m not going to say “Just Say No.” Nancy Reagan tried that and look how well it worked. It’s the music industry, after all. You’re probably going to be surrounded by alcohol, and frequently brush up against a number of other substances. How you partake or abstain is up to you, but your band SHOULD have some say in the matter. You’re investing in them and they’re investing in you. Musicians in danger of letting a substance rule their lives are a bad investment. So, in all things — moderation.

7. Be nice, be nice, be nice —

Try to stay sensitive to one another’s emotional, professional, and logistical needs. A band is like a family — warts and all. So be ready to support, love, fight, and hopefully forgive.

————–

Have you kept a band together for more than 5 years? What’s your secret? Learned any lessons from bad band breakups? Let us know in the comments section below.

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 [Band photo from Shutterstock.]

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  • WiltonSaid

    Originally I was in democratic bands but I they usually fell apart as other members weren’t ready to commit as solidly as I was. (This can also be read as “I was a tyrant”). But hey if band rehearsals are twice a week, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to show up. Yes compromises do need to be made. Rehearse or go to the cottage?

    After going through a few bands I decided to embrace my inner tyrant and become a solo artist who pays his band. This way I have all the say. But it also means that I’m responsible for all the promo and business side of things which means more work for me. So it’s a trade off. However, as long as I’m able to record or perform, Wilton Said… will always be around.

  • Do you usually work with the same hired-guns? Or do you have a kind of stable of musicians to call upon?

    @ChrisRobley

    • WiltonSaid

      At 1st I had a rotation of musicians I could call upon, but in the last 5 years or so I’ve been working with the same musicians.

  • So it's KINDA like a band. You just pay 'em so you can call all the shots? Sounds like a sane and productive solution.

    @ChrisRobley

    • WiltonSaid

      Yeah. I get to be a nice tyrant. 🙂 The downfall is that I'm responsible for everything. Sometimes I wish I was in a democratic band where everyone pitched in equally with various jobs such as writing, promotion, finances etc. But that's the compromise. It's worked well over all.

    • Barbara Morgan

      This is a lot like what my son, Todd, has going on in his band, which in it’s currant form has had the same members just over 1 1/2 years. He is just 22, and put the band together in 2007. At this age it is tough, school took off with most of the the original members, his guitar player has been with him the longest, 4 1/2 years. It works but not without myself acting as manager and performing a variety of tasks that we don’t require the members to do or it wouldn’t happen with their work and school schedules. Todd is the soul songwriter/arranger so this sort of lead to this situation.

  • Brad Graham

    This year my band is actually celebrating our 50th year in show business. It hasn’t always been easy, and we’ve barely been on speaking terms for some years now. Our singer is a pompous ass, our guitarist is a doddering wreck, and we never even set eyes on each other offstage. Lately we’ve been trying to keep things fresh by bringing in some younger guest artists, but the results have been painfully embarrassing. Most of these younger artists just have no idea, if you know what I mean. They don’t have that feel.

    I reckon we’ve tried all your suggestions at some time or other, but they haven’t really panned out for us (number 6 was especially disastrous). Yet we keep slogging on. We may be decades past our prime, but there are still times onstage when everything clicks. When none of these upstarts can touch us. During those moments, we’re still the best fucking band in the world.

    That’s what keeps us together.

    • SchoolBoi

      Wow! at the end of the day, your band is still marching through thick and thin. No matter what issues or differences. So, for what it’s worth… CONGRATULATIONS! I’m only 7 years with my group and we’ve had problems for 2 years and split up for almost the whole last year. What you and your band has been able to achieve is commendable. I wish you all the best of luck.

  • miguelcontrerascarbajal

    It’s real hard to stay together, and there are always changes to go through. I am very open with my band mates and since we really play as a hobby, it’s quite different from being in a semi-pro or pro band. Nevertheless, the problems as described are quite common among most bands. As the band leader, I call for practice three times a week when beginning a band knowing quite well that some will only commit to twice a week. However, you know what will happen if the members are expected to practice twice a week.

    One thing that I do agree with in terms of the article just read, is that you have to hang out with each other..the tighter you are in terms of eating together, going to see other bands, etc. the more likely you will stay together.

    Frankly, I would like to get to the point where WiltonSaid is, and hire my musicians. I already do all the promotion and business side of things anyway. I do do solo gigs and pretty much follow the pattern WiltonSaid does in terms of using musicians.

  • I'm impressed you got hobbyist musicians to commit to 2-3 practices per week. You must have powers of persuasion.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Damn. That's an achievement to stay together despite all your difficulties and differences within the band. Glad you still pull it off and get to those good moments.

    @ChrisRobley

  • miguelcontrerascarba

    Thanks, Chris. It's just good luck, I think.

  • Duncan Parsons

    the best way to keep a band together is to call the band 'Crement' – it guarantees no one will want to leave or get fired. After all, who wants to be known as an ex-Crement bassist, or ex-Crement vocalist, etc…

  • Robert L Tatum

    The best advice I can give: create an atmosphere of mutual respect, where people feel appreciated for what they contribute to the group. Allow each group member to bring what they really love to the band. I was in a musical partnership (male/female acoustic duo) for 17 years, and that was one secret to our success. In my current group, another male/female acoustic duo called Sound Traveler, we have the best band contract of all: a marriage license. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for us!

  • Tom Maene

    One more tip i can give is: keep the rehearsals enteristing. I had two bands originated around the same time, 9years ago. One completely broke up a year ago. The other one is still going. If we wouldn’t had forced ourself to keep the rehearsals interesting, both would have been dead by now.
    Rehearsals can become a drag if they are not organised. I used to not care about that – but in fact – it’s very important. Mindlessly repeating songs for years just won’t work… new songs must be added, and some kind of structure helps too.
    I now organised the rehearsals in parts so that we can first warm up with a couple of random cover songs. We then play the whole set as like we would play it live. From start to finish, not repeating a single song and also not stoping when someone screws up. That way we learn to handle our mistakes once we should encounter them live.
    After that there is some room to repeat some parts or songs, and talk about mistakes. Usualy by then we are halfway – so we take a 10min brake.. get out of the rehearsalspace, clear the head, smoke a sig, you know… Then we go back in and work on new songs, jam or make new parts. When time gets to the end – we allways try to finish by playing a song we really like. That way – we can leave the rehearsal with no frustrations and with a happy face and a song in our head that sticks 🙂
    Keep your rehearsals interesting – make sure it’s not a drag.

  • I found that working with people similar to me helps a great deal. I'm a singer (Christina Marie magenta) married with a 4 year old. Everyone in the band is married with small children. (except my gutarist who is my brother, so he has same values as me) We all live a very similar lifestyle. When we put the band together, one drummer wanted to sleep around and do drugs, and it wouldn't fit with our group. We ended up with a new drummer (married with a 5 year old) and we are all very happy. We think the same.

  • Brad Graham

    Thanks for the support, chaps! And please catch our "50 & Counting Tour" if we come to your town! http://www.rollingstones.com/

  • Matilda Manila

    We (Matilda Manila) have been together for more or less 15 or so years and it must be because we know how to compromise within ourselves, respecting each other's duties outside the band, and being honest with each other as much as possible and as frequently as we could.

  • Richard Hunter

    Important stuff. Bands that don't stay together don't succeed; bands that succeed tend to have been together for years. Signing a band agreement up front is one way to get everyone involved to understand that it's a business, and there's a way of doing business that works for the long term.

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