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

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.

Goals

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.



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