Being in a band is one of the most incredible experiences a human being can have, while simultaneously being one of the worst experiences a human being can have.
While this statement might be confusing, bear with me, ‘cuz it will make sense soon enough. The purpose of this article is to give you the tools and philosophies to MAXIMIZE the good stuff, while MINIMIZING the bad stuff. You can never get rid of the bad stuff completely, but you can tip the scales in the direction of fun. And having fun is the important thing!
Okay, now I’m going to ask you to use your imagination for a bit. Picture being at the bottom of a 12 foot deep plastic trench. The sides are slick, and there is no way to climb out. Oh, also, the trench is filled with 3 feet of the most vile, disgusting garbage you’ve ever seen. The trench is endless, but every 900 yards or so, after crawling on your hands and knees through all that miserable muck, you get to spend 45 minutes in utter paradise. That 45 minutes in paradise is SO UNBELIEVABLY FUN that it motivates you to willingly, gleefully, dive head first back into that garbage-filled trench. You’ll crawl 900 yards as fast as you can, just so you can get another 45 minutes in paradise, because it’s worth all the struggle it takes to get there. This is EXACTLY what being in a band is like.
The 45 minutes in paradise in the story above represents getting onstage and playing a great show for an appreciative audience. There is absolutely nothing in the world that can compare to that feeling.
The garbage-filled trench represents every moment you’re in a band when you’re not onstage, and all of the terrible things you have to endure in order to actually get your band onstage.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone from being in a band. But, if you’re going to start or join a band, you should go in with a realistic view of what it’s like, and a lot of the time, that reality isn’t very glamorous. Other than that glorious 45 minutes onstage, band life is filled with scheduling issues, organization problems, promotional obligations, marketing, countless rehearsals, grumpy sound engineers, personal tension with band members, competition with other bands, booking nightmares, etc., etc., etc…
So, after all this doom and gloom, where is the ray of sunshine? How do you, whether you are a bandleader or a band member, deal with the negative stuff and put the focus on the positive stuff? The answer is being aware of and controlling your own behavior and attitude.
In life, we can’t control what happens to us. We can’t control the actions of others. The only thing we can 100% control is our own actions, and our response to the things that happen to us. That’s it.
The following is a list of relatively easy things that will DRASTICALLY improve your band experience. Put effort into each one, and the payback will be FAR more than the amount of effort you have to put forth.
1. SHOW UP ON TIME
The stereotype of the chronically late musician is unfortunately based in hard, cold reality. I don’t know what it is about the musician’s psyche that makes this such a common trait, but it is super annoying and unprofessional, not to mention disrespectful.
Show up on time for rehearsal. Show up on time for load-in. Get onstage when you’re supposed to be onstage. If you show up on time, all of the scenarios above will go much more smoothly. If you are late, you’ll start each of those scenarios a step behind, in a business where you always need to be one step ahead.
2. BE PREPARED
You would be amazed how many musicians show up to rehearsal and don’t know their songs. Rehearsal is not for learning new songs, it’s for rehearsing the songs you should already have learned on your own. That’s why it’s called a rehearsal, y’know? Arriving unprepared for band practice means the people in your band who already learned their parts need to waste valuable rehearsal time teaching you your parts. That’s unfair, and if you do it often enough, you’ll be looking for a new band. Make sure you practice, practice, and practice some more between band rehearsals. The band will be more productive, and productive bands are happy bands.
3. KNOW YOUR ROLE
Are you the bandleader? Are you the primary songwriter, or a secondary songwriter? Do you contribute your own parts to the songs, or do you play what you’re told? If you don’t know, sit down with the band and find out. Once you know what your role consists of, do the best you can to fulfill that role.
Bandleaders need to lead by keeping every aspect of the band moving forward, both musically and in a business-sense. Songwriters need to consistently come up with new material for the band to play. If you’re not the bandleader or the songwriter, keep your opinions and criticisms short and on point. If you feel the need to go further with your comments in these areas, you’re gonna need to step up and contribute in a leadership role (helping the leader to organize rehearsals, book gigs, etc.) or musical role (writing songs). It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, so earn some credibility by going the extra mile to help out.
This step can be difficult, because many times your perception of your role in the band is different from everyone else’s perception. Make sure you’re all on the same page! Once everyone knows their role and how to best serve the band in that role, things can start to progress quickly.
4. HAVE FUN
Playing music should be fun. PERIOD. Sure, there will be some struggles (as the first part of this article clearly states), but the more you can smile about them, the easier those struggles are to deal with. You need to be serious about being responsible and working hard within the band, but don’t be too serious about being in a band. Not having a sense of humor about the tough times can really suck the joy out of the whole experience. Savor the good times, laugh together through the bad times.
These four simple steps can save you a LOT of pain and suffering on your way to your own version of rock’n’roll glory. Study them, internalize them, and practice them daily!!!