For how much music has changed over the past couple of years, the reasons bands split up seem to stubbornly be the same. The complex interpersonal dynamics in bands can be extremely difficult to navigate whether you’re fresh out of high school and touring for the first time or have been in a successful band for decades. And even though we’re living in an unprecedented time in music where things work and look nothing like they did even a decade ago, there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to why bands decide to throw in the towel. In no particular order, here are the top three reasons bands break up:
If there was some sort of all-knowing musical database out there that kept track of issues behind band breakups that we could log into, we’d absolutely see money as one of the leading culprits. Arguments and concerns over money have the potential to poison any relationship, but they’re especially detrimental to bands for a couple of reasons. In marriages and even many business partnerships, it’s common knowledge that honesty and open communication are important, but musicians typically don’t prioritize those things, even though they should. Throw concerns over money into the mix with a band who isn’t used to speaking openly and honestly about their issues and you can see why money is at the root of many a band’s demise.
Another issue is the unavoidable fact that everything in music costs money, and some musicians simply can’t keep sinking cash into something that never pays off financially. Recording, touring, promotion—the costs never end for an active band, which is why lots of musicians eventually decide they just can’t afford to do it anymore.
2. Lack of fulfillment/compatibility
“Creative differences” has been cited behind so many band breakups that it’s become sort of a joke in music, but the truth behind it is that when musicians check out mentally, the projects they’re a part of either disband or hobble on without them. Being in a band is simply too hard to do unless a musician’s heart is in it 100%. But here’s where things get tricky. Since each person’s version of musical fulfillment is different, bands often experience trouble on this front for a multitude of reasons. For example, one person in a band might be perfectly fine with playing local shows and practicing a couple times a month but another may want to tour seriously and make records. Without some sort of compromise, the visions these two musicians are working towards aren’t compatible. Different musical philosophies and interests can also break bands up, but this typically happens before a band gets very far in their career.
3. Petty arguments, jealousy, and bickering
Force any combination of human beings to ride around in a van together for a month and some unpleasantness is bound to occur. A breakdown in the relationships between musicians spells doom for many bands because, well, it’s insanely hard to be in a band even under the best of circumstances. The mental and physical barriers a couple of quarreling coworkers can erect in an office can’t happen in a band. When the communication and respect between musicians begins to erode, the end is near unless something changes quick and in a significant way.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.