Every band is a unique universe with its own rules, customs, and relationships. Audiences may see the bands they love as united fronts. However, each is comprised of multiple members with different needs, opinions, and backgrounds. In order for the band dynamic to be healthy and sustainable, each musician needs to feel heard and respected. For some musicians, making their needs known can be a huge challenge, especially if the culture in their band is geared towards a stop-at-nothing for success philosophy. Not expressing your needs will end up ultimately hurting not only you but also the musicians you play with.
Defining your needs
The complex relationships and cultures that exist within bands can make it tricky for musicians to define what they need to feel successful, healthy, and respected. For example, you might have musical ideas you’re dying to share but keep quiet because contributing creatively is outside of your role. Or you might find yourself touring more often than you can afford to but don’t say anything because your band is on a mission to “make it” no matter what. Instead of ignoring your feelings and not expressing them to your bandmates, try defining and accepting them. Resentment is one of the all-time biggest band-killers. It rears its ugly head when musicians don’t speak up about how they’re feeling. Going back to our examples, a little introspection might lead you to realize that you need to be able to share your creative ideas and have them taken seriously, or that it’s not worth it for you to go into debt to tour. Once your needs are clear, you can share them with your bandmates.
Speaking up with respect in mind
Respect for not only your bandmates but also for your own needs should be at the cornerstone of conversations where you share your needs. Your message will go much further if the musicians you play with are approached with patience and understanding. If you’re sharing your needs for the first time, your bandmates might be surprised. This especially applies when speaking up in a band that’s committed to making large sacrifices on behalf of your goals. Your needs might not comport with how your bandmates see you or the mission of your band. This can cause the musicians you play with to feel annoyed or even angry. But don’t let these emotions guide you. Commitment to being respectful will help get your point across in a way that helps keep your relationships healthy. It’s your job to share your needs in a respectful way, not to make sure your bandmates like and agree with you. You’re responsible for your actions, and they’re responsible for theirs.
Listening and the art of compromise
Once you’ve shared your needs, listen to your bandmates the way you’d like them to listen to you. You might find that it’s not easy, but this is a crucial part of making your relationship work. Some musicians have needs that can’t be challenged or changed, but others have ones that can be compromised. Like listening, coming together, and compromising is another skill that separates healthy career bands from their less emotionally developed counterparts. You might not get everything you want by sharing your needs. Yet, leaving room for compromise and negotiation will allow your band to stay afloat and keep creating music. However, if you have needs that can’t be changed, postponed, or negotiated in any way, let your bandmates know and tell them why.
Keeping a band going is a delicate dance. You and your bandmates most likely do what you do out of the simple love for music. This said, there are still many complex realities that can threaten your work. By learning to stand up for our needs in a calm, realistic, and respectful way, we’ll have the best shot at playing music in bands for as long as we want to. Many bands with loads of potential and energy break up prematurely because of preventable personal issues. If you don’t want to be in one of them, get in touch with your needs and start sharing them.
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.