You might not realize it, but there’s a cultural framework that shapes the way that all bands behave. Culture dictates everything from how you and your bandmates interact with one another to the process you engage in to make difficult choices. You can think about culture as an unwritten social agreement that tells musicians in bands what behaviors are okay and which ones aren’t. It’s not easy, but if you don’t like the current culture that exists in your band, there are things you can do to change it from within.
Recognize how culture shapes your band
When musicians have spent years together in recording studios, green rooms, and vans, their patterns of behaviors can feel so natural and set in stone that they’re hard to recognize, let alone change. But to improve the way your band operates, the first step is to do the hard work of understanding the culture that already exists. For this process, you’ll need to ask tough questions that cover how you and your bandmates treat each other, who does what and why, and how each of you has fallen into certain behavioral patterns over the years.
It’s important to get everyone on the same page during this process, and to be prepared to potentially uncover some ugly truths about your band and yourself. This can be a painful process, but it’s something that can absolutely set up you and your bandmates for success and health over the long-term. Rather than blaming one another, try your best to be calm, respectful, and accurate in the ways you depict the current culture of your project.
Define the culture you want your band to embrace
Once you and your bandmates have taken an unflinching look at the culture that drives your band, you can transition to nailing down what a better one looks like for you. For some bands, it comes down to striving to be kinder and more patient with one another. Others might define a positive and productive culture as one that lets each musician have an equal say when it comes to creative and business decisions. Talk about who your band is, what your goals are, and how culture can help you succeed. When you think about the new culture you want to embrace, keep in mind the behavioral patterns you want to leave behind, whether it’s constant arguing, certain voices in the band not being heard, or other issues.
Put it into practice
To make real change, you’ll have to do more than just talk about starting fresh when it comes to the culture of your band. Once you and your bandmates are on the same page about bringing new behaviors and expectations into the way you operate, you’ll need to create ways to discourage bad old habits and encourage new positive ones. Doing this looks a little different for everyone, but changing the culture of your band in a meaningful way means holding yourself and your bandmates accountable. The longer you’ve been making music together the harder this process will be, but it’s worth it.
To keep things civil and productive, consider bringing up your thoughts and concerns about your bandmates’ actions in a band meeting and not in a reactionary way. When someone in your band calls you out for doing something that goes against the culture you’ve agreed to adopting, try your best to be patient, engaged, and accepting of what they have to say. If you’ve been in the same band for years, it’s probably because you and your bandmates are deeply connected creatively and personally, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take work to stay productive and sane over the long-term. Changing the culture of your band takes humility, sacrifice, and constant maintenance, but what you’ll be giving yourselves in return is a sustainable way to work together over the long-term. Chances are there have been times your band hasn’t wanted to practice, but you did it anyway because you knew it would make you better and more prepared. The hard work of transforming your band’s culture is similar in the way that it’s not easy to do but is completely necessary.
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.