Maintaining a healthy relationship with your bandmates can be tricky even when times are good. Petty disagreements, deep-seated resentments, and full-throated arguments are common occurrences for bands who spend countless hours recording and touring together during normal circumstances. The bands that can learn how to overcome their differences and work together have the best chance of being productive over the long-term and creating music that leaves a legacy for listeners.
But when disaster strikes bands, it often leads to make or break situations that can leave bandmates closer than ever––or unable to be in the same room together ever again. You and your bandmates can come together during challenging times and emerge with a renewed focus and closeness. But this is something you have to work hard at.
Why bandmate relationships are complex and unique
The relationships formed in bands are unlike any other due to the multiple complex roles involved. Many bands are built on tight friendships, and friendships can be complicated in their own right. But bands have the added pressure of being both creatively productive and business-oriented. No other relationship is quite like it, which is why they’re so hard to navigate. Small business owners and collaborative artists working in other mediums come to mind as comparisons. However, with serious bands spending so much time recording, writing music, and traveling to shows together, even those don’t quite fit. If your band relationships stress you out during good times or bad, take a moment to recognize just how unique of a situation you’re in.
A strong foundation to rely on
When things go wrong for bands, and they often do, the habits, frameworks, and friendships that exist between musicians get tested in a big way. This means that the foundation that props up your band during the good times needs to be strong enough to keep you going during challenging times. Everything from the way you communicate with one another to how you define your goals, needs, and plans is part of your band’s foundation. Somewhere between rehearsing, writing, recording, and performing, bands need to find time to build a strong foundation that makes room for each member’s needs. Doing this is critical for when things get tough. Through challenging times, many musicians discover that their participation in a band isn’t sustainable for reasons ranging from financial to personal to creative. Talking about issues before they become big unavoidable problems is essential.
What can go wrong for bands? A lot, so be prepared
If you’ve been playing in a serious band for a while, you might think that challenging times are more frequent than the good ones. Pursuing music as a career is incredibly difficult, especially when complex relationships are involved. Whether it’s a van breaking down in the middle of nowhere on a band’s tour or an album that puts band members in debt, much can go wrong for active bands. To weather troubles like these and get closer through them, plan ahead with your bandmates before bad things happen instead of reacting blindly to them.
The clearer picture you have yourselves, your resources and goals, the better you’ll be able to navigate difficulties. And the bands who are able to make it through challenges are often the ones who form tight bonds, which is crucial for being able to make it long enough as a band to be able to create impactful music and share it with people. Some bands never even get close to doing that. We often think our passion for music will be enough to get us through anything as artists, but other non-musical things have to be a part of your life as a band in order for things to be sustainable. Financing an album on a credit card and touring non-stop might sound like a great plan for some bands, but following through with it could leave you and your bandmates unhappy and at odds with one another. There are many problems we can’t avoid in music, but there’s also plenty of pitfalls we can avoid. By planning ahead and making sure everyone in your band is getting what they need, you’ll be able to face challenges in ways that bond you, not drive you apart.
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.