Keeping a band together over a long period of time can be incredibly hard to do, even for successful musicians with every resource at their fingertips. In part, this is because the relationships in bands are endlessly complex, but also because pursuing the dream of music alone or with a group of people is rife with challenges. It’s safe to say that countless promising bands break up before they have the chance to create truly great music together. This means the longer you can keep yours humming along, the better chance you’ll have at creating impactful music and realizing your goals.
The following advice is designed to help keep bands together, but it’s important to say that lots of bands should break up, especially the ones that are built on unhealthy relationships. Whether it’s musicians who are spending too much time in projects that aren’t creatively fulfilling or bands with toxic cultures, band breakups can create important and much-needed opportunities for some musicians. But for other projects, it’s all about keeping things healthy, sustainable, and rewarding while creating opportunities for great music to be made and performed.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
This is the most important piece of advice you’ll find on this list. You and the musicians in your band aren’t cool to the point of not needing to communicate with one another. You might have musical chemistry together, but that’s not the form of communication I’m talking about. If you want to stay together over the long term, you’ll have to be open about what you need from each other and how you feel. If one or two of you always speak up and the rest of you don’t, that’s not going to be a sustainable way of communicating over the long term. If you’re not naturally communicative as a group, change this by holding regular meetings where you get everything out in the open. Music should be your focus, but it can’t be if there are unaddressed issues between you. Create spaces where open and respectful communication can happen, and you’ll be able to pursue music freely together.
Get on the same page about goals and priorities
If one of you wants to stay home and write an album but the rest of your band is hellbent on touring for the rest of the year, you’ve got a big problem on your hands. Rather than address issues like these, some musicians are content to keep moving forward doing what they think the band wants until things blow up seemingly out of nowhere. By communicating and being open about what each band member wants, blowups can be avoided. You might have to negotiate your needs now, but doing so can prevent band-ending fights down the road and years of doing things you aren’t on board for. Being open about your priorities could show you that you aren’t a good fit for your band, or that you can all get on the same page with some slight adjustments and compromises.
Here’s another important piece of advice. How many times have you heard of the amazing young band that decides to hit the road non-stop only to break up a year later? If you want to be successful in music, you have to make sacrifices. But if you give too much away all at once, you run the risk of not being able to make music anymore as a band or as individuals. If you’re already solid communicators who are on the same page about goals and priorities, you’ll need to ensure that your plan moving forward meets your needs in a way that’s sustainable to you as people. If your next record requires each of you to go into credit card debt, that’s an example of something not being sustainable.
These are just a few pieces of advice for how to keep a band together. Others include learning to compromise, keeping joy at the center of everything you do, and taking breaks when you need them. Music should be the main force driving your band, but life will always get in the way. With open, respectful communication and working in a way that doesn’t damage you as people, you’ll be able to pursue music together for as long as you want to.
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.