When It’s Time to Run Your Own Band...
Originally written for Live2Play Magazine
I know, I know. You’ve been in a million bands by now. Good ones, bad ones...and probably everything in between. They last. They don’t last. They make money. They crash and burn before the first gig.
It’s a never ending cycle in our business, and it’s probably one of the hardest things to navigate about being a musician. So how do you know when it’s time to start taking control of your own destiny and building your own stupidly awesome totally successful, gonna rock the house or maybe crash and burn just like everybody else’s project?
The simple answer is you’re over it. You think you can do it better. You are tired of wasting your time with bands that either never leave the rehearsal space or never see a paying gig. Or can’t generate a good set list. Or keep a drummer. Or have a single rehearsal not baked out of their skulls.
Simply put...let your frustration level be your guide. Are you flippin’ up to your neck in charts and lyric sheets and playlists of all the bands you’ve been playing in for years that have never even gotten out the gate? That might be a good indicator.
See...there’s this thing that happens sometimes with good musicians who are actually also good leaders...we decide not to do it. We decide, in our rebellion against our natural leader instinct, that it might be better for us to just follow. Sometimes it’s an ego thing - we don’t have enough of it - or we have been blasted in the past for having too much of it.
But chances are if you’re frustrated in almost every band situation you’re in because you are very often thinking that you could definitely do it better than your crackhead leader...then you should try. The voices in our heads are there for a reason. Yours could also just be crazy...but if you hear it often enough, it could also be the one you need to listen to.
There’s lots of reasons not to want to be a bandleader. Ultimately, you are responsible for everything. On top of learning your stuff and playing your instrument (whatever it is) really well, you’ll be the one organizing rehearsals, building set lists, dealing with club managers and agents, booking gigs, building websites, organizing shoots for promo photos and videos, and in general...getting your ass chewed out for everything under the sun that goes wrong. It’s a thankless job. If done badly. It makes the hands of the music clock turn smoothly if done well.
Some of us are naturally gifted for leadership. Think back into your past, and you may even find all the scenarios you need to support your crazy idea that you could do it better. Are you good at smoothing over the problems in a group of people? Were you always the person with the best ideas when you had to make that stupid group poster in school? Are you really good at communicating with people and naturally organized enough that doing 50 things at one time is actually easy for you?
Then it’s time. You’ll want to buckle yourself in. You may need a good stiff drink. Caveat Emptor: your band is going to drive you crazy with their schedules and ideas and dramas and personal issues.
But if you can build the better band...you should. Because as in life, in music, the organization can’t always be left to the people who want to do it, but have no real gift for it. And sooner or later you have to grow up and stop wasting your own time by letting the followers lead and leaders follow.
My parents used to say: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” It’s funny that in that old axiom, there was no real test for who should do which thing - as if they are all the same, and anyone can do any of them at anytime by just deciding to.
But you...no...you’ve got 26 useless bands that have never made any money under your belt, and now you know differently.
Leaders lead. Followers follow. And those who need to get out of the way...well...you people...we are gonna start to be a whole lot less nice about what you need to do.