Musicians by nature are a flaky brood. We all have different tastes and influences that have shaped us into who we are as musicians. We are all fairly strong willed in our own way. And all musicians are perfectionists in one way or another as well. Part of the “cat herding,” part of keeping the group together and working towards mutual goals involves making sure everyone is on the same page early and often.
Here are five steps towards keeping everyone focused…
Step 1) prequalify to the extreme
Prequalifying means heavily evaluating new band members before you bring them on board. Make sure that you have explained the focus and direction of your band very carefully and that everyone is in agreement with the path. Be sure to ask them questions, and then listen very carefully to their answers. You may even want to put this in writing.
Caution: you may come across musicians that tell you exactly what you want to hear. They are simply trying to get into the next band project as quickly as possible. They are not being honest and may not even know that they are not being honest. You need to be able to assess their goals as carefully as possible.
Step 2) watch for deadly hidden agendas (DHA’s)
This won’t come as a shock, but many musicians have secret desires that they won’t readily share with you; sometimes because they simply don’t know any better; sometimes because they want to take an existing structure (band) and have it serve their own ends; sometimes they don’t fully realize what situation they are getting into; sometimes they are just selfish dirt-bags (as opposed to unselfish dirt-bags).
Any way around it, DHA’s are trouble. They can even be very harmless agendas, but if no one properly communicates them, these secret agendas are always there waiting to cause harm to the band. Sometimes DHA’s even go dormant when a band is functioning smoothly, only to re-surface when the slightest personnel changes occur.
Step 3) re-evaluate every time a new band member is enlisted
A band is really an experiment in group dynamics. When members depart and new ones come on board, there will most certainly be subtle changes that need to be monitored. A new band member needs to hit it off with each and every existing member.
Sometimes older members will try to create alliances with the newbie in hopes of shifting the cosmic order of the band (see DHA’s above). Sometimes the presence of a new member will draw renewed attention to some of the deficits of older members (like obsessive compulsive disorders, moodiness, flakiness and other common musician afflictions). And…sometimes everything will go just fine.
Step 4) reiterate band goals and direction often
It’s critical that everyone is aware of the band’s direction and working towards those ends (together) every day. If there is not complete mutual agreement, stop and talk about the goals thoroughly until you all arrive at the same place. This process involves listening. It most likely will involve compromise. And it may be painful…but be sure to take the time to talk openly with all members whenever you get the sense that anyone is veering from the page.
Many successful bands put these goals in writing and have everyone sign their consent. Be proactive when you see any symptoms of discontent or anarchy. A lawless band will not succeed in the long run. But remember too that a band is not a democracy…
Step 5) treat your band as a business
There is a temptation in musicians’ circles to think a band is a “democracy.” But this is a major fallacy – bands are not governments. Bands are businesses. And every band member plays a part in the business. Some are sole proprietors with employees. Many are business partners with equal ownership. Some are even the pawns of corporate masters. But in the end, all bands are businesses and will be much more successful when everyone involved fully embraces this concept.
We’ll take a deeper look at bands as businesses soon…