by Gregg Raybin of The Jam NYC
Don’t think for a moment that once you’ve found your musical soul mates that your work is done. As with any relationship, your band requires frequent maintenance in order to run smoothly. Here’s how to keep your band together so they are happy and involved.
But what are the tools needed to maintain a healthy musical relationship? One of the most important of these is to recognize what sort of band you are in and whether its interpersonal relationships are working.
Before I joined The Jam NYC full time, I was a practicing attorney. My corporate background has led me to recognize and to try to point out the potential hazards of band relationships to the three dozen or so amateur groups that play at The Jam NYC. I try to get the bands to think about avoiding trouble before it arrives so they can concentrate on playing and having fun.
In other words, I help musicians recognize that a band is a social entity, and that each musician should consider both the band’s organizational structure and his or her role in that structure.
One way to look at a band’s organization structure is to compare it to a political regime—a musical group can resemble a totalitarian dictatorship, a thriving democracy, or an anarchic “failed state.”
Musical dictatorships are more likely to be professional bands, where the relationship among, say, lead and back-up musicians, is that of employer/employee. But dictatorships can arise in an amateur band, especially when there’s a large disparity in musical contribution. If you write all the songs, shouldn’t you have more control?
A band that resembles a truly failed state—with no agreement, direction, or leadership—isn’t going to last very long. Therefore, because anarchic bands are short lived, most recreational music groups function as some sort of democracy, although not necessarily as complete egalitarian democracies.
For instance, rather than putting decisions to a vote, where the majority rules, my own band operates on unanimous consent. If we don’t all want to play a particular song, we won’t.
While giving everyone veto power sounds beautiful in theory, it’s terribly inefficient (just look at the United Nations). Plus, if your suggestions are repeatedly shot down, you aren’t going to feel as though your vote matters. So, if you decide to set up a democracy, it’s worthwhile to think about how you’d like your own democracy to operate. Does everyone have an equal vote? Does anyone have a veto?
Even if everyone in your group operates with political equality, there are many roles to play in a band beside drummer, singer, and so on. As the pigs in George Orwell’s study of nation building—Animal Farm—liked to say, “Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Taking on a larger role in a band can be time-consuming, although if it means Saturday morning rehearsals are well-attended, the band members enjoy the music being played, and every one is having a blast, then it’s worth it.
If you are in a band in which you know someone is staying up after their kids have gone to bed to arrange a cover of “Paperback Writer,” don’t forget to say “Thank You!” Otherwise the arranger, in this case, will find that the only time he or she gets feedback is when something goes wrong. Just like at work or home, acts of recognition and kindness go a long way.
The chart shows some job descriptions for typical band roles. Just like cabinet posts in a fledgling democracy, these are crucial jobs a band must assign.