Are you in the wrong band?

Imagine this scenario. You’ve just done a gig at a well known London venue. A&R people were present (at the behest of the promoter). The feedback after the gig is good. You’ve spent over a year playing with the band, tightening up the set, writing songs, honing everything to perfection.

The day after the gig, another member of the band rings you to say that rather than have the regular rehearsal, the band have decided to “have a drink up at the pub” in a couple of days time. As there are no gigs lined up and the band has been working hard, this sounds like a great idea. So you arrive at the pub at the designated time, only for your band mates to say “Listen, we’ve all been having a chat and we think the band has gone as far as it can go with you in the lineup”. How do you think you would feel, especially if you had no inkling of what was coming?

I can tell you exactly how you’d feel, you’d be devastated. This scenario happened to me. To make it worse, I’d put the band together, written all of the songs, arranged all of the gigs and I’d considered the band to be friends. It was perhaps the most awful experience I’ve ever had in music. Perhaps the thing which annoyed me most though, was that I should have seen it coming. Over the years, I’ve spoken to quite a few other musicians who’ve had “the chat”. So what are the warning signs to look out for?

1. Other members of the band suddenly stop talking when you enter the room.
2. Other members of the band start taking an interest in things you do for the band, that they didn’t before.
3. Other members of the band ask for details of your contacts at venues & A&R companies (supposedly for mates).
4. The way the band writes songs suddenly changes and your part has been dramatically reduced.
5. Someone who plays your instrument turns up at a rehearsal, or another member of the band is suddenly very keen to get a recording of the whole set.
6. The band suddenly become difficult to get hold of and rehearsals are unexpectedly “cancelled”.

Of course all of these things may happen for perfectly genuine reasons, but such thing are generally a signpost that all is not well. So what should you do in the circumstances? If the other bandmates have decided that a member “doesn’t fit in” then there is very little you can do to stop them asking you to leave. There are however some sensible precautions that you can take to protect your own interests. Here are a few things which you should make sure are dealt with.

1. Make sure any songs you have co-written have been registered accordingly.
2. If the band has any money or jointly owned equipment, insist that the other members buy your share out. Experience has taught me that this is the only way that you will get what you are rightfully entitled to.
3. If the band have gigs lined up and want you to leave after the gigs have been done, insist that you are paid for your efforts. You have no ongoing interest in the band, so do things on a professional basis.
4. Do not give your former bandmates access to your contacts. This is not because it is a good thing to be spiteful, but because they will obviously say you were kicked out because you weren’t good enough. Let them do the donkeywork that you had to do.
5. If you have arranged gigs on their behalf and they don’t want you to perform, tell them that you want a finders fee for arranging them (I’d suggest 1/4 of the money if it is a paid gig or £25/$40 if it is a freebie). Tell them if they don’t pay up you will call the promoter and cancel the show. They may not be too impressed, but it is only right and proper that your work should be recognised. They wll get the Kudos and the fun, in my experience, a lot of work goes into sorting gigs out, so it is only right that if you don’t play you should get something.

If the band has recently signed a record deal or other such deal, you need to contact a lawyer. Any contract should have details of what happens in the event of a band member leaving. If your efforts have helped get the band to a stage where they are on the verge of success, should success come, it is appropriate that a certain amount of the benefits should come to you.

All of this sounds very hard nosed and money motivated. This is because I know many people who have been quite literally taken to the cleaners by ex bandmates. Not only has their contribution been devalued, they have lost out financially and worst of all, the ex bandmates have dragged their reputation through the mud.

What should you do once this has happened. I would suggest three things.

1) Ask yourself whether their criticisms were justified? If they were, then you need to adjust your ambitions accordingly.
2) Was the split caused by non musical reasons? If it was a clash of personalities, then try and learn from the experience.
3) Was your behaviour the cause? If you were late or drunk at rehearsals, then you should perhaps take this on board.
4) Was the split initiated by management/record company? Often when a band signs a deal, the people putting the money in will want members replaced. If this is the case, don’t feel too bad. It happens, but you definitely need to make sure your interests in the work you’ve done have been protected.

As I said at the start of this article, it is pretty devastating. Don’t be too disheartened, if you feel you didn’t deserve the treatment you received. In my case, I’d spent 18 months working with the people who kicked me out. They told me on the 10th April 1983. On the 26th August, I did my first gig with the new line up. The bassplayer stayed with me and we got a better singer, drummer and guitarist than we’d had previously. It turned out that I found that they’d actually been holding me back. I always had a clear idea of what I wanted the band to be and where I wanted it to go. The new band didn’t have the arguments or the personality clashes that had wrecked the previous line up. I picked people who could play, who wanted to do gigs and we were lucky to find a truly brilliant singer, who raised the songs up several notches. Within a couple of months, I was actually pleased that the split occurred. As to the other guys? They never got it together after I left. By all accounts, they had a few rehearsals which were full of arguments and then packed it in.

The sad truth was that I’d wasted 18 months of my life in the wrong band. My advice is that if you are not happy in the setup you’ve got rehearsing once or twice a week, think how much worse it would be if you stuck with those people on a tour bus for three weeks. That is the true test of the question “Are you in the wrong band?”.

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