As I’m sure you know, if you hang out with anyone long enough, you’ll eventually get into some sort of disagreement with them. This problem is sometimes exacerbated tenfold when you’re in a band with them.
Something about the intense shared experiences, creative process, and the ties that art has on people’s ego and pride, make disagreement common within bands. This has been the end of many, many great bands. Famously, Oasis, The Eagles, Rage Against the Machine, The Pixies, and many more have broken up because they just couldn’t get along.
Most of these breakups are sad and avoidable. When people make music, their pride and ego rests in those songs more than most people would like to admit. If it’s not understood that one or two members are the main songwriters, this can cause feelings of discontent for all members.
Whether it’s one of the non-songwriters becoming frustrated with their lack of input, or the lead songwriter becoming frustrated with a perceived lack of recognition for their work, it can culminate in conflict.
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Dealing With Disagreements
There are also about a thousand stressful and potentially frustrating things that will undoubtedly happen in a band. People screw up, arrive late, get drunk, forget important dates and instruments, and so on.. Plus, some people will work harder than others, and this can cause resentment.
What matters is how you deal with these disagreements. As with any relationship, there are good ways and bad ways to deal with conflict.
I am lucky enough to be in a band that has few internal conflicts. We are best friends and get along very well. This is because, generally, we are good at dealing with conflict (or potential conflict). However, we also have a lot to learn.
Here are a few good practices for effectively dealing with conflict – some that I do well, and some that I would like to do better.
Forget Anger, Move To Problem Solving
So, on tour a few months back, I had delegated some tour promotion duties to my band mates, and they had done a good job. They managed to secure some radio interviews, got features in the papers, and so on. One morning, I woke up (I usually wake up first) to an email from a fairly high-profile station asking if we would be there on time.
I took a quick look at the map and realized that we would surely be late, so I emailed them back, pushed the interview back a little bit, got my band mates up and drove like mad for five hours to the next city.
Basically, the person who had booked that interview had not done the necessary two minutes of work that it would take to put the interview into the calendar. Definitely annoying.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t get angry, nor did anyone else. What would be the point? Being angry in a van for five hours is not very fun. We moved straight past anger and moved to problem solving. We made it to the interview on time and all was well.
The thing is, all of us have screwed up majorly at some point. One time I lost the only set of keys to the van while we were in the mountains. One time the guitarist made us all drive six hours to a gig that wasn’t for another two weeks.
People make mistakes. Have compassion, be understanding, check your anger at the door. Figure out how to solve the problem in question, and figure out how to avoid it in the future. Schedule everything in your calendar. Have a backup set of keys. Always check the contracts you sign.
If Someone Is Being Annoying, Let Them Know
We all have a host of annoying things that we do without ever knowing we are being annoying. For example, I tend to beat box (poorly) along to songs. Our drummer will sing the same verse over and over for a long time. Our guitarist does this weird thing with his finger.
People are weird. People are annoying. All of these small things can drive you crazy, but there is an obvious solution: Let them know that what they’re doing is annoying. It’s a simple: “Hey man, would you mind laying off the beat boxing for a while?”
Similarly, if someone is consistently late to rehearsal, super disorganized, or something like that, there needs to be a discussion. These matters can be more serious and consequential over the long haul, so it’s important to approach them with a lighthearted attitude and a compassionate heart.
It’s important to be honest about what the problem is so that there is no confusion, but it’s also important to offer solutions and help with the problem.
Take the example of somebody being chronically late. Why are they late? Are they relying on transit? Would it work better to carpool with someone? Do they need a reminder earlier in the day about the rehearsal? How can you help them help you?
If you don’t offer solutions, you’ll potentially just make the problem worse.
It’s also important to realize that in a trio or any odd numbered group, the odd one out can feel ganged up on, which will immediately put them on the defensive. If somebody is on the defensive, there is almost no point in talking to them.
To sum up: Be honest and upfront, offer alternatives and solutions, and approach the situation with a light heart.
In Creative Situations, Check Your Ego At The Door
This is easier said than done, I’ll admit. Writing sessions and rehearsals are often when we’re at our thinnest skinned, most fragile, most moody, etc. What is supposed to be an uplifting, fun time can quickly become fraught with problems.
People get attached to their ideas – even if they are as small as a bass line or an arrangement idea. And it’s fair, it can feel like a real personal attack when someone doesn’t like your idea. It’s even worse if someone doesn’t like your entire song or a whole verse or something.
Sometimes, you have to be prepared to be wrong about things or just let go of an idea. It’s easy to get caught up in the weeds – a verse someone doesn’t like or a part that doesn’t fit – and forget about the song as a whole. In some ways, a song is never finished. You can always re-suggest your part later.
It’s also important to realize that you’re working on a song or a show. If somebody makes a suggestion or an edit to your part or your role, it’s not personal. They’re doing it for the good of the song. If you have a genuinely different opinion, let that opinion be known and talk it out!
Try To Talk About Important Matters In Person
Talking in person is always harder, but it is also much faster and more respectful. Nobody likes receiving an angry text or email. There is so much to be misunderstood when you're communicating via text. If you think you are level-headed and lighthearted in person, always talk in person.
Take into consideration the fact that it may be better to do one-on-one conversations instead of two on one or three on one. It feels sort of weird to do this if your band it tightly knit, but it may be necessary to avoid ganging up on someone.
Remember What You Do Agree On
There is a reason why you are in this band. You love making music together, and you love the music that you make. Hopefully, you actually enjoy each other’s company most of the time.
You probably all want the same thing: A successful band making music that you all find fulfilling. Even in an argument, no matter who is right or wrong, you’re all on the same team fighting for the same ideas.
Sometimes You Need Some Space
It can feel weird and awkward, but sometimes it’s better to leave things unresolved and let everyone go home to cool down than to try to solve everything on the spot. Or, go out for lunch and avoid talking about the problem. Just be yourselves.
Freeing up a little space in your mind for compassion and consideration can help resolve disagreements faster than anything else. It’s okay to take a couple of hours, or a couple days, or a couple weeks to think and unwind.
Here are the takeaways for solving band disputes: Forget about anger, it’s not useful. Be honest and upfront, but never mean or cruel. Whenever possible, separate yourself from your ego. Always try to work things out in person, and remember that you all want to stay together.
Make sure to listen and not get caught up in your own head, or the never-ending cycle of immediate responses, without consideration. Have enough respect for your friends and band mates to hear them out and consider their feelings.
Conflict is always stressful. Just remember that making music shouldn’t be, and that’s why you all want to deal with the conflict and move on. It’s almost always possible to compromise, keep the peace, and move on.
If you can do this, you’ll be back to making music and hanging out with your friends in no time flat.