Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
From the outside, being in a band may seem like the best thing ever — and while many aspects are truly amazing, others aren’t nearly as glamorous as they seem. Just like marriages, friendships, families, sports teams, and business partnerships, being in a band requires the right sort of communication to make sure that everyone involved feels heard and appreciated — or you may eventually face the reality of your band breaking up.
When communications break down, goals diverge, or mutual respect goes out the window, your band breaking up may be on the horizon.
Band breaking up: Signs to look out for
Usually, a band breakup doesn’t happen out of the blue. Here are some warning signals to look for that can help you stop problems before they start:
- Punctuality and reliability issues. If band members start showing up late to rehearsals or missing meetings or gigs, that could be a signal that they’re dissatisfied and starting to mentally check out.
- Big arguments about small things. If band members start blowing up about deciding where to go for lunch or exactly which shade of purple to put as background on your next social media post, chances are deeper issues are at play.
- Your creativity isn’t happening. If you normally churn out a new song every week but haven’t written anything together in months, that may be a sign that something is up.
- Planning isn’t happening. Bands that are strong imagine a future together with recording, touring, and other cool happenings. The harder you’re finding it to dream up plans as a group — and take the steps to make them a reality — the more likely it is that a problem is afoot.
- Communication isn’t happening. When band members stop sharing their opinions and ideas, that could mean they’re investing less in the whole endeavor.
- The music is suffering. The quality or quantity of new music you’re making can be a strong indicator of how excited and invested everyone is about the band itself.
- Some band members are elevated as stars — and others are ignored. This doesn’t necessarily mean a breakup is going to happen, as many bands have members who are more celebrated than others. But it is a dynamic to pay attention to and manage so nobody ends up feeling short-changed.
- The vibe is just off. What else is there to say?
What to work on to prevent your band breaking up
Band breakups are not inevitable and many cracks in a group can get mended before the whole thing shatters. Here’s what to focus on to keep your band strong and in one piece.
For any band to last long term (or even short term), it’s vital that all members feel heard, valued, and respected. There’s no single right way or simple plan to do this — other than making sure that everyone feels safe and listened to when they have something to say.
In the end, your guitarist and lead singer may do 90 percent of the talking, planning, songwriting, and rehearsal-leading, and that’s fine, as long as the rest of the band is cool with it and knows that their input will be valued when they choose to offer their 10 percent.
Be proactive about resolving conflicts
Let’s say band members can’t agree on whether to include a certain song on your next album. Don’t let the issue simmer and don’t let it escalate to the point where band members are chucking drumsticks at each other and threatening to quit. Create a space where each band member can voice their opinions — and, most importantly, state why they feel the way they do.
There very well may be a solution that nobody initially thought of, one that addresses everyone’s concerns. Could the track order be shifted to include the song, but make the album’s overall flow better? Could the song be released as a single a few months later? Is there something about the recording that needs to be tweaked to make it ready for release? Could it be shared as an underground, superfans-only bootleg? Get creative and work together to figure out an answer that everyone can live with.
Focus on a shared vision and shared goals
If you want to take your band in a reggae direction but your drummer is leaning towards a harder metal edge and your singer is deep into a Vampire Weekend kick, you may have issues moving forward. Or — you may be on the cusp of creating a whole new fusion sound that will delight your current fans and attract thousands more. The key is to focus on taking everyone’s influences and ideas and finding a way to make them work together to forge something new that everyone in the band is proud of.
Similarly, if some band members are just in it for some weekend fun or to pick up attractive strangers while others dream of stadium superstardom, issues might present themselves. Talk early and often about each band member’s goals for the group, and make sure that everyone is on board for whatever adventures there may be to come.
Share responsibilities — and opportunities
Some parts of keeping a band going are super fun. Others are not. Spread it all around, so no single band member feels that they are always having to haul the heaviest gear, deal with the most difficult and annoying booking agent, etc. Similarly, if everyone in your band digs giving interviews or picking the next region you’ll be touring, share the love on all that as well. The more the joy and pain are shared equally amongst band members, the more you’ll grow together as a group.
How to manage a band breakup
Sometimes a breakup happens, even with the most amazingly successful artists. Just look at the Beatles, Guns N’ Roses, Destiny’s Child, Fleetwood Mac, One Direction, Rage Against the Machine, Phish, and so many others. If your band breaks up, know that you’re in good company.
If a band breakup does happen, also know that your career is far from over, and greater things may be just over the horizon.
A band breakup doesn’t have to be forever
A good number of the famous bands listed above have reunited and continued to be super successful. So can you.
Come up with a common narrative to share with your fans
If you’ve been doing your job connecting with your fans, many will be heartbroken that you’re breaking up. Even if you and your band members are not on great terms, work together to come up with a description of why the band is breaking up, what the members will be up to creatively, and how much the fans’ support has meant to all of you. Sometimes putting together a final album with meaningful songs about the journey can be the closure you, your members, and fans all need.
Try to stay on good terms with your bandmates
As per the above, you never know when a reunion might happen, or when you may need one of your former bandmates for an exciting new album or project. Most importantly, try to preserve the friendships you formed while making music together. Even if being in a band with certain members didn’t work, that doesn’t mean that they need to totally exit your life.
Divvy things up fairly
Your band may have physical and/or intellectual property that needs to be shared amongst band members. Live gear, recording gear, vehicles, and merch and physical product like CDs and vinyl LPs, as well as song and recording copyrights, power to license your band’s music, and royalties that may come in from sync opportunities with media and streaming services like Spotify and Amazon Music — it all needs to be divvied up in a way that feels respectful for all band members. If things get complicated, it may help to bring in an independent music lawyer or business manager to help make sure everything feels fair and square.
Is it time for a solo career?
Especially if your band achieved some level of notoriety or success, see how you can use that momentum to help you launch a successful solo career of your own. Paul McCartney, Beyonce, Sting, Justin Timberlake, Jack White… many artists have made the leap from band member to solo act in style.
Do your best to maintain and nurture the relationships you built with industry professionals and fans while you were a band member and, without trashing your former bandmates, bring your contacts along on your new solo endeavors.
How to keep going
A band breakup can be a big deal, especially if you’ve devoted years of your life to it. Give yourself time and space to mourn if you need it and try to remember the good times as well as the bad. Most importantly, try to see the breakup as an opportunity to make even more exciting music in a whole new context.
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