Is your band headed for an implosion? After a good many years in the business of running a rehearsal and recording studio, we’ve found that the average band’s lifespan is only about two and a half years. There are some of course that continue on for much longer than that and some that seemed doomed to split up from the first rehearsal. Line up change after line up change doesn’t seem to save them and it seems that the whole project has been flawed since day one.
Break ups happen for all kinds of reasons. There’s no one real, stand out thing that is the biggest trigger but there are a few that spring to mind that seem to come up enough to warrant statistics being noted about them. Here are some of my favourites:
“We’re just not on the same page.”
I’m not talking about “artistic differences” so much here as I’m talking about “directional differences”. Time and again I see bands that have one guy that has all the momentum. He’s got a dream about being a star and he wants to push the project in the direction of taking on the world. Unfortunately his band mates may have different ideas about what they want to do. The bass player is at Uni or has a demanding day job and really can’t commit as much energy to the band as the rest of the group wants him to. He cancels rehearsals constantly because of other commitments or just flaking out because he’s too tired. The drummer’s really only in it for the fun of jamming. He doesn’t mind playing a few gigs but the thought of really committing to a schedule would take the joy out of it for him. Meanwhile the singer seems to be putting in the hard yards to try and get the band signed to a label and out touring and is getting seriously annoyed with the other members’ lack of enthusiasm. He’s also pissed off that he’s doing all the work and whenever he asks someone else in the band to do anything, no matter how small, they never get around to it. Sooner or later the arguments start and before long someone walks away. Before you know it the band is on permanent hiatus.
“Drummer’s girlfriend syndrome.”
This is a classic disease that starts off with one of the member’s girlfriends being the band’s biggest fan. She’s around a lot. Too much as far as the other members are concerned. It doesn’t take long before she’s offering unsolicited advice on everything from the songs the band plays to the clothes they wear. When the band is due to go on tour, there will suddenly be a last minute ultimatum brought to the band about her either coming on tour with them or the tour is off or even worse, just a notification that the tour is off with no reason given whatsoever. The guitarist will say something out of line to either her or to her boyfriend and the boyfriend will have no option other than to defend her. Ultimately two very good friends will end up never speaking to each other again. Then, goodbye band.
“Single female singer – Married band mates.”
Another disaster in the waiting. In this instance, there just happens to be a little too much chemistry happening between one member of the band and the singer. She’s only just passed her audition and the band as a whole are happy with her fronting them. Then some other member (let’s say the guitarist) starts talking about her just a little too much at home. “You should hear how great Sharon sounds..” or “Sharon is really lifting the band” or “Sharon said blah, blah.” You know what I mean. There’s some mild infatuation going on. It’s possibly harmless. (Not always). The guitarist’s wife starts to want to know who this Sharon is and what exactly it is that she and her husband are really up to. (which may or may not be anything). The band’s got some gigs coming up and they’re spending a fair bit of time rehearsing. Suddenly the guitarist’s wife thinks she’ll take an interest in coming to the shows even though she hasn’t bothered to check out her husband’s band since they first met. But that was three kids ago and she can’t think of anything worse than hanging around in a cheesy pub listening to them play Brown Eyed Girl until all hours of the night. Cue the showdown. The singer of course might be completely oblivious to all this. She may have noticed some doe-eyed glances from across the rehearsal studio and, if she’s met her yet, some low level hostility from the guitarist’s wife but she had probably dismissed it. Then the walls cave in one night after a gig and suddenly the guitarist isn’t allowed to come out and play any more.
“PTSD or post tracking stress disorder”
This is a common one and often couldn’t come at a worse time. The “we just recorded and need a bit of a break” problem. Lots of bands do this. They decide to push themselves into a recording. They scratch together a hefty budget and rehearse and rehearse to be ready for it. Then they go into the studio for an intense few days of recording. By the time they come out they are exhausted and just a little bit over the band and each other. Seems everybody in the band wanted their bit just a bit louder than the next guy’s bit in the mixdown. Plus they could really only get to know just how bad their band mates smell in one of two ways: in the recording studio or in a Tarago on tour. Most of them were glad it was only a few days in the studio and they feel they dodged a bullet on the two weeks in the Tarago. Although they’d been booked religiously to rehearse twice a week for months leading up to the recording, it seems the week following it, they all felt like they might have deserved a break. Of course the next week, the guitarist had a work thing on so they couldn’t make it. The week following, the singer had a sore throat. The week after that, the drummer just couldn’t be bothered loading his kit into the car. You get where I’m going with this.
“I know I said originally that I thought we were awesome but now I realise that we’re actually pretty shit.”
The revelation that you’re not as good at this music thing as you first thought you were can come from a lot of different sources but one of the worst is when it comes from within. The recognition that there are bands out there that are so much better than you are shouldn’t be a deterrent to you playing. If anything it should inspire you to work harder at it but it often has the opposite effect. Honestly, to me it seems an excuse to get out of doing anything that might seem like hard work.. you know.. like practising? This one will usually start from either someone in the band going to see another band play or the whole band being on a bill or in a band comp with another band that were just really, really good. They don’t recognise that this other band got really good over a period of working hard both individually and as a unit and it probably took a fair while to get there. For this type of break up it’s all about the wall just getting a little too high to get over. The once starry-eyed hopefuls feel beaten down. They think the world is laughing at them. They’ve lost their confidence. Soon everything will crumble for them. The bands that suffer from this syndrome almost always break up either in the rehearsal studio or at some planned ‘band meeting’ over a beer somewhere. It’s almost always a unanimous decision and it’s a heart breaking one to watch take place. It’s also completely unnecessary but you will rarely convince them of that.
“We just feel like it’s gone stale.”
Perhaps one of the most common ones. An oldie but a goodie. So you’ve been playing the same songs for ages and you just can’t seem to break the mold and start something new. The muse hasn’t visited in far too long. It’s often that only one guy in the band thinks they can write a song and he hasn’t been able to put pen to anything for a while. You haven’t been gigging or you have a gig coming up but the song list is full of stuff that you are just completely sick of. Guaranteed that the rehearsals you book in will see you all turning up late. Then when you are there, there will be the usual statement of “Do we really need to do that one?” before almost every song. The reality will be that you probably do need to do it because the performance of it in rehearsal will be lack-lustre at best. You’ve all but given up on caring about the songs and the sooner you can pack up and get home to a beer and a rerun of Family Guy the better. The gig won’t feel any better. The fans might be screaming for you but you’ll all feel that it seemed like a lot of lugging of equipment, waiting around to play and too long a drive home to warrant being there. Someone will suggest grabbing a beer after you pack up but at least half the band will all just want to get out of there and go home. They’ll all have early mornings the next day for some reason. The same guys are going to find it really difficult to be available next time there’s anything on for the band. Sayounara folks!
“Just about to hit the big time and then…..”
This is a stinger! And I’ve seen it a number of times. The band has worked so hard. Their songs are well written and well rehearsed. They’ve got a killer recording under their belt. Their stage show is hot. There’s management interest, label interest and fan interest. They are just about to sign on the dotted line and something goes horribly wrong for them. The record company pulls out at the last second or management lets them down or their agent goes to prison for fraud or the Titanic sinks or whatever it is. And the blow is just too damn big to get over. They can’t move beyond it. Their spark has gone out. Anything the band does from this point on seems to be nothing more than a painful reminder of just how close they were to making it. Inevitably there’s going to be the big sit-down discussion where all the members decide that it’s just too difficult to continue on with this shadow hanging over them. Actually, it may not be all the members who decide this. But there’ll be one key member who manages to talk all the other members into feeling the same way and before you know it, it’s all over red rover.
Are there remedies?
Of course. Like any relationship you have to work at it. You can’t expect everything to be rosy all the time. Sometimes you’ll have to put the hard yards in to keep it together or, equally, you need to recognise that that isn’t going to work and be prepared to move on from it. When you get off a horse, whether you’ve been bucked or you’ve voluntarily dismounted, you can’t let it be the last time you ride. Whatever your feelings are on the way things ended, don’t let your music suffer for it. Don’t stick your instrument in the cupboard and vow not to let yourself get sucked into that depressing spiral again. When we have a relationship breakup we go through a mourning period but eventually we’ll need to start looking for love again. It’s in our nature. We’ll feel that the potential to be hurt is worth the risk. Sometimes musicians forget this and decide that it’s just too scary. But after a while they’re going to start wondering what it is that is missing from their lives. Why aren’t they truly happy and fulfilled? Is it just that they’ve gotten older and more cynical? Often that’s what it will be chalked up to and they’ll forget just how fantastic it felt to jam or to get up on the stage in front of a crowd. It’s part of who they are and to deny it can lead to their lives falling apart in all kinds of other ways. They end up in arguments in their other relationships. They end up hating their jobs. They get depressed and listless. They climb into clock towers with rifles… Well maybe not that last one.
The cure comes only when they blow the dust off their instrument and organise an audition with a new band or a jam with old mates. And there’s always someone out there that needs exactly the same thing as they do and voila! Another band is formed, another life saved.
Some of our customers date back to our earliest days in business. We’ve seen them in dozens of different bands. Sometimes with years between visits but sooner or later they feel the need to get back into the saddle because making music is at the core of who they are. They need it like they need food, sleep and oxygen. And that band might break up at some point too but that’s okay. There aren’t too many who’ve lasted as long as the Rolling Stones and even they have had their rough patches. I figure if they’d broken up at some point over the last hundred or so years, or however long they’ve been together, you would have seen them all in other bands. I doubt even one of them would have settled for a life devoted entirely to accountancy.
If your band is heading for disaster, this article may or may not help. Maybe it’ll even make things worse. Meh. Not my problem. Lol. Hopefully though you might recognise the symptoms and at least be able to have a bit of a laugh about it. Maybe it will at least get you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and check out the classifieds for “musos wanted” rather than sitting and sulking and not playing music.
P.S. I’ve only listed a few of the many popular reasons that bands have the big split. What’s your break up story? Tell us in the comments.