Expert Music Career Advice For DIY Musicians

It’s Not You, It’s Me: How to Tactfully Break Up With Your Band

dear_john how to break up with bandImage via NPR

Are you starting to feel like you need a break from your band? Maybe you need some space to think about the direction you want your music career to go in, or maybe you need some time away from music altogether. Perhaps you enjoy being in the band, but you've been asked to go on tour with another group and aren't quite sure if you'll be welcomed back with open arms after being MIA for the better part of a year.

When it comes to a music career, patience is beyond important since it takes time and commitment for a band to reach its goals. Ultimately, though, it comes down to whether you think the band is worth your time. You are not selfish for considering this, and you need to be honest if your commitment is fading. As hard as it may be, you need to admit it to yourself and others before it becomes unbearable.

As we're about to see, there are a myriad of reasons why you might want to leave the band you're in, but the key is to do so tactfully and not impulsively. The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself about why you want to leave, and based on that reason, you can determine whether this is a temporary situation or a permanent breakup. Let's take a look at some of the tell-tale signs of each, and then we'll give you some tips on how to break the news without burning any bridges.

Signs you should take a temporary break:

  • You're feeling burned out. You're finding that you rarely have the energy to create, play, or even listen to music.
  • You're undecided about if the band is the right one for you.
  • You love the music, but you need to work out a few differences with a band member. (This might just take some time and a few conversations to clear things up and feel positive again.)
  • You've been offered a short-term opportunity that you don't want to turn down.

Signs you should permanently break up with your band:

  • You feel underappreciated.
  • You feel frustrated that you can't express yourself artistically within the band. 
  • You have a drastically different vision for the group than the other members.
  • You dread your practices and you’ve stopped putting in any effort.
  • You want to start a different project of your own creation, or you have other musicians you want to collaborate with.
  • You’ve been offered a more fulfilling opportunity.
  • You're moving away.
  • You don’t have time anymore due to a conflicting job or lifestyle.
  • You have disagreements with band members that you know you cannot compromise on.
  • The band is not gaining momentum or showing any promise.
  • You're not making enough money for it to be worth the amount of time you put in.

How to tactfully break up with your band:

Instead of breaking the news to your bandmates while you're feeling upset or angry, think about it long and hard and wait until you've cooled down. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand how what you're going to say will sound from their point of view. They might feel completely shocked or betrayed by your decision to leave, given all the work you've put into the band. Make sure that you're being honest, but do your best to phrase what you want to say in a thoughtful, clear, and direct way so no one feels like it's personal.

Here's a strategic step-by-step plan for leaving your band in a tactful and amicable way, no matter what your reasons are (put together with the help of Dillon Zahner, a member of several Boston-based bands, such as Mutual Benefit, Kina Zore, M'bolo, and Federator No 1):

  1. Give it some real thought in order to make sure your decision is the right one.
  2. Make a list of reasons.
  3. Find ways to say each point directly and in a non-confrontational way.
  4. Pick a time to tell everyone together in person.
  5. Even if people don’t react well at first, you can at least offer that you want to remain on good terms.
  6. Hopefully you had a band agreement from the start so that there's no question about songwriting credits, unreleased recordings, any band income you may be entitled to, etc. If not, take this time to determine how to divide your assets, including shared equipment and rehearsal space.
  7. Speak about the band as an entity rather than as individuals, and explain that you want the best for the band. Point out that it's better for the band as a whole if you're no longer a part of it, because if you're no longer invested in it, the band won’t be reaching its ultimate potential. 
  8. To ease the transition, honor the gigs you’ve committed to or help find a sub.
  9. People tend to think the worst in the absence of communication, so be sure to clarify anything in an individual conversation with each person afterwards to maintain good relationships.

 

Remember: As long as you're clear and direct, you won’t leave people questioning themselves or your reasons. It's best to keep a positive relationship with your former bandmates so that you don't burn any bridges for yourself. The music industry is a small, small world, and you never know when or where or how you will cross paths again. And who knows, you might even start collaborating again down the road or get together for a reunion tour one day!

 

Have you ever had to break up with a band? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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