As musicians, introverts possess many of the skills needed to become great artists – they’re able to isolate themselves for hours at a time in order to improve their skills, they’re keen observers of the world who know how to turn their observations into great lyrics and compositions, and they often possess a deep-seeded passion that motivates them to create great works of art.
And, contrary to what some people might think, introverts also make great performers, and can even excel at using social media and promoting themselves as artists. What happens, though, when these introverts, who display plenty of individual talent, are grouped together with a bunch of other (potentially extroverted) musicians to form a band?
Often what happens is that introverted musicians feel like their voices aren’t heard, or that their band members just don’t get them. But this isn’t the way things have to be. There are several strategies introverted musicians can use to not only make the act of playing in a band less stressful, but also to become a leader to their bandmates.
Keep your rehearsals organized
Introverts like to be alone, and they like being alone for a reason – because that’s when they get their best work done. Steve Wozniak, William Wordsworth, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein – all were introverts who were adamant about doing their work alone, and that strategy obviously paid off for them.
A big reason behind this, as Quiet author Susan Cain tells us, is that “introverts feel most alive and energized when they’re in environments that are less stimulating – not less intellectually stimulating, but less stuff going on.” If this is the case, then think about your average band practice.
Even for the most relaxed band, the environment can easily become overstimulating. Imagine walking into a band practice with two people playing two different songs at once, another two people having a loud conversation, and someone else talking on their phone – in other words, an introvert’s nightmare. It’s not that introverts don’t do well with stimuli – it’s just that they don’t do well with multiple stimuli going on at once.
To avoid overstimulation, the best thing you can do is to keep your rehearsals organized. That might mean following a schedule, assigning people certain tasks, or asking people to keep a lid on the noise between songs. While this might feel constrictive at first, you may find that it actually frees up you and your band members to be more creative, as it allows you to focus more clearly on the task at hand without any unnecessary distractions.
Find time to clear your head
Research on group dynamics has shown that many group strategies that work well for introverts tend to work better for everyone else as well. Research on brainstorming, for example, has suggested that group brainstorming sessions are not as productive as many of us think they are; evidence shows that the more people that are involved in a brainstorming session, the lesser the quality and quantity of ideas generated will be.
So instead of brainstorming as a band to come up with lyric ideas or ways to promote your next gig, consider giving everyone some time to come up with ideas on their own. This will help you by giving you some quiet time, and it will also help your other bandmates become more creative and prolific with their ideas, whether they’re introverted or not.
Learn when to say no to social events with your bandmates (and when to say yes)
For many, a gig or band rehearsal is as much a social event as it is a musical one. We play music to express ourselves, but we also play it to connect with each other. Why is it, then, that people in bands always want to spend more time hanging out after they’ve already spent hours playing music together?
While you may feel like going home to recharge after a gig, keep in mind that for extroverts, hanging out with people is recharging. So while their method of relaxing might not work for you, your method doesn’t work for them, either.
In order to survive the social expectations of being in a band, it’s a good idea to pick and choose your outings when you can, and to be clear about why you’re avoiding certain events. You should be intentional about going to smaller social gatherings with your bandmates, because this helps you foster important relationships. But at the same time, you should also feel empowered to tell your bandmates that you won’t be able to make it to that big party after the gig, especially when you explain that you’ll need some alone time to recharge so you can be ready for the next gig tomorrow.
Become a quiet bandleader
When asked to picture the ideal bandleader, most people would probably picture an energetic, charismatic personality who can easily gain everyone’s attention and impress an audience. Depending on the band, however, that may not actually be the best person to put in charge.
While extroverts tend to be better at motivating people who need an extra push to get going, a study from Harvard Business School found that introverted leaders are actually better at leading groups of motivated and proactive individuals. So if your band is made up mostly of extroverts or people who are keen to take initiative, having an introvert as a leader can be a major advantage, as introverts have a keen ability to make sure that everyone is heard and everyone’s ideas are respected.
Even if you’re not the official bandleader, you should be intentional about using your introverted intuition to make everyone feel heard. This creates an atmosphere of respect, and also makes it more likely that your own ideas will be heard, as people will become more intentional about giving each other space to speak.
As with any relationship, the keys to making your band relationships last are mutual understanding and the occasional compromise. While some band members may need more social time or thrive in seemingly chaotic environments, you may need more alone time or more organized band practices.
Even if you don’t agree with your bandmates on how everything should work, if you understand that everyone has different needs, it will be easier to make compromises when you need to. Or, if you really can’t all get along, you can at least channel your energies into making an amazing album, and be sure to get someone to film your dramatic exploits so you can create a great behind-the-scenes rockumentary.
Casey van Wensem is a freelance composer, musician, and writer living in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. You can hear his musical work at birdscompanionmusic.com and read his written work at caseyvanwensemwriting.com.