How to Navigate Your Role in a Band

Posted by Christiana Usenza on Jul 22, 2014 03:06 PM

how_to_navigate_role_in_bandE Street Band rehearsal (photo by Lynn Goldsmith)

If you've recently been asked to join a band, there are some pieces of information you're going to want to find out before you make the commitment. You might be swept up and enamored by the idea of working with these particular cats, but check the fundamentals first. Since being a band member requires a lot of time, work, and energy, it's totally valid and smart to make sure right up front that the gig fits your lifestyle, goals, needs, and expectations.

All kinds of bands operate differently. Some are literally like dictatorships where everything micromanaged by the leader, right down to every fill you play. Some groups are so free and democratic that there's little direction and momentum, which can be equally as frustrating. Some just meet to jam. Some want to get famous right off the bat and put too much pressure on themselves and each other. And some are juuust right. It's your job to find out what you're getting yourself into, so let's take a look at how to effectively navigate your role in a band and make sure that it's right for you.

1. Find out your role

Inquire about what specifically will be expected of you. Musicians don't do this nearly as often as they should when joining a new band, but it's so important to define your role and express your needs as a band member before getting involved with anything. You might want to ask things such as:

  • Am I a support or lead musician?
  • Am I a volunteer or getting paid?
  • Will I be allowed and/or expected to contribute creative ideas?
  • How frequently will we be performing?
  • Will we be recording?
  • Will we be touring?

Taking all of this information into consideration, ask yourself if this will fit with your day job and lifestyle in the long run. For example: It's a serious commitment to be in a touring band, and if that's what the group wants but you ultimately don’t – maybe because you have a family, or you love your stable job – then being a touring rock star is probably not for you at this very moment. No matter what your situation is, make sure that you ask these questions and give yourself – and your potential bandmates – honest answers.

2. Keep sight of your personal goals

Think about what it is you want to accomplish. Do you want to compose? Do you simply want to perform? Do you hope to "make it big" one day, or are you content just playing with other musicians? For instance, maybe you're a drummer who also loves to sing and write songs, but the group you're considering joining is not open to new songwriters or singers. Will you get frustrated down the road and feel that you're not meeting your full potential as a musician? Will you start to feel there's something better out there for you? Maybe you'll even begin to realize that you're a leader, not a follower, and the best thing for you is to start your own group.

It's easy to get caught up in someone else’s creative project, so check in with yourself to make sure you're using your talent and energy for the purpose you want. Choose your projects wisely and make sure they align with your dreams and goals.

3. Manage your expectations

If you've already joined a band and you start to notice that something isn’t congruent for you, take the time to get some clarification and work it out. Maybe you imagined things being more collaborative, but you start to notice that all of your ideas or suggestions get shot down. If you find yourself starting to get frustrated as a result, consider whether being in this band is really worth your time. If you truly love the music you're creating or the musical challenge it presents to you, perhaps you can come to a compromise with your bandmates or just allow yourself time to adjust to it.

If you do decide that you're going to leave the band, just give a clear reason. There's no shame in moving on if it’s the best thing for you personally. However, it is preferable to give some heads up, especially if the group depends on you for shows. What goes around comes around – especially in the music biz – so being respectful about it is key.

4. Recognize when it’s all good

If the project brings you the right amount of challenge, fulfillment, happiness, stimulation, and inspiration, it's probably the right one for you. Give yourself a big congrats for finding that fit and pursuing the things you love! There might be up and downs, but that's part of any relationship and creation of art. Enjoy it.

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Topics: Musician Success Guide, Musician Life


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