Am I Being Unreasonable?
Folks, I am not normally one to seek advice - not to say that I "know it all" by any stretch, but after playing bass for almost 28 years I have been around the block a time or two and have a pretty fair handle on most situations I encounter as a musician.
I currently find myself embroiled in a situation that is somewhat perplexing. Oh, sure, I know what my initial knee-jerk reaction is, but I want to be sure I am being reasonable and not overreacting to the problem.
Backtrack a few months - I get a Facebook message from a band wanting me to audition on bass. I learn the five requested songs, show up at the guitar player's house and burn up the audition. No worries. A couple of weeks later the lead singer leaves the band - long story short, he is kind of a tool and an violent alcoholic. The guitarist, drummer and I soldier on with me on lead vocals. I'm not thrilled by the additional responsibilities, but I'll deal - the guitarist is a great guy and we see 100% eye-to-eye on material and work ethic.
Here is where the problem begins: the drummer.
From the first rehearsal (scratch that - even from the audition) the drummer struck me as being laid back, which I normally don't mind. Trouble is, he is laid-back to the point of laziness. I was concerned during the rehearsal that he was leaned back on his drum throne, back against the wall, slouched over playing. The guitarist explained it away that he was just tired from his job, and I bought it.
As it turns out, this was the just the first warning sign.
My biggest troubles with this drummer, summarized:
- He shows up for rehearsal without knowing the material. He expects that he should be able to "wing it". His drums are stored at the guitarist's house where we rehearse, but if we aren't all together rehearsing he doesn't touch them - he doesn't take them home or stop by to practice on his own time, even though the access is always there. We are still working on simple songs we started off with months ago and he isn't getting any better at them.
- He is late for every single rehearsal, even if he is the one that sets the practice time.
- He is impossible to keep on-task during the few gigs we have had - he will get into a conversation with members of the audience while he is on stage, in the middle of a set. He will constantly ask, "What song is next?" even though he has a printed set list I have provided by his kit. He will want to change the set list he approved, on stage, during a show, and is perfectly willing to stop the show to argue about it.
- This one is a good one - the last gig we did was a benefit show for a drummer who recently passed away - we only had a half-hour to play. Our drummer actually took a bathroom break mid-set with only one song left in our time slot - there is nothing quite as awkward as standing on stage in front of an expectant crowd unable to continue until the drummer gets back from the little boys' room.
I could go on and on, but you get the general idea. He won't take his (four-piece) kit home because "it's too much work", won't stop by the guitarist's house to practice (even though the offer stands and the guitarist would love the opportunity to rehearse with him more), and doesn't have another kit to play on.
The flip side of the story:
The guitarist and I get together at least once a week for 4 - 6 hours to work up material - this is in addition to any regularly-scheduled rehearsals.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't take at minimum 45 minutes to an hour to work on learning songs and to push my technique/theory.
The guitarist rehearses at minimum an hour a day.
I download the song lyrics to learn. I set up the Dropbox we use to share the songs over the web so everyone is working off of the same version. I pitch-correct anything in dropped tuning so we don't need to retune or keep spare guitars/basses handy for learning. I learn my bass parts and vocals and have them down cold for rehearsal.
I provide/transport/setup/teardown the entire small PA system in addition to my bass rig for rehearsal and gigs.
No kidding - I practice more in a month that the drummer does in a year. That is in no way an exaggeration - in actuality it possibly somewhat understated. His time feel is atrocious - the tempo changes all the way through the song.
Last week the guitarist and I had enough - we took the drummer to task for wasting everyone's time, since he was showing up unrehearsed for every practice. I'm not asking the guy to be the next Neil Peart, just to know the songs. It's three and four-chord rock and roll - I'm not asking him to play Dream Theater.
The drummer was furious - he is "confident in his abilities" and has "always learned songs at practice" in past bands. I told him that while that might work in a high school garage-rock band, we didn't have that option - I live 45 minutes away from he and the guitarist and I work two jobs. I just don't have time to wait on him to learn the songs *at* practice.
He won't acknowledge that any sort of problem exists with his playing or his work ethic. A couple of my drummer friends tried encouraging him after our two disastrous gigs and he unfortunately took their encouragement as high praise.
He is basically a really great guy from the standpoint of being a friend, but as a drummer he is one of the absolute worst I have ever worked with.
Fast-forward a bit - for New Year's Eve my wife and I had a little party for friends - nothing lavish, just pretzels, punch, etc., and everyone brought additional snacks, etc. She was wondering if my guitarist and I would provide some live music for everyone for fun. On a whim, I called a drummer friend of mine that I thought might like to jam, thinking he was already in another band but might have the time and inclination. As it turns out, he doesn't currently have a band, loved the idea of playing together, loved the material we had chosen, showed up early to set up his kit, knew the material perfectly with only a few day's notice, and played two incredible sets with energy and enthusiasm. The guy is 51 (the guitarist and I are both 43, BTW) and has an incredibly supportive wife and family (his son is first-chair percussionist at the local high school). He practices every day and is like a human metronome - he and I lock in with a precision I forgot that I could have with a drummer.
This all said, my obvious knee-jerk reaction is to fire the current drummer and hire the other guy. To my way of thinking, this isn't rocket science - right now I *dread* rehearsals, and I already told both the guitarist and the existing drummer there is no way I will book another gig until we have our act together.
My questions for you, my bass-playing brethren, are these:
Am I overreacting to the drummer's apparent lack of interest in improving individually and as a band?
Given the situation I described, what would you do?
Is there something I can do to possibly impress upon the drummer the depth of the problem in such a way that he might come to the realization of how serious a problem the guitarist and I think this is?
Here is my other problem - I don't enjoy drama. In fact, I loathe it. I play music for fun, I grant you, but I practice *hard* so when I step on stage I can relax and tear it up without being nervous. None of us have any aspirations of being the "next big thing", but the guitarist and I are conscientious about how we sound and how we are perceived by the audience and the venue management.
Anyone care to share their observations? :help: Have you found yourselves in similar situations in the past? How did you deal with it, what was the result, and in retrospect how might you have handled things differently?
This is weighing heavily on me right now - I hate being perceived as a "bad guy" by our existing drummer (he and the guitarist have a ten year history of jamming together), but I just don't see myself lowering my work ethic to indulge his laziness, nor do I see him raising the bar for his own practice habits. Any advice you folks could provide would be appreciated!
1) What does the guitar player think?
2) Was the New Year's Eve drummer just down for that jam or do you think he would join the band?
Those are your only two deciding factors from where I stand. If you have a willing drummer ready to join the band, and a guitar player ready to make the change too, this is a no brainer. Make the switch. It's like ripping off a bandage. Hurts for a second but the cut is all better. A month from now you will be wondering why you waited so long to make the change.
If the current drummer KNEW he had a problem, there would be a glimmer of hope. But if he doesn't even SEE it as a problem, there's no way to change him. It's no different from your singer's alcohol problem. Until HE realizes there's a problem, there's no way to help.
Life is too short to deal with the hassle of a lazy band member. I'm 41 myself. We're all grown here. If the old drummer hates your guts forever and ever after this, he was never a true friend anyway and he isn't a grown up. I have joined and left bands for decades. I have fired people. There's not a single musician I have played with in the past I wouldn't run up to meet if I saw them out.
Short version: You're not having any fun now anyway. Might as well make the change.
I would record a full band rehearsal and have a sit down to listen.... if you had recorded the new year gig do a comparison...
Are you kidding? The first guy should have been fired when he refused to acknowledge he needed to practice. I wouldn't even have to think about it for a minute.
Whether we are doing it for fun or for money, nobody has a right to waste our time..
man that's a doozy. If I were you, I would probably kick the drummer to the curb OR maybe give him a last chance. Nothing irritates me more than the stuff you described that occurs live; bathroom break, not knowing the set, etc... I was once in band with a guitarist who sorta did that type of stuff; he basically spent waaaay too much time tweaking and touching knobs on his amp and pedal, he'd stop playing in the middle of a song to make insignificant adjustments to his rig. Eventually I left that band for many reasons but that was one of em. It's veeery unprofessional, I don't care if you're a once a month weekend warrior or a band trying to get big, nobody wants to see a band waste time on stage.
I don't think that you are overreacting, you obviously give a sh*t about what you do and genuinely care. In my experience, a band is only as good as it's weakest link, only as fast as it's slowest member; which is often the classic compromise, but as long as things get accomplished all is good. Another musician friend of mine once said "20% of the band does 80% of the work" which mostly pertains to the booking/promoting/recording type things, not necessarily the writing process, but I generally accept that. I'll bust my butt to get something done and it can be a major bummer if those efforts fall short to the slowest member; knowmsayin? Your situation with the drummer seems to have a much bigger obvious gap between work ethics.
If your current problem drummer doesn't care enough or is inconsiderate of your time, the band's time, then he isn't worth your time. You mentioned he got "furious" in which case I'd suspect that he's got some sort of ego. I have zero tolerance for egos and people who don't consider a flaw to work on. Ego was a big issue with that guitarist who was always touching knobs that I mentioned before.
I hope it works out for you and you reach a solution. rock n roll!!!
"What does the guitar player think?"
He was actually the one who initiated the conversation with the drummer after he and I had been back and forth about it for several days. He and the drummer are good friends, but he is pretty incensed that we're busting our butts to get stuff down and tight and the drummer, the one that needs practice the worst, refuses to do so. We took a month-long hiatus from band rehearsals back in November to concentrate on learning material and the drummer's kit was in his transport bags at the guitarist's house the entire time, untouched.
"Was the New Year's Eve drummer just down for that jam or do you think he would join the band?"
Oh, he would join in a heartbeat. :D I have known him for years and he has hassled me about playing together that entire time. Always in the past one of us was already in a band, etc.
In response to: "Are you kidding? The first guy should have been fired when he refused to acknowledge he needed to practice. I wouldn't even have to think about it for a minute."
That was my reaction as well. Even if the drummer *was* the next Neil Peart, I can say with 100% certainty that he needs to practice - every one of us does, no matter the skill level. I thought I was losing my mind in dealing with him - I can't understand how he doesn't want to practice. I practice every day because I love to play bass.
I'm starting to think the drummer is like some of the middle school kids in band with my daughter - they want to say they're in band but don't want to do the work necessary to be a contributing member.
I really appreciate the feedback thus far, folks...
Yep. Sounds like this one is settled. If you have the blessings of the guitar player AND the new drummer's family, I can't think of a single good reason to mess with the old drummer any more. His getting a bit bent out of shape about it is not a good reason. Best of luck.
"In my experience, a band is only as good as it's weakest link" - I agree wholeheartedly, and find this even more glaringly apparent when you're playing three-piece like we are. One weak member can trash an otherwise great band, and there is no way to cover for him.
Giving him a final chance would be acceptable, but if he doesn't see a problem I have a hard time seeing the point. Please keep the feedback coming, my friends...
Many sincere thanks,
Think of all the things about yourself that you would like to change and improve, and the obstacles you face doing it. Now, imagine trying to do that for another person......
IMO, IME, it's always easier to replace someone than change someone.
I think you and the guitarist already know the answer
New Year, New Drummer.
No need for any 'last chances' - he's had opportunities and warnings, and not taken them.
You and the guitarist are ready to be a working band (especially if you can find a new singer to do the bits you don't want). The drummer is only interested in the social side.
You can always keep the old drummer as a 'jamming friend', but tell him that you've been invited to join another band with this drummer, if you want to avoid confrontation, but my mind would be to tell him that he's great as a friend, but he's holding the band back. He's welcome to be the sound man or roadie....
Isn't it the truth?
I'm like this about it - nobody likes to be told they're screwing up. Denial is often the first reaction, but there is no growth personally or professionally that way.
And I'll tell you this much - if my two bandmates, guys I respect enough to be in a band with, come to me with a "you have a problem" situation, I might not be very happy about it but I am darned sure going to sit up and pay attention. In my opinion that is the time for me to seriously consider what they are saying, even if initially I don't agree with them and think they're full of it. If the situation is such that they felt the necessity to come to me to discuss it, I would be a real tool to blow them off and not seriously address their concerns.
If after careful consideration I still think they're full of it, I would expect that it would probably be time for me to leave the band.
FIRE HIM! :eyebrow:
IMHO, the most important thing at this point is to make sure that you and the guitarist see absolutely eye-to-eye on this matter. If you don't, you've got potential problems that are bigger than just a lame drummer. But if you do, then the course seems clear:
1) See if the party fill-in drummer is available and interested in taking the job. Have that discussion with him - along with your guitarist. If he can step in, and be everything you wish your current drummer was, but isn't, then HIRE HIM! If he isn't ready for the job, then start auditioning new drummers - now.
2) Fire the current drummer. Do it ASAP. Do it in person, with your guitarist also in the room, lending support. No need to get into a big row about it. If drummer boy doesn't "get it" by now, he never will anyway. Make it quick. Make it businesslike. Make it final.
Especially in a 3 piece, the drummer needs to be tight. This one sounds easy to me, since I'm not emotionally involved. You are not being unreasonable to expect someone to have mastered the material at home. Practice should be reserved for bands playing together and hammering out intros/endings,etc, not for someone to "learn" their parts.
I have played with all too many drummers of this ilk. If he isn't learning them at home you guys are going to be stuck in limbo forever.
Kick this guy to the curb and get the other guy on board.
Your guitarist should prob have a heart to heart with the drummer before you do any firing I'd say. You said they had 10 years of history. So he should be the lead in replacing this particular individual. If you are both agreed, you and the guitarist, that the drummer needs to go, do it together, but most def have your guitarist by your side doing some of the talking.
If the guitarist needs the initiative, take the lead and do what needs to be done.
That is my opinion.
Thanks so much for your thoughts!
I really appreciate your opinions, my friends. This is new territory for me, and I'm just trying not to burn bridges unnecessarily or without just cause.
Get rid of him, especially if it is not only your problem. No-brainer.
Disband and re-form without him. Send him on an errand to the tiger exhibit at the local zoo. Invite him bungee jumping and...
However you do it, losing the dead weight is critical to getting to the next level, especially if you already have the guy's attention and he isn't taking you seriously.
But keep it cordial and professional. As the saying goes, "Don't go away mad, just go away."
I'd have a talk with the guitar player and make sure he's on board. Then have a talk with NEW drummer to make sure he's on board. Then I'd fire old drummer and start fresh.
You say you don't like drama. It would seem to me the only drama you're creating is putting up with the current drummer. Life's to short to waste it on people who aren't on the same page.
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