Bandleaders: The Third Choice

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by LBS-bass, Jul 26, 2021.

  1. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Guest

    Nov 22, 2017
    I read threads all the time here about bandleader (BL) styles and whether we prefer a dictator or a benign democracy.

    I suppose a dictator is the guy who makes all the decisions and allows little input. Runs the whole show.

    I suppose the benign democracy style is the guy who books shows, does other "leadership" stuff but gives the other players a degree of input and latitude to make decisions as a group.

    But I think what often goes missing in both of these scenarios is basic skill in project management. What I mean by this is someone capable of moving the band through rehearsal goals from one rehearsal to the next in an orderly fashion that gets everything done effectively by the time a show happens.

    So I would add "project manager" to the list of style choices.

    I'm working in one band where the BL comes in with a list of songs. It's always the same list. He always wants to start at the top of the list. The guitar player always wants to play each song three or four times. So the songs at the bottom of the list rarely get rehearsed. This is poor project management.

    I've worked in bands where lists of songs were handed out and everyone went home and learned their own choice from half a dozen live and studio versions available, sometimes in different keys. This is poor project management.

    I've worked with professional musical directors in church choirs who rotated us through a group of songs methodically, touching on each song once, through a period of weeks, so that we would be ready to perform all the material well when the performance was scheduled. This is good project management.

    I've attempted to assist BLs by asking them for their preferred keys and versions. This is what I would consider the bare minimum of project management. I often get bad information anyway.

    What about you guys? Do you have these conflicts? What are you doing to rein in poor management skills in your supposed leaders?
    OldShark, RSBBass, LP Custom and 5 others like this.
  2. I would call this role a band director. Just like the band directors you had in school. The skills necessary to be a good band leader, are different than the skills necessary to be a good band director. It could be the same person, but often times one person is not good at both roles.

    In my band, The leader is responsible for content and presentation; the PR type guy is in charge of bookings and communicating with venues; The one with the most musical knowledge, is in charge of rehearsal management; The mechanical one is in charge of equipment.
  3. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Agreed whole heartedly that rehearsals need to be structured and planned. You're essentially describing the role of musical director. It's not always going to be the BL, depending on what style of leadership is being applied.

    I agree that someone with a bit of foresight needs to do this to avoid the "we always play the same 10 songs every week and never touch the bottom of the list" scenario. Early in the week, the MD needs to identify "homework" ("We'll be working on these XX songs next week.") Nobody should have any excuse to not be ready.

    There's nothing wrong with repeating a song once or twice as long as something is being gained collectively with each play. I find that it helps to solidify little changes in form (transitions/endings etc), if the song is replayed to "give it a try" or to burn the change in a little. This is applying polish not learning the song. Playing something multiple times because someone didn't do their homework is not cool. In fact it is downright irritating.
    Seanto likes this.
  4. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    i have found people like that aren't usually good at hearing other people's takes on things. when hearing concerns, they range from dismissive to outraged. i generally attempt to express my concerns politely, then when nothing changes, i leave the band. i have friends that stuck in bands with BLs like that that became more and more unhappy, sometimes sticking it out for years while dreading rehearsals and hating to do shows.
  5. Shalto


    Aug 23, 2019
    This is intersting to me, because I think you and i see the situation similarly. When you see a problem with a situation you usually have three choices:

    1) Attempt to change it. (If this fails you only have option 2 and 3 left)
    2) Quit
    3) Endure it.

    Now there's nothing wrong with option 3, we make that choice at times (e.g. this new software at work was bad choice, boss won't change it despite my input, but it's still a good job overall and the money is good so I'll stick around till something better comes...)

    But the number of people who choose option 3 and complain about it while getting increasingly distressed. Its like fear of change is greater than fear of what they know is crummy. So few people choose option 2 despite it often being far more attractive than option 3.
    pcake and LBS-bass like this.
  6. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Inactive

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    And far fewer have what it takes to even attempt option 1. The collective aversion toward even the SLIGHTEST conflict I see here in the Band Management sub forum is nothing short of astonishing.
    Renaissance, JRA, AGCurry and 5 others like this.
  7. Shalto


    Aug 23, 2019
    I'm not super comfortable with confrontation myself, but it seems there is a pretty civilised way to talk up to your boss band or otherwise.

    Tell them politely you think they are making a bad call, then it they don't agree either say " but its your call to make" and either choose to endure if it's not a deal breaker or choose to leave if it is. That's in my opinion a pretty respectful way of doing it and should only provoke drama in someone who was going to be dramatic anyway.
    two fingers and mrcbass like this.
  8. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Pick your battles. If it's not a big deal to you don't struggle with it.

    If it is a big deal to you, there's no point enduring it - eventually it'll snap. I've endured things to a point where I ended up being let go because I released my tension in a less than optimal way. I was one gig away from pulling out, so no big deal. I didn't even know exactly why I was not happy with them until I played a sub gig with them a few weeks later. It was a huge eyeopener to be a "guest" rather than a member and the reasons for my unhappiness became very obvious (subtle personality conflict).

    I'm getting a little off track here, but there just isn't enough money in this business to endure a lot. Stuff like band and list management is very easy to notice and flag early on. It is changeable with the right BL. fF it's the wrong type of BL, I'm probably not in the band anyway and certainly not for much longer.
    Shalto likes this.
  9. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Guest

    Nov 22, 2017
    This is so true. For my part, I've generally been the one to take on the task of putting the rehearsal plans together, providing the appropriate material, as long as it isn't perceived as stepping on someone's leadership role. If it is, there are bigger problems there. I do agree that a band can function well with multiple members stepping into roles, but if the overall leader does not see a need for that role to be filled, or worse, sees it as a power grab, you're going to have trouble down the road.

    I think a lot of people here (and elsewhere) put up with way too much because they just want to play music. There's also a common trope that any and all playing you do is worthwhile. I try to be more selective about how I spend my time and energy - maybe that's because, when it comes to energy, I only have so much on any given day.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2021
  10. wilberthenry


    May 12, 2009
    The number 1 trait a bandleader must have is the ability and willingness to book quality gigs. My most successful/popular band had a bandleader who took care of all the business and a different leader who wrote the songs, sang, and ran the rehearsals. Without the input of both bandleaders, we would have had little success.
    mrcbass likes this.
  11. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Columbia, MD Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    two fingers likes this.
  12. JohnMCA72


    Feb 4, 2009
    I've got a background in project management, so this is an interesting discussion to me.

    Projects generally have a closed cycle, with a primary deliverable such as delivering a new product to market. Once the deliverable has been delivered, the project is basically over. Projects that I've been involved with typically required participation from a variety of departments/disciplines such as software/firmware engineering, hardware (analog & digital electronics, power, mechanical) engineering, marketing, manufacturing, support, finance, etc. The project manager needs input from & provides direction to each of these departments to deliver the product on time, on budget, & suitable for the use defined up front. Multiple projects may be managed as an ongoing program.

    That said, I agree that there are many useful skills and techniques from the project management world that can be applied to bands. A band may be considered to have "departments", such as guitars, drums, bass, keys, vocals, horns, etc. None of these departments report directly to the project/program manager, so the PM needs to exert influence rather than direct control as well as seeking input. Setting specific & measurable goals (such as to learn songs, X, Y, & Z in time for a gig on day D), & keeping track of progress toward those goals is essential to make sure things get done. The keys for the PM is to get people to buy in & keep them engaged & interested in making progress toward everybody's common goals. I Think I'll stop short of pulling out Gantt & PERT charts at rehearsals, though!
  13. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile, ਵਿਦਿਆਰਥੀ Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    In a pro setting, you're describing the role of the music director, which is distinct from and complementary to the band leader.

    Rock bands don't typically have them, but if you're dealing with horns and strings and occasional players (i.e. extra players for gigs who don't rehearse with the core group) it's pretty much a necessity.

    It's a role I've taken on in one of my current projects, where the leader sings like an angel and plays good piano, but doesn't have much band experience. I'm writing and wrangling charts, but it's still her book, and her call what goes in it. We share arranger credits mostly, because she determines the basic form, and i fill in the deets. Rehearsals are very collaborative.

    Finding a band leader who can fill multiple roles (booking, PR, merch, arranging, producing, musical directing, and not least, fronting the band, among other things) is exceedingly rare IME. I prefer a collaborative arrangement, but will gladly defer to a talented leader on overall artistic direction.
    OldShark, b/o 402, JRA and 2 others like this.
  14. I've been a band leader (for smaller groups) a few times. Not something I aspire to. In a BL, I expect honesty and professionalism. No head games. I expect the person running the show to ensure the gigs are what he/she told us they were. For example, if outside, did you make sure that we have an awning? One job I was on (a wedding) the person who booked the gig through the wedding planner had us on a patio outside with no power. The wedding planner was a millennial who treated us like we were there to pump out the septic tank. To be a leader, you need to show leadership. Another example is practice vs rehearsal. Practice is something you do at home when you are learning a song for the group. Rehearsal is something the band does when everyone has a basic knowledge of the tune and the band rehearses it until it sounds appropriate for public performance. I had a BL once who would give us a bunch of songs to learn, and then at rehearsal decide that we were going to work on something new nobody had heard of. So we would 45 minutes sitting around while the guitar player would try and learn the changes. Total waste of time. You also need to honest if you are a BL. If someone isn't cutting it, you need to tell them, and give them the ultimatum to shape up or ship out. And treat everyone fairly! Sometimes it is a lot easier just being a sideman; show up, do the gig, get paid & go home.
    M0ses and LBS-bass like this.
  15. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    I have some background in PM as well. It's pretty much the way I've always looked at things even before I knew what it was called.

    Just because music requires a lot of creativity, it doesn't mean that band management can't pretty much be managed via a bunch of little projects.

    Each of these things is a "project". Assignments need to be made along with expectations:
    - Rehearsal: MD (or whoever does this) Schedule, Rehearsal song list and what are we doing: polish or work (as appropriate for each song)
    - Gig: BL (or whoever does this) Secure, book and schedule
    - Gig: MD (or whoever does this) Set lists / timing
    - Gig: BL (or whoever does this), if new venue, scout stage/sound/lights, assign people to deal with what your band will be responsible for. If an known venue, review notes previous events. improve planwhere appropriate
    - Gig: BL (or whoever does this) Load in. What time? Who needs to be there when?
    - Marketing: BL (or whoever does this) Determine what methods to use, determine and secure funding, execute.

    There's probably more, but this is just how I approach things. "Scripts" can help achieve consistent results. (I bet you can't tell I'm an IT guy. :smug:) And while these "projects" are mostly short lived, if you review each one periodically (or after each gig) you can adjust to get make it even better for next time. This approach also provides lots of opportunities for people besides BL or MD to take an active role and be in charge of something besides their instruments. This really helps instill a sense of ownership. Not everyone is suited to helping in this way, and that's fine - let them show up and plant when it's their time to do so.
    JohnMCA72 likes this.
  16. N4860


    Mar 28, 2017
    Waterloo, ON Canada
    I don't think "project manager" should be considered as an alternative choice to dictatorship or democracy. I would see project management as a skill that is necessary for an effective BL, regardless of the style be it dictatorship or democracy.
    OldShark, Renaissance, M0ses and 2 others like this.
  17. Slough Feg Bass

    Slough Feg Bass Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2007
    San Francisco
    oh yes, bands are totally like project management!
    scheduling, deadlines, scopes of work, budgets, status, etc. indeed!
    if we are not doing enough songs in the catalog, and keep doing repeats of the same 10-20 tunes, then for sure, I will call a rehearsal and call out in advance what we will be working on.
    One band I am in, I am kinda BL, but not musical director. So it's important for each of us to know when it is our time to sit back and let the other one do their thing.
    People make up the band, and some people just suck.
    So important that the people know their position in the band, as well as who does what, and it is communicated.
    I had a drummer ask me once, "Why do YOU make all these decisions?"
    just told him, "Because that is my role in the band, to make sure it's done CORRECTLY."
    he didn't really like that answer, because he had been playing drums for a long time, and knows things. but I had to reiterate everyone's role in the band.
    he left shortly after that.
  18. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Guest

    Nov 22, 2017
    Not what I was suggesting. I was suggesting that it's a skill we never talk about, but we always talk about the other two things. A list of choices is not always either/or. My personal preference is for a bit of a democracy where decisions are made together and everyone takes on tasks that suit them. I don't care for dictators.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2021
  19. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    How things have changed ... or maybe I've just been blessed to have played with very good and cooperative musicians.

    The bandleader role was different in each one. In general, the BL either booked the gigs or interfaced with booking agents, and took care of scheduling, set lists, transportation and lodging needs. One band was "strong BL", but the others worked almost completely democratically.

    In the four major bands I belonged to in the 1970s -
    1. We didn't have sheet music;
    2. We didn't have the internet (YouTube, etc.);
    3. The only way to copy a song from a record was to tape (cassette), and not everyone could do that.

    The things we didn't have dictated the way we worked up songs. Somehow, it worked.

    Whoever was singing a song he/she wanted the band to play would bring a record and have already gotten the lyrics by listening to the record. Then, we would all listen to the record once or twice. Then, we would play it until the rhythm patterns, background vocals, and kinks were worked out and an arrangement fixed. In the band with the "strong-BL" model, the bandleader usually decided on the songs he wanted to sing, but others sang too and would come in with tunes. Veto power was used sparingly, usually by a singer for a song someone else wanted him/her to sing.
    Haroldo, Eli_Kyiv and LBS-bass like this.
  20. jnuts1


    Nov 13, 2007
    i have a lot of management problems im trying to resolve right now. its like my band has a steep tradition of making dumb decisions. we had a huge wedding booked 9 months in advance. i couldnt get them to lock down a setlist until a month out..... all crazy pop tunes we have never played before or even listen to. this happens for every wedding gig where we dont do originals. we just had a huge return from covid gig and album release. sold a ton of presale tickets and a lot of walk ups. had the place packed. we play upbeat funky rock/prog rock stuff. so obviously our choice to close out the first set is the complete Abby Road medley, all 20 minutes of that snooze fest. no matter how much i protested that no one wants to listen to that self indulgent nonsense nobody in the band would listened. we lost a bunch of the new crowd. obviously we kept all of the hard fans but we lost ALL of the new ones we were trying to build up. the new dumb decision is to play a 1k capacity venue. we usually sell 60-100 presale and get some walkups so we average around 100-130+ people. for some reason 1K seems like the next step. i say this is a huge jump and should reconsider. singer says give me time i can sell 150 myself. well smarty pants that 150 may be a little shy of ONE THOUSAND!!!!!
    Eli_Kyiv likes this.