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When you're accidentally the band leader

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Tommygun_ted, Nov 20, 2018.

  1. So for anyone who has been following my recent band related blunders, I've managed to get a few guys together to start working on a metal project. I've played with the one guitarist before, but everyone else is completely new. The idea is to start something fresh, where everyone is an equal member, and decisions are made democratically. We play in drop C, with inspiration from bands like atreyu, bullet for my valentine, etc. However, I guess because I'm the one who posted the ads looking for members and organized the initial meetings with everyone, it's starting to feel like they're expecting me to lead the ship. Does anyone have any tips on running a band?
  2. TWolf


    Jan 20, 2011
    The Deep South
    Read tons of Band Management threads on TB.
    Seriously, they have helped me a ton. I'm a band leader by default as well.
    design likes this.
  3. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I bolded the part above. As soon as I see that, I think there is a high probability the thing will implode eventually -- unless these guys have massive passion for the project and uncommon interpersonal/team building skills. There are exceptions...but that's what I see after reading all the stories here on talkbass, that mirror your own.

    Someone will have ideas and they never get through, and will quit. One person will likely have to do all the business work while the others take the fun part (song selection, musical direction) -- unless by chance you lucked into a situation where there are sales people/entrepreneurs in the band, other than the leader. And by the way, they often get the itch to be in full control and start taking the musicians for their own projects -- without you.

    People with stronger personalities may tend to dominate even though it's a "democracy". And they can be the wrong people.

    The best approach is what is called enlightened despotism where you have someone who calls the shots, but who listens to the band. Someone who is fair, firm, but kind, and has definite expectations of the band. Someone who knows how to co-mission the band with the members where possible, makes sure everyone is at least listened to, but who maintains overall control and direction. And who is compensated for all the extra work.

    I'm sorry, but purely democratic bands have never worked for me, and many others on Talkbass.

    Your best bet is to figure out how to book gigs and get money on the table. Then you can call other shots. S/he who books the gigs makes the rules.

    If you've already set the stage that it's "everybody equal" then that will be hard to overcome. As a leadership philosopher once said, paraphrased -- "when people are used to having full freedom the only way to set direction is to start over with new people".

    I am an enlightened despot. Fired one guy in 6 years, have managed to retain everyone, even people who provided unsuitable, but who are willing subs. Occasionally the natives get restless, and you have to make adjustments. But after that happens, you learn how to lead the group and head these kinds of restless sentiments off at the pass.

    This means changing up the membership for certain gigs, freshening the repertoire, interesting new projects and markets, videos, recording sessions, and lots more. Also, having a backup person for each person in case someone can't make it. Unless you have aspirations to tour and make it big, focus on being a competent band with repertoire a whole bunch of guys can play if you need them as backup.

    I do all that stuff, and so far, so good, even in our dance band. It was rough the first couple years when our "democratic band" walked all over me. The personalities thought they could take all my hard work and marketing for granted, while keeping all the fun stuff and telling me what to do all the time -- at times I was the lowest paid person after trying to keep everyone happy. While being the hardest working. Unreasonable pay demands, demands that we gut 1/3 of the repertoire when new member joins, side bands that didn't include me.

    Those days are gone. I wish there was a way of getting people to the point they are in control enough to keep the band together for years and years and years, rather than having to go through all the pain and agony I did.

    So buckle up and have fun. Your experience may be better than mine, YMMV.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
  4. StayLow


    Mar 14, 2008
    This is doomed to failure, in any type of endeavor or relationship. Even in a marriage the pair takes turns; someone leads and someone has to own their decision to follow. That's never a compromise, if done right and with mutual respect.

    Same can work for different facets of a band too. The drummer is likely to be in charge of making sure he brings his (br)ass to a gig. Simple example, but at some level everyone is fully responsible for some key aspect but you can't force bandmates to be effective leaders of something they've no interest or aptitude - writing songs, or booking gigs perhaps.

    Many join bands to *get away* from responsibility and decision making.

    Democracy is a feel-good scam that doesn't work over time. Never has and never will. If a family is run as a "democracy" and has two parents with three children it'll go bankrupt in a month on Disney merch. The CEO of a major corporation can't be wasting time polling the janitorial staff every time a decision is to be made. If a country allows the coasters, the clueless and the cretins an equal vote ... well that's politics so not allowed ... I'll just point out it has *never* ended well in all of human history. Animal kingdom? Sports teams? Crime gang? Strong leadership or no survival/success.

    Either you or someone in your new band will have to step up. Same as in any band. Typically the chief songwriter or arranger, but it can just be the one with the most drive, contacts, experience and organizational/business sense. A bassist is often the bandleader; a good choice for a variety of reasons not worth listing here. You might have a different musical director. Whatever works and motivates. Usually you'll have to do it all if it's a start-up of strangers who respond to "Musician Wanted" ads.

    A good leader can and should consider all views, but then must move forward at a fair clip and if someone whines, pouts or does the passive-agressive thing then can them immediately.

    No doubts, no regrets. No maybes and no back-stepping.

    You're playing metal, right? No guts, no glory!

    No mercy.

    Best of luck.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
  5. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    One thing that has helped me is a rough classification system for musicians. No one fits neatly into these categories, as everyone is different. But they tend to have a blend of these three characteristics -- entrepreneur, employee and artist.

    Enterpreneurs will be BL's, do marketing, book gigs, figure out rehearsal space, etcetera. They start the band, find musicians, and make the band successful from an admin perspective. The employee musician is someone who wants to show up, rehearse (sometimes), and perform, get paid. The artist is there for the music. Doesn't care as much about the pay as he does about the music. "My only client is the music" s/he says.

    Enterpreneurs are great because they make the band successful. Employees are great because they show up, do the job, and don't start side bands that make everyone so busy you don't have a band anymore. They tend to be even tempered and want to make the BL happy. Artists are good because they hold the band accountable for good music; they are often the strongest players.

    But each has a dark side. The Entrepreneur will often take all your musicians and start side projects with out you. They may even steal your clients after they split off with the musicians to which you introduced them. Artists can be the most temperamental people; they lose their temper, tell the band they suck when the band actually needs a morale boost, and blow up at the leader. Entreprenuers can be like bumps on a log and can demand rates of pay that are unreasonable.

    Take your pick. I like entrepreneurs in the band who aren't as good as booking gigs as I am. I can then tell them that if they want all the gigs they have to include me in their projects and meet the number of gigs I give them. At that point, they can do whatever they want.

    That way I have a full schedule and so do they. So far that worked. I act as an employee musician at their gigs, and they can even name the band what they want -- even if it's the same band of musicians that play when I do the booking. I like a bit of artistry -- tempered by some really good employee musician. That way the band is held accountable for the quality of music without all the temperamental blow ups.

    It's never a perfect balance. But I've learned to be wary of entrepreneur musicians. They are too risky and can decimate your band and client list. I like employee musicians, and like to have at least some artistry in the band.

    Good luck...
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
  6. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    A lot of people call a band a "democracy" when it's really an "anarchy." An anarchy has no one in charge and everyone's will counts equally. A democracy is a system where the leader makes decisions with the consent of the governed. Anarchic bands rarely work unless the individuals are unusually united in all wanting the exact same thing. A democratic band with a good leader can work well.

    You can also have a tyranny where the leader holds all the cards and is able to tell the musicians exactly what they have to do and they do it. That usually means either that they're an extraordinary genius and people are honored just to play in the shadow of their greatness, or they possess the resources (like money and booking connections) and the musicians are depending on them for a paycheck to pay their bills.

    In most bands, though, the musicians are only there to play because they want to be there. The band either isn't making money, or if it is, not enough to make a living on - it's basically weekend warriors getting some extra spending cash. That means that people will continue contributing to the band as long as the band is helping them meet THEIR goals. Managing them is therefore much more like volunteer management, where they have to feel they're getting something out of it, rather than business management, where the manager holds the payroll.

    So, to be an effective democratic leader -

    1) Set the tone. Define exactly what the band is about, its mission and goals. What style of music will (and won't) you play? How much do you want to gig? If originals, when do you want to record, and what's the process going to be for people bringing in ideas?

    2) Know your bandmates' goals. What does each of them want out of the project? Also, what are their red lines, their turnoffs that will make them hate the band and want to quit? Figure out where those goals converge and build the band identity out of those convergence points. Make sure to steer the group away from peoples' red lines.

    3) Build consensus. Give everyone the chance to voice their ideas (and to react to each others' ideas). Rather than just dictate that something will happen, float the idea for discussion and see how they react. Allow people to veto ideas if they REALLY object to them.

    4) Be the buck-stops-here guy, and make sure everyone agrees that's your role. After sounding everyone out and building all the consensus you can, it's your job to say, "OK, this is what we're going to do," or "No, I know you want to, but that just doesn't fit the identity of this project."

    5) Decide how money will be handled BEFORE you spend, or make, any. Make sure everyone agrees that whatever plan you come up with is fair.

    6) Find out what everyone can contribute besides just playing. Is someone good at social media, or web design, or running sound, or marketing? Use their talents and make sure they get compensated (appreciation counts as a form of compensation, especially if the band isn't making any money).
    ak56, MartinB, jeffbrown and 8 others like this.
  7. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    Good distinction. I think most people confuse anarchy with democracy. Someone once said that there really is no such thing as democracy -- you just elect your dictators once every 4 years.
    ak56, gumtown, longfinger and 2 others like this.
  8. MCS4


    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    Just chiming in to say that this absolutely *can* work with the right people. My main band has been operating this way for five or six years now, through studio recording of three EPs (fourth is currently in the writing process) and playing plenty of shows. Everyone pulls their weight in some way, and all major decisions are approved by group consensus. There are definitely times when one member or another takes more of a lead in booking shows, compiling material for songwriting, and so forth, but everyone participates to some degree and it is not always the same person on any particular aspect. Nobody has the authority by himself to make any decisions or to require another member to do anything.

    Things can also change over time. When I joined the band, the other three members at that time had been together for many years in other projects and I was coming in right when they were starting fresh with a new band and new material. As a consequence I stayed quiet a lot to not step on toes as a new guy, although they were happy to have my input. However, years down the road, I've proven myself as having good ideas on songwriting and various types of decisions, so at this point I am probably more likely than anyone to step in to give direction if there is not a clear consensus. But nonetheless I still would be outvoted if everyone else preferred to handle something differently.
    Mr_Moo and hieronymous like this.
  9. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    You're fortunate -- the situation I said can exist when people bring the right skills, both technical and interpersonal, to the band. It's a rare find, in my view.
  10. MCS4


    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    It definitely is rare, but like many things you probably are only going to find it if you specifically push for it like the OP indicated that he wants to do. The fact that my band is like this is partly a factor of the individual musicians and partly a conscious choice by the original members to set it up this way. For example, we are currently on our third drummer but have managed to keep the band moving forward under similar terms even though all three drummers have been very different in terms of personality and capabilities.
    Mr_Moo likes this.
  11. StayLow


    Mar 14, 2008
    3/4 of your band was with experienced functional musicians who already worked well together.

    OP's band is predominantly people who've not worked togther and who got into the band by answering an ad. To me that means at least one and probably of all of them are passive and quite possibly not very functional. Finding bandmates is like hiring employees; ask any hiring manager ... it's usually a red flag if applicants don't already have a job/gig, and legit go-getters don't answer "Help Wanted" ads.

    OP isn't the band leader by "accident", as the thread title states. He placed the ads so already showed leadership and vision, and got people who just want to join something... the band/vision of the guy who placed the ads. If they wanted much say or were natural/effective leaders, they'd be placing ads not answering them. If they were experienced and functional in the local scene, they'd already have word-of-mouth contacts rather than be placing/answering ads.

    Of course I'm generalizing. There will be exceptions, perhaps even in the OP's case, however exceptions don't disprove the rule.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
  12. Equality in a successful band is a very rare thing. It can be done ... Rush did it just fine for 40 years ... but, as others have already noted, more likely than not it will not work. There are a variety of reasons for this, as you've probably already surmised. Not the least of these reasons is conflict. If more than one person is doing the same job - think booking gigs - conflicts will inevitably arise. If you can dole out responsibilities to individuals, that can negate such conflicts. However, ultimately someone will need to be "the leader" who steps in to resolve standoff issues. Since they're already looking to you for leadership, that may as well be you.
  13. Richland123


    Apr 17, 2009
    I have been a leader/manager/booking agent/organizer in every band I have been in since 1970. There is a lot to do and learn to keep things together. I never ask to be in that position; but, it just seems to be my role. I would be happy to give it up but nobody else seems to know how to run bands like a business.
  14. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Song Surgeon slow downer. https://tinyurl.com/y5dcuqjg
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
    Bunk McNulty likes this.
  15. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    Also, you came to the group, if I read it correctly, after a stable core membership had been established. I wonder what the history was up to that point -- you often have people join, decide its not for them, or get ousted before you find a group of cats that want to work together.

    I actually created a narrated powerpoint where I went into what I expect, what people have to do to be part of the group after years of failing. I got a lot of flak here about it, but I found the people that liked it were the ones who stayed. And the ones who liked it an stayed were professionally minded. Each will have their own way of making it work.

    Zappa has his own method -- he lets the musicians know they are privileged to be part of his project, and has no compunction about sending home the guys that are problematic.
  16. MCS4


    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    Right, but exceptions prove that exceptions do exist and that it is possible to make this work if you try. I'm here to certify that it is absolutely worth the effort. The last thing I want is for the OP to see a bunch of discouraging posts and end up thinking it is impossible or not worth trying if it is his goal.
  17. MCS4


    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    That is true, but that is also what the OP can choose to do: Develop a stable core of like-minded persons, and if any of the current crop don't want to participate then the rest can search for someone who fits better.

    If you just give up and agree to be the band leader for a group of people who expect you to lead, then that is all that band is ever going to be -- which is fine if that is acceptable to you, but it doesn't have to be so if you want to take the time and effort to find something you believe will be better.

    Also, none of this needs to be all or nothing. The OP can certainly take an initial lead due to the manner in which the current folks originally came together but nonetheless start creating a culture where everyone is expected to take on bigger roles over time if they are going to buy into the band long-term.
  18. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I find the musicians come to the band and create an impression they will fit and have certain skills. After you work with them, you find they have other talents they didn't know they had, or didn't communicate. At that point, things get shuffled around a bit in the band. A good BL will identify those skills/passions and then use them to the group's advantage. This often means completely delegating certain tasks to those people, or giving them leadership. I have one guy who is really, really good at equipment and technical stuff. I just ask him to take care of it, and he likes it, does a good job. Another guy is good at pulling out of our repertoire songs that fit the gig. he always seems to pull out three more than I could see when trying to put together a set list that meets requirements. Another one is an entrepreneur musician, and has decent leadership skills. When he books a gig, I'm a side man, totally. I just do what he says, dress how he tells me, get there when he tells me, and even often delegates admin stuff to me (like the set list, or even finding a musician) and I just do it.

    All that will change as new musicians join the group due to attrition, death, moving, etcetera.

    It's why they say leadership is an art.
    StayLow likes this.
  19. StayLow


    Mar 14, 2008
    Rush fired their (original) drummer. :) So did the Beatles. As did Iron Maiden. And AC/DC. And Guns 'n' Roses. Hmmm...

    Peart effectively has held the band hostage more times than we can count. Were the other two guys respectful of how he felt? Yes of course, and that's laudable. It's also fairly easy to take years off when you're somewhat wealthy.

    In any case, "I don't wanna" is a veto not a democracy, and we're talking start-ups here not wealthy and weathered all-stars. If in the early days Alex or Geddy didn't want to gig in the States or play clubs more than once/wk you can bet they'd have gotten canned too or the band would've disbanded.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
    pwhalen and PauFerro like this.
  20. I guess I should have given more info here. One guitarist is my older brother. He taught me how to play and got me into playing bass. He's one of the best rhythm players I've ever met and absolutely rocks on stage. I've been in almost every band he's been in and we have a sibling telepathy almost. Our goals are very much in line with each other's. The other guitarist is a guy we went to school with. He went to college for something music related, don't know exactly what, but he was living 5 hours away for the last decade. He has recently moved back to town. I saw his guitar stuff on Instagram and got in contact with him to see what he wants to do. The drummer used to play in different bands, but since we are in a fairly small rural area, it's hard to find a full band looking to hire. He's got references from other people in the community that I know to be reliable, and comes with a PA, jam space, and a school bus for traveling to shows. We have yet to audition him, but have met him and his attitude and personality fit well. First point I made was this is not a career band. We all work full time. We all picked a song to learn as a band, and everyone suggested similar artists. It may well implode, but so far it seems like a good group of guys.here are picks of me and the bro over the years, starting with our high school talent show. He's the lefty. Screenshot_20181120-142317_Facebook. Screenshot_20181120-142433_Facebook. Screenshot_20181120-142536_Facebook.

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