How to Choose the Right Band Members
Playing music with other people can be very fun, if not intoxicating. On the other hand, it can be mundane. Or, worse, a situation where egos and power plays dominate rather than a shared love of music and the music-making process.
I am very fortunate to be playing music with a very talented, and kind gentleman who is not only a family man--like me--but someone whose values are similar to mine. He does not abuse himself with drugs or alcohol, although he'll toss down a few now and then--like myself.
I could go on about the great chemistry that's between us but I wont, since my point is that good chemistry between band-mates is essential for a band's well-being. Notice that I did not say a band's success, but well-being. In my eyes, well-being encompasses success but not necessarily vice versa.
In other words there are plenty of successful bands whose members do not like each other. But are these bands healthy? Have old tensions built up to a point of no return, where collective greed for fame and money is the motivation?
Well, I wouldn't want to be in a band like that. A musical group is a family-away-from-home, just like any full-time job. And "family", as many of you reading this know well, can get ugly. Well, the band family is no different. Here are some pointers--particularly for younger musicians--from someone (me) whose been in a few bands over the years and learned a few things:
- A person who shares the love of music with you will not necessarily make a good band member. Young people, liking music and playing it are two very different things. A good friend--even your 'best---who likes music as much as you and who might even be more knowledgeable than you will not automatically make a super band-mate. You might have to accept that he (or she) will have to always be in the first row at your shows, and not on stage.
- A talented musician friend might not make a good band member, either. You might just find that your friend is coolest outside of your band; when that guitar / microphone / saxophone, etc. is in their hands they turn into a bossy, condescending know-it-all. Better go back to that simple friendship before that ugly band-mate relationship kills everything.
- The most talented [whatever instrument] player in your school / neighborhood / circle of friends might not work out in your band, or be good to start one with. I hate to say it, but you have to see if this person has a larger-than-life ego. If not, ok--that's one large obstacle out of the way. But then, do they use drugs? Who are their friends? All these things have to be taken into consideration.
- Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for drug use. Musicians, we have to take it upon ourselves to rid ourselves of the drug-user / "stoner" stereotype. And I mean ALL musicians, whether you are in a conservatory, a bar band, a jazz orchestra, or a klezmer group. Heroin didn't make Charlie Parker or Miles Davis any better than their natural talent. Nor did it 'improve' Jimi Hendrix's playing. Nor did it make Keith Richards a better rhythm player. And Classical players, just in case you think you're off the hook, I knew some members of a well-known string quartet at a prominent conservatory who went to "raves" on a regular basis.
What I've learned is that talent, friendship, nor love of the music-making process make for a good band-mate. With that said, the best person for you to be in a musical group with is all of the following:
- A person you get along with. This cannot be underestimated. Music and musical preferences run close to the heart. So if you can barely ask that person the time without feeling some tension in the air between you, it is best to exclude them from any co-musical pursuits, regardless of how good they play (now, if you can deal with hiring them for certain purposes: a few solos on your CD and / or during a live performance, so be it).
- A person who is willing to work at music to be the best musician they can be, for them and the band(s) they're in. Don't discount someone just because they're not a virtuoso by the time you're considering them for your band or your friend's band. They might be just that a year later. Or three years later, or whatever. Or maybe they'll never be a Dave Weckyll on drums, a Jaco Pastorius on bass, or a Carlos Santana on guitar. But they will be the best they can be, and that might just be better than most players. If he or she is a hard worker I'd bet on them.
- A person who gets along with others, particularly those who are more talented. It's great if you and your friend get along, but when others are brought into the scene it would be best if that goodwill was shared among all men (and women), at least to the best of your abilities. No one is saying to bow or courtesy to anyone. though.
Why Does All This Matter? I Just Need to Find Some People Who Want to Make it Big With Me.
Success is great, exhilarating, amazing, etc., etc. Really. I'm not being sarcastic--heck, I long to be successful in my own way: not mega-famous, but a known and respected presence in my field(s), able to tell my hard-working mother (who's 71 right now) "Mom, that's it. You can work in ways you'd like to, but you don't have to get up and go there everyday. Here, come and live with us. Or down the road from us...whatever. I'd love to say the same to my mother-in-law too (really).
But who is along for the ride with me matters almost as much as getting there. Why, because a polite, open environment makes for a cohesiveness that will be hard to break. To put it plainly, it will be harder to woo individual band-members away with promises elsewhere if they are happy "at home" with their band. So, loyalty--but not the forced kind--is wanted and essential. Amicable relations, again, are mandatory for the long haul. And any band's trip is a long haul, as it takes time for a group to polish its act and find its fans and repeat.
Hope this has been helpful.