(Note: I have (and do) function in both positions mentioned in this post (director and band member). Both positions come with their advantages and at times, disadvantages. Please understand that I recognize this topic as potentially volatile to some musicians and that this is just one person’s opinion. It is NOT the only way to do business.)
Bands always internally struggle for control over their product at some point and in a number of cases, this conflict has led to their demise. I have often heard of bands going the ‘no one is in charge man, we just all agree on stuff’ route. This route (while it can work) is rife with danger and lots of conflict. Personally, I am not a fan of this approach as it leaves the decision-making up in the air.
A way to reduce band conflict is to elect a musical director (or hire one). This individual has the final say on ALL musical decisions within the group (This approach is predicated on setting a clear-cut vision or focus. See ‘Where’s the focus?). Now, there are two caveats here: this individual must respect the rest of the band as fully qualified musicians and in turn, the rest of the band must respect him/her. What do I mean by this?
For the musical director, he/she must respect the fact that they are guiding a product crafted by very competent musicians (hopefully) that each bring something special to the table. Every decision has to be made with this in mind. Lose that mindset and you will lose the respect of the musicians in your group.
For the musicians in the group, this individual (the musical director) has been elected or placed for specific purpose and reason. He/she is responsible for guiding the musical product. This individual may or may not be the best player in the group, but they may very well have the best vision, communication skills, or rehearsal technique. Whatever the reason for their being elected as musical director, their position is to be respected and revered. Disagreements are fine, but they are to be handled with the utmost respect and the knowledge that ultimately, he/she has the final say.
For everyone, good ideas can come from anywhere. The best idea could come from the bass player hearing that much-needed perfect turnaround on the radio while hitting the bathroom on a break. Whoever is in charge must be willing to hear each individual and consider the ideas put forward.
Please feel free to chime in with comments on thoughts or personal experiences! Thanks!