I absolutely love that song from Kansas! However, that is the exact opposite of what I want certain folks to do when they are in a band with me and continue down a road of mediocrity. Before I continue though, let me be painfully clear: This is not a post about bashing other people, degrading them, or teaching someone a lesson. This post is about correcting issues to make sure the product you are crafting is of pristine quality.
Now, you might say (and I’ve heard this many times), “just fire them and find someone else.” As much as I would love to do this in certain cases, that is not always an option. Depending on where you are at in your musical career/life, this might be an option. But when you are in a corporate music setting (working for an entity much larger than just the band you’re in or in charge of), firing someone can actually be rather difficult or even impossible at your level. So what do you do?
The 5-year-old in me is screaming all kinds of not-so-nice things at the moment to fix the situation. However, that rarely helps the problem and usually creates more of them. To make these problematic scenarios better, the 5-year-old has to shut up and the adult has to go to work. If you are the musical director or group leader, then there are some things you can do to help make the situation better. If you are a band member, then you can tactfully suggest some of these same things to the group leader to help correct whatever issues are present. Here they are:
1. Talk to the person causing issues. Come prepared and you can even write out some things to say if speaking off the cuff isn’t your forte. Be clear and concise about what the problem is but do not attack the person. Encourage them to come up with a solution that you both can live with. Try to include them in the decision-making process to rectify the issue.
2. Use the commonality of music to your advantage. Hopefully, you both want a good product and you want the band to succeed. Direct all critiques and criticism towards the betterment of the show as opposed to just making it a personal assault.
Let’s take a pause for a moment. You might say, “Wait, that’s it?? That’s the only advice you have??” To that I say, it really depends on what your position within the band will allow. Furthermore, it will depend on how much power you actually have. NOTE: Please do not confuse what I’m saying here. You should not be power-hungry but you should be aware of what you can and can’t do. Your position will determine what you are able to do about the issues. In many cases, the two suggestions above are about all you can do short of firing the person (which may not be an option). But in some cases (few but some), you can’t fire them but you can take action that will hopefully curb their problems and get them back on the right track. Here are some scenarios:
Scenario 1 – Bad rehearsal technique. They can’t focus, and they are disruptive. Solution? Mandatory 1-on-1 rehearsal with the musical director until they improve. If you are the MD, then this requires some extra time on your part but how far are you willing to go to get a pristine product?
Scenario 2 – Can’t/won’t prepare for rehearsals and gigs. Couple the solution from Scenario 1 with removing them from the gig(s) until they correct their behavior. The caveat here is whether or not you can do the gig without them. If you can, then this solution is for you.
Scenario 3 – Zero work ethic. This is a tricky one because for me, I find this behavior intolerable. In my opinion, there are very few fixes for work ethic short of firing someone and explaining to them in detail why. However, if the firing is still not an option, I would do several things. First, I would begin documenting the results of the behavior (this could mean recording rehearsals and gigs, writing a dated memo, etc.). You will need leverage if you have to take this issue to a higher authority within your organization. This can be used in tandem with any scenario and is a good practice if there are repeat issues with an individual. Second, the fix from Scenario 2 can be fairly effective to jar someone’s vision into focus if they want to perform but lack the work ethic to prepare.
Many of you are probably reading this post thinking, “I hope I never ever find myself in this sort of situation!” The unfortunate truth is that you may very well find yourself in this situation depending on where your path as a musician takes you. Dealing with wayward band mates is always a challenge and can be downright maddening at times but the key is to always keep a level head. Always be pushing towards a solution. Don’t drown yourself in the problem.