Are you in a band just because you want to be in a band?
Congratulations: Not everyone gets to be in a band!
But beware: Being in just any band – or staying in longer than you should – is not always a good thing.
There is always an opportunity cost. Every hour you spend preparing for, traveling with, rehearsing with, gigging with, and stressing out about your band is an hour you can’t spend on anything else in your life.
Whether you’re in a band now, are between bands, or have never been in a band, asking yourself this question – When is it time to leave my band? – can illuminate a lot for you.
I first asked myself this question in January of 2009, after about a year and a half with a band I had co-founded. And it’s coming up again now, since as you may know, I’m trying to move to San Diego with my husband. I gave notice to my current band in March that I would be leaving. But it’s taking a while to sell our house, so I’m still in Colorado. Meanwhile, the band has found my replacement. Is it time for me to bow out and let the band move on into its future?
Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether it’s time to leave your band.
Why did you join the band? Is your reason being fulfilled? Is that reason still valid for you?
I joined my first band as a backup singer just to learn what it was like to be in a band. I had performed a cappella, in musical theatre, in choir, and sung at weddings, but I had never played with a band before. After a while, I had learned all I could learn as a backup singer in that band. I was considering leaving when the group disbanded anyway.
I co-founded my second band to learn more about the business side of a working band, and to sing lead. I got more than my fill of the first reason, but not enough of the second. I found myself unable to change either part of the equation, so I left.
Whether you are currently in a band or are considering joining one, you should know WHY you want to be in it. If you don’t know why, you won’t be able to pick the right situation for yourself. And you won’t know when it’s time to get out.
What are your priorities for band life?
For some musicians – often working pros – one of the highest priorities is the pay. I know a few musicians in bands they profess to hate, but they stick around because the gigs pay well.
There are a lot of factors to consider for yourself: personal band dynamics, level of musicianship, band decisionmaking process (consensus? dictatorship?), types of gigs, opportunity, genre, covers vs. originals, learning opportunities, radius of travel, amount of work required of you, level of exposure, and simply how much fun do you have at the gigs?
Make your own list of priorities for your ideal band. Pick the non-negotiables and the “nice-to-have’s.” Then compare this list to the band you’re considering leaving (or joining).
Does the opportunity cost of being in the band add up for you?
I’ve been in bands where all I had to do was show up to rehearsal and gigs, and I’ve been in bands where I was responsible for every last decision from musical to business to logistical. The opportunity cost can be orders of magnitude different – that is, the number of hours spent offstage preparing vs. the number of hours spent onstage singing can differ by a factor of 10, 20, 30 or more from band to band.
So, what are you getting out of the band for what you’re putting into it?
Think not just short-term, think long-term as well. And think about all the side benefits, not just the number of songs you get to sing at each gig. There are a lot of benefits to being in a band: meeting other musicians, seeing how other musicians work, getting exposure at gigs, getting stage experience, learning more about music, learning more about music business, learning about organizational dynamics and leadership, learning about booking, learning about instruments and sound systems, increasing your repertoire, learning to write and arrange songs, learning how to cue the band, making some money, being recorded or videotaped, or simply enjoying making music… the list goes on and on, and it’s probably different for everyone in every situation. Make your own list.
But on the other hand, what is your opportunity cost? If there’s a source of stress in the band, do you carry that stress with you out of rehearsal or gigs? If the band travels, how much time are you spending in the car? How much of your own money are you spending on gas, stagewear, printing, and other things related to the band? How long does each gig really take you, from the moment you start getting ready at home until the moment you return back home? Look at the whole picture.
What are your short, medium, and long-term goals?
Simple question, right? But there are a lot of opportunities out there, and you simply can’t take advantage of all of them. Some opportunities, you won’t even find unless you know what your goals are.
As I did, you might start out fulfilling a short-term goal by just being in any band, just for the learning experience. Then when that goal is fulfilled, you might approach a medium-term goal by starting a cover band, or joining another band with different characteristics and opportunities. All the while, these short- and medium-term goals should be propelling you forward toward fulfilling your longer-term goals – or at least helping you figure out what those long-term goals are.
If you are considering whether to leave your band, or trying to figure out how to get into a band, I’d be happy to be a sounding board for you. Just contact me through this web site.
Good luck and have fun!
(c) 2010 Adrienne Osborn