How To Fire A Bandmate (And How To Tell If You’re Getting the Boot)
Getting thrown out on your duff is a bit of a traumatic experience, whether it be in a job, a relationship, or a band. For me, getting asked not to play anymore with a band that I put all the heart and soul I could over the last two and a half years into was pretty darn traumatic. Anything that you put your heart, time, and resources into is hard to lose. I’d consider it more like a divorce than losing a job, due to the emotional aspects. Since it’s over and my playing career is kind of down the tubes, I can at least impart what I’ve learned from the whole ordeal with the Texas Heat. My dad often told me, “If you can’t be a shining example, be a horrible reminder.”
THE BAND: WHO ARE YOU TO YOURSELVES?
If you’re looking to start a band, you should think about what the structure of the band is. I don’t mean what kind of instrument is everybody going to play, but something even more basic than that. The members of the group must be in synch with one another in several different ways. The first thing to consider is who is making up the core structure of the group. Is it some good friends who have decided to play some music? Is it a group of professionals who have come together for the purpose of commercial success in music? Is it just for fun, or is the intent to make it a full-time job? Everybody needs to be on the same page as to the goals of the group. That determines whether the association is purely a business entity, or a social club with aftereffects.
I’d suggest the relationship aspect of the members is an important consideration for structuring the band. You’ll deal with friends differently than when you deal with people in a pure business format. If the band is composed of different professional musicians (or people looking to be professional) that have no pre-existing friendships with one another, I would suggest having everyone sign contracts regarding their participation in the band. The band is a business entity.
Up front, decide on how expenses are going to be fronted, how the pay distribution is going to be, and what everybody’s duties are going to be. If somebody is hired as the lead guitarist for a band, and the band suddenly adds Steve Vai, the former lead guitarist might be somewhat miffed if relegated to the role of second fiddle. Never mind the talent level of the second fiddle, he’s going to suffer by comparison to Vai, and find himself in a smaller role in the band.
This might lead to resentment, which then leads to missed gigs, stolen girlfriends, and general misery. This can all be handled by a carefully structured contract, explaining everybody’s obligations and duties. It also offers everybody involved some security. Each band member can count on getting paid after a gig, and the band can count on each member to do what he signed on to do as specified in the contract. There can be buy-out provisions if somebody decides to leave, and provisions which keep somebody in the band until the current tour or recording obligations are met. Contracts also should cover intellectual property if a member produces a song for the band.
Obviously, a group of friends that has been jamming together for 10 years in the garage and suddenly goes pro is probably a different sort of structure. However, a contract can still help keep everybody honest and happy when success comes knocking. Or when failure blows the whole thing to hell, whichever might be the case. It can also help keep the band’s structure consistent. If you signed up to play in a classic rock band, and it suddenly decides to morph into a techno band, this could present a problem. You didn’t sign up for black lights and drum machines, you signed up to melt people’s faces off with a Marshall stack. The two genres don’t mix all that well.
THE BAND: WHO ARE YOU TO THE PUBLIC?
The second part of the structure of a band has to be what kind of music the band is going to play. We ran into a bit of a problem with this in the Texas Heat. I liked my guitar a bit more spacey and distorted, favoring David Gilmour over Stevie Ray Vaughn. The founder wants the band to be more like The Allman Brothers, Drive-By Truckers, or some such Southern rock. While I can listen to that sort of music, it’s not what I really like.
When I got involved with the band, it was advertised they wanted a guitar player for classic rock and blues. That’s an awfully broad category, however. That covers David Gilmour as well as John Petrucci. So everybody in the band needs to be up front about what sort of music they like and want to play day after day. I found myself playing equipment that I wasn’t comfortable on in an attempt to be what the band wanted. This hinders the player, both physically and mentally. If you’re trying to play in a style and manner that you’re not all that happy with, it’s really hard to produce the A game.
For instance, on the Texas Heat’s latest release on their website, you can hear that, “Your Own Little Monster,” and “The Final Drop,” have a much different feel from “Racin Jake,” or “Standing Out on Jackson Street.” I wrote all of the lyrics to “The Final Drop,” and came up with the key its in. The other guitarist changed two lines in the recorded version and the two of us did the guitar parts. “Your Own Little Monster” is my lyrics, basic riff, chord changes, and outro solo. The other guitarist did most of the fills and cut the rhythm track.
My visions for both those were pretty much realized. I was able to direct those songs to be what I wanted them to be, and they turned out great. But they didn’t turn out Southern Rock. They turned out more progressive rock than anything else. “Currents” is very much the same. I heard some of those guitar parts in my head with a whole lot of delay for the riff (a la The Edge) and a Joe Satriani solo. It didn’t turn out that way after it was recorded.
I don’t like the final music version of “Currents” nearly as much as I would have had I gotten my way with the song. The vocals are great, and there’s some great guitar going on, but the guitar parts could have been so much more in my mind. This amounts to a difference in taste. Coke or Pepsi. My take on the song isn’t Southern Rock, because I don’t tend to think or write on those terms. It’s a simple matter of taste.
I don’t think the other two guys really liked what I was coming up with musically. They loved my lyrics and basic song structure. This is evidenced by the fact they want to keep all six of the songs that I wrote the lyrics for, and the basic tunes. They just want to turn them into Southern Rock. Oh, and not have me in the band anymore, as noted. This could have been avoided had everybody talked it out ahead of time, and everybody’s ideas made clear from the start. I stuck with the band because I liked the guys, and felt I was (at least for a time) able to grow as a musician and get my creative ideas out in some form or fashion. I can play in that style, it’s just not what I listen to if given the choice. Southern Rock is the direction everybody else wanted, and I guess I wasn’t the best fit for that.
I put a lot of heart into the songs I’ve written. They are all very personal to me, and reflected a lot about what I am and where I’ve been. I felt like I was solid enough in the band to have shared this stuff with them. I never would have let them have these songs had I known I was not going to be around to perform them with the band.
Again, if I had sold them the songs, that would have been a completely different transaction. I could have produced stuff for them as a hired gun, but some of this stuff would have been held in reserve for me, since I was heavily emotionally invested in these songs and this band. Had the structure of the relationship been defined from the get-go, bad feelings could have been avoided. This situation I find myself in would not exist.
What does the band look like? If you’re a clean-cut business professional, you’ll probably look out of place with a long-haired hippie-type with tattoos. This might matter to some bands, and not to others. It did in the Texas Heat.
I never thought that sort of thing mattered. It’s rock and roll, the nonconformist’s dream, right? Well, apparently you have to conform with the nonconformists in order to be accepted into some rock bands. If that’s not the most bizarre non-sequitur that ever existed, I don’t know what is. I don’t care what people look like or dress like. If the band is going for a certain look however, this must be considered. If you’re like me (and not willing to pierce or tattoo anything on your body) and not willing to grow out hair to resemble Captain Caveman, it might well be a problem.
An immutable law of the universe is that you can’t force a square peg into a round hole. Both will be damaged in the attempt, so it’s best not to try it. Keep this in mind with band membership.
THROWING SOMEBODY OUT
If somebody has to go, what’s the best way to do it? I’d suggest not the way Dave Mustaine found himself out of Metallica. In fact, that’s probably one of the worst ways to get the boot. Again, a contractual relationship makes this process much easier, because exits can be covered in a manner to where there’s little or no dispute about it. A structure can be put into place as to who hires and fires personnel, and what obligations all parties have to one another. I’ve never yet seen a band that was smart enough to put together this kind of structure, but I won’t get involved in another band without a contract of some sort.
If you were to ask the remaining members how I left, I’m sure they’d say something to the effect of, “We asked him to step aside.” Well, that’s what they’d have to say, because that’s what they did. This is a great political answer, because it implies that I had some sort of say in the matter. If I said no, what good would that have done?
It’s not like I could have kept coming to practice and recording after that. If I would have, it would have been a fast track to police intervention. After herpes, there’s nothing worse to have in your band affairs than the police. There was no choice in the matter at all, from my end. It would be like continuing to sleep with your ex after the divorce, especially if she’s remarried. Awkward, to say the least.
The founder and the other guitarist are both businessmen, so they handled the firing like the personnel training manuals tell you to do it at a Fortune 500 company. They did it on a Friday, they did it on neutral ground, and they brought all my crap with them so I didn’t go to the band rehearsal site and go postal. Apparently they were worried about that. They started out saying nice things about my skills, before bashing me in the head with, “You’re really not progressing enough as a guitarist.”
This is the way to break bad news to an employee. Tell them good stuff before hitting them with the bad. Oddly enough, the founder and I had been told we weren’t good enough by the guy that the other guitarist replaced, so if anybody should have known how much that phraseology hurts, it was us. This was really like a relationship breakup. There’s no good way to do it, but it apparently had to be done from their point of view. So taking the standup, face-to-face route was appreciated from my point of view. They did it in a very professional manner, and that was nice, for the most part. If somebody has to go, you would be wise to emulate what they did. Putting somebody on a bus with a hangover isn’t the way to do it.
They probably thought they were being up front and honest about the whole thing. However, there were lots of signs that I was going to get the boot. I make my living off reading people, and I ignored some pretty strong indicators that the axe was about to fall. I ignored them because I didn’t want them to be true. Gavin De Becker, a professional bodyguard that came to national attention during the OJ Simpson trial, wrote a book called THE GIFT OF FEAR. He pointed out that we ignore our survival instincts far too often for our own good. I know I did in this case.
HOW TO TELL THAT YOU’RE ABOUT TO GET THE BOOT FROM YOUR BAND
One great indicator that you’re about to get thrown out of a band is when members go off and do shows or expositions without the member that’s on the cut line.
Two of the members did a Christmas song for the local newspaper’s website. It was written about in the paper, and the clip was posted on the local news site. They didn’t mention they were doing it until after it was over. They did my song, “Crying on Christmas Eve.” I wrote that one specifically for the band. At least they gave me credit for writing it, despite the fact that the singer choked the lyrics on that recorded performance. (Now that I think about it, I’m GLAD I wasn’t there for that.) This begs the question as to whether or not they should have told me they were doing it, which they damn sure should have, and not after the fact.
When the band goes in and cuts tracks without a member, this is also a great sign the member isn’t really wanted anymore. This actually happened to me on both recordings the Texas Heat did. The first time should have been a great sign to leave. How dumb am I? I wasn’t asked in for the writing sessions for the first recording. I was just brought in to do some guitar parts after the fact. When I heard the arrangements, I was able to make at least two changes to the basic structure of two songs that survive in those songs to this day. I had written quite a few lyrics at this point, and had a ton of riffs that I could have added to the recording, but it was apparently not wanted.
Another good indicator that you’re no longer appreciated in the band is when a song gets published, and all the tracks you recorded for it are gone in the final version. Yes, this happened. My parts were erased out of some of the songs I wrote, without my say-so. I was told they weren’t usable. Again, the contractual aspect of the band relationship should have been pursued at this point. If a band is going to use somebody as a hired gun songwriter, then they had better be prepared to pay the writer like one. I wrote the songs, but the format has now been changed. I’m protected under copyright law, but a contract would have helped things immensely.
Additional signs that you may not be appreciated is when the other band members hang out socially, but don’t bother to invite the member that’s on the cut line. This happened quite often with the Texas Heat. Again, I should have seen the writing on the wall. Yet again, if this wasn’t a friendship band and instead only a business entity, a contract should have been in place so that friendship and business relationships were not confused. My mistake was thinking about the band in terms of friends, as opposed to in terms of a business. The other two members are businessmen, and they are determined to make the Texas Heat succeed as a business. That means axing somebody who they perceive as not fitting in, or is not up to what they perceive as par, which had happened before this. As noted, mistaking a friendship for a business relationship is a path to disaster.
To be sure, I have some hard feelings about this ousting. That’s probably apparent at this point. I don’t think I was treated fairly, considering my contributions, loyalty, and what I put into this band. There’s a lot of hours of my life that I will never get back, and that was time better spent with the things that ultimately matter: God, family, and friends. However, I don’t begrudge the Texas Heat for doing what they did. It makes sense in the other two guys’ business-oriented view of the band. If viewed from the standpoint of a friendship; it’s a cold, cruel shot. But is that their mistake? Or was the mistake mine? Probably both. I ignored my better judgment and instincts. They probably did as well in keeping me around. It might have been a kindness on their part.
I wish the Texas Heat every success in what they do. It’s a uniquely talented group of individuals, and they will make great music. This town’s too small to make enemies, and I certainly don’t consider the rest of the band as such. In fact, I still choose to think of them as friends, and hope they do the same. I certainly will bear no ill will as long as I’m treated equitably for my intellectual property. There are always two sides to every story, and there’s a good chance the other guys would have a different spin on it. Nevertheless, I think my story holds some good lessons for creative types who don’t think in terms of businesses or contracts. So hopefully this didn’t come off as a complete whining session on my part.
Thanks for reading this vent. Take something away from my experience. Learn from my mistakes. Be sure of what you’re getting into before joining a band. Make sure you have a clear definition of responsibilities, vision, goals, and royalties due. The best way to do this is contractually. A band cannot succeed without the right chemistry, and that chemistry cannot exist without mutual trust and benefit.