Lessons about performing, lesson 36: Band Meetings!

Strangely enough, I’ve not yet run out of ideas for this series. I’m not sure how long it will last, but there’s still more lessons to be shared and more rules to follow.

If you want to see the complete list, click here. Basically, I’m trying to help you get a leg up on the competition, if you’re crazy enough to decide to try to make a living as a performing musician. There’s no magical trick that will make you a rock star, but following these rules will give you a better chance at having a successful career as a performing musician.

You don’t need to follow all of these rules – but you should capitalize on the rules that you can follow. Some of them are a little vague and you’ll need to adapt them to your own situation. We play to a diverse group of people, in a variety of settings, and very different kinds of music.

So, you’ll need to use some commonsense and apply these to your situation. Some of them, you may even be able to ignore. This next rule is not one of those that you should ignore. In fact, it’s probably one of the more important rules on this list. (No, I don’t always say that! I only say it when it’s really important!)

Rule #36: Band Meetings!

I have mentioned, many times, that your band is a business and that you should treat it like a business. Like a business, this means you need to communicate with the rest of the employees. This typically takes place at business meetings. And, just like a business, you need to have band meetings. They are essential.

A band is also like a family, in many ways. Granted, it’s usually like a dysfunctional family, but it’s your family and who cares what other people think – so long as you love each other. Right? Right… Well, as such, it’s important to keep in mind that these are the same people you’re going to be playing with and try to be as delicate as the situation calls for.

I’ve said this many times, and I am probably going to repeat it often. When you decided to become a performing musician, you made the choice to give yourself away. Unlike your real family, you get to choose who you play with. Still, you made that choice and it’s important to uphold your end of the bargain.

You’ve not just chosen to give yourself to your audience, you’ve chosen to give yourself to your fellow bandmates. (Fuck you, spellcheck! That’s definitely a word. The damned red squiggly-line-of-doom doesn’t like that word, but I showed it and added it to my dictionary!)

I must caution you, these band meetings can get pretty heated – and that’s to be expected.

In many cases, you’re going to find yourself spending more time with your band than you actually spend with your family. Some folks, I think they call them healthy and functional, have family meetings – but it’s important that you remember these are business meetings. It’s not too dissimilar to a regular job, in that you may find yourself spending more time (awake/alert) at work than you spend at home.

There’s going to be stress. There’s going to be ego. There’s going to be individual politics, drama, in-fighting, and there might even be fisticuffs! It happens.

I’m not going to tell you how to avoid it – because there’s no generic answer I can give you. What I can tell you is to plow through it and get on with the business at hand.

I’m very, very fortunate in that I’m working with a wonderful group of musicians and we don’t have any drama. I’d have to say that’s exceptional and it’s not always like that. Musicians are often artsy and emotional. We’re egotistical and we have all sorts of issues – and then we tend to add inebriation to the mix.

By the way, band meetings should be done while everybody is reasonably sober and attendance should be mandatory – without exception. Band meetings are as essential as rehearsals. They are as essential as appearing on stage and putting out a good performance.

They’re the organizational aspect of the show. They’re when you discuss who’s going to be responsible for what. They’re when you discuss things like set-lists, upcoming shows, ideas for improvement, and (this is the hard part) individual performance.

I’m not going to tell you how to do them. That’s just too variable and that’s not something I can tell you and say, “This is fact. This is best. This is the way you should do it. Doing it any other way is dooming yourself to failure!”

I can’t do that and I’m not even going to try. Instead, I’ve decided that I’ll tell you how we do it – and you can adjust that and use it as a sort of framework.

We have a small meeting before every show. We make sure that we’re all on the same page. We open it up and we ask each other questions. We discuss how things are going to go. We may also use this time to discuss everything from how we’ll set the stage up to making sure everyone knows where the emergency exits are.

That’s usually a small affair and it goes smoothly. It’s also something I’ve seen many bands neglect and they end up with disjointed shows and generally appear inept and like they don’t actually know what they’re doing. I wonder why that is? Oh, wait! I know! It’s because they didn’t plan! Huh… Maybe they could do that at a meeting? Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

Anyhow, we may have more than just the performers at that meeting. The roadies will be there, the venue manager might be there, sound and effects will definitely be there, and anyone else who needs to be involved will be there. In this meeting, few will speak and one person will be the obvious chair of the meeting. It’s not a formal thing, but it’s more for conveying information and less for discussion and airing interpersonal things.

While things are still fresh in our memory, we have a quick meeting after the show. Nobody is allowed in. No, we don’t want the VIPs coming in. No, your boyfriend/girlfriend isn’t welcome. No, you can’t bring in the people from the audience that you think you might get to bang later. This is just us and it takes maybe 10 minutes.

Not much gets done at that meeting – but we get ideas out there. We exchange ideas and mention the positive (and negative) things we experienced while performing. This doesn’t take long. It’s not complicated, people. No, not even the two guys we call roadies are welcome in our dressing room/meeting space.

Then, before our next rehearsal, we have a big sit-down. This is our main meeting. This is where we all sit down around a table, with pens and paper/tablets/laptops, and discuss important things. We talk about where our next show is going to be, how we’re going to get there, what plans need to be made to ensure it goes smoothly, establish who is responsible for what, and things like that.

This is also the meeting where it’s time to bring up things we think someone might be able to improve on. This needs to be done with tact – until such time as tact is no longer an option. True, sometimes tact isn’t always effective and you need to do what you need to do in order to get Bob the Bassist to actually practice and learn to count to four.

We discuss all this, and more. We sit down, enjoy some beverage(s) that aren’t intoxicating, and we hash this out. We go around and say what we think we did well. We go around and say things that we think can be improved on. In our case, everyone has to speak.

Why does everyone have to speak? I’ve told you this before. There’s no such thing as the perfect show. There’s always something to improve on. A perfect show can not, has never, and will never exist. There’s always something to improve on and you owe it to your audience to continue to maximize your performance.

So, everyone has to speak. Everyone has to say what they think they did well. Everyone has to say what they think they can improve on. Everyone has the chance to point out something that someone else can improve on. After they’re done speaking – everyone else gets a turn to speak to them. They are to be silent(ish) and listen to the feedback that they get from their peers.

But, it’s important to be both tactful and to point out the things that we’re doing well. It’s okay to point out that Helen The Harpsichordist was unable to keep time but it’s important to point out that Helen was spot on with her bitchin’ solo. That’s not always easy, but it’s something we emphasize.

In my case, it’s a situation that I’m very grateful to have. I am, without exception, the leader of the band. I’m also their mentor and I’m also the one who’s pushing them – and they’re a wonderful group of people who are eager to learn, fast learners, and already skilled in the art of musicianship.

I need to stress that this is the exception! This is not how it always goes and your situation may be very, very different. I have absolutely zero problems getting everyone there, I have zero problems getting them to rehearse, I have zero problems getting them to interact, and I have zero problems getting them to continue improving. This is not always how it is and you have to work with (to some extent) with what you’ve got.

There’s a lot of variation and you’ll need to adjust this to your own band’s needs. However, band meetings are as essential as anything else on the list and they’re not to be overlooked. This is how you end up being professionals. This is how you end up organized and having things run smoothly in a chaotic situation. There’s such a thing as too many meetings and too little work, so be aware of that and find the right balance.

It may take some experimentation, being dynamic is essential, until you find what works best for you. So, take my example above and use it as a framework to develop your own meeting schedule, organization, and topics. Don’t be afraid to write things down. I wish I could tell you what’d be best for you, but I can only tell you what works best for us. Take that and use it to your advantage. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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