Should Your Friend Be In Your Band?

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Hiring a new band member should be like hiring someone for any job. The person needs to be a good fit for your band, in several dimensions. A bad hire can significantly derail a band. It could take months to recover, or it might ultimately cause a permanent breakup. Too often, we choose new band members for social reasons. This might be okay if the primary purpose of the band is to hang out socially.

But if your  real goal is to make music and develop your career, there are other factors to consider, beyond friendship. Here are the important things to think about when adding a new musician to your band.
  1. Skills. The most obvious criteria should be how well they play. They have to pull their weight, and make everyone else sound better. However, this is a nuanced question, and musicianship skills have many dimensions. Let’s say that you are hiring a bass player. What style does the person play, and does it match where your and wants to go? Is the ability to improvise important? How about the ability to sightread lead sheets, or odd meters, or written solos? Do you need this person to be able to follow the leader if the leader veers off script, maybe adding another chorus of solo, or taking the dynamics way down, on a whim? Does this person lock in with the drummer? Similarly, is this person’s instrument sound or capabilities what you want? Perhaps, that can be modified. You might make someone buy a 6-string bass, or a Big Muff pedal. But some of these dimensions are unlikely to improve quickly, and usually, you need to hire what you need.

  1. Personality. It’s important for everyone to basically respect each other. You don’t necessarily have to have the same politics or the same dress code. However, if you can’t stand the new member personally, that will translate to the music and to the longevity of the band. Also consider the cultural fit with your clients. If you play a lot of weddings, and this person looks absurd in a tuxedo, it might be bad for business. Likewise, if your band’s lyrics have strong feminist themes and the potential member is, well, an unrepentant Neanderthal pig, that also suggests that this relationship is likely not to be fruitful for long, no matter how nicely he or she thumps that bass line.
  2. Vision. One of the most common reasons for bands to fall apart is that the members have different goals. If one person wants to record original songs and another simply wants to make money on weekends playing bar mitzvahs, the band won’t last for long. The same goes if most members just want to hang out and jam, but the new guy wants to make money at it.
  3. Logistics. Is this person available when necessary? If your plan is to play pub gigs, but he has the kids sleep over every other weekend, is it understood that he must get a babysitter during these times? If it’s a drummer, does he have a car big enough to haul the gear around? Does it all make sense geographically? And does the money work for both sides? If these issues aren’t easy and resolved, then the relationship will be stressful.

There’s often a temptation to go with the person who is the best personality fit. And that is certainly part of it. But these other issues can foretell disaster, if you don’t take them into account. To avoid making a mistake, before you audition anyone, write up job description. List exactly what you need. If you create a checklist, organized by “Must Have,” “Should Have,” and “Nice to Have” skills, you can stay on target, and not be swayed by a charming personality who would actually be terrible for your band. Audition at least three players. Then, have a trial period, where you rehearse several times and play a gig or two with the potential new member. Finally, if all goes well, if it is a professional endeavor, have the member sign a contract, where expectations and compensation are clearly stated. This way, everyone will be clear on the relationship, and you will be more likely to have a good fit.

If you do have friends in your band, my recommendation is that you protect the friendship above the musical or business endeavor. Be willing to take a financial hit or a logistical inconvenience to protect your friendship. If it isn't going well, then try to end the band relationship as amicably as possible, but do it quickly, before it gets out of hand, and before someone's personal feelings are irreparably damaged. Relationships are the most important thing in life, so always make them a priority. But your music career is also important, so find the balance somewhere where both are well served.
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