Monday, July 29, 2013

10 Ways To Be a Better Bandmate

I spent six years, virtually non-stop, touring on the road with several bands. While in tight quarters with others for such long periods of time, I learned ways to survive the road. Individuality can become nonexistent, and you tend, out of necessity, to make decisions as a band rather than as individuals. Some days you want to crawl up in a ball and disappear, but you can't. So you adapt.

Most musicians will tell you that if they had to choose either a great musician or a good travel companion for a spot in the band, they'd choose the travel companion, because life on the road is usually twenty-two brutal hours of travel and two blissful hours on stage. So a good "bus hang" will make life much easier. You can always improve as a musician, but someone's character won't change until they're willing. As a consequence, prima donnas or  "rock stars" may find themselves abandoned at a rural truck stop or rest area if they're not careful! 

On tour (I'm 3rd from L) somewhere in the Mediterranean, 1982
Most people, those in church worship teams included, will need to make personal sacrifices when joining a band. The best advice for newbies is to start with the Golden Rule, found in Matthew 7:12:  "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (NIV)" 

Here are a few practical ways to become a welcomed member of any band, even if you weren't the best guitarist at the audition.

1. Try to be even-tempered
Being a good-natured person will keep you around longer than the moody, self-centered lead singer that you are currently tolerating. Remember: the squeaky wheel may get the grease, but it can also get replaced!

2. Don't demand your own way
It's okay to do your own thing once in a while after you have done the group thing several times (choosing restaurants, activities, movies, etc.). In the long run, be a good team player. They'll get over it when you need to stay back at the hotel once in a while.  

3. Don't be an over-picky eater
Don't be so finicky that the group always ends up having to meet your need for certain kinds of food at every stop. McDonalds may have to suffice when you're busting it to get to the gig. You'll survive.

4. Carry your end of the music
Be a good musician in the band. Do your wood-shedding, learn your part, confess mistakes, take care of your instruments, and help make the band a success by improving as a musician yourself.

5. Be punctual
Be on time; don't let others consistently wait for you at call time. You're just saying to the rest of the band: "I'm more important than you--I deserve to be waited on; your time is not important to me." Beware: the band may get sick of it and leave you behind. I've seen it done.   

6. Help tear down, set up, unload and load gear
Get your hands dirty. Beyond your musical place in the group, make sure you are doing your share of the driving, loading suitcases, lifting, pulling, plugging, unplugging, duct taping and rolling cables before and after the gig. Rock stars and prima donnas get left behind at truck stops (there's a theme going here--The Sopranos, anyone?)

7. Give fellow band members their own personal space
Be sensitive to others in the band, especially early in the morning before their first cup of coffee. Proverbs 27:14 says, "If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. (NIV)"

8. Be courteous and be ready to forgive 
Cramped spaces lead to short fuses. Again, choose to be a good "bus hang" and think before you speak. Be full of grace when you suffer a wrong. This kind of bandmate will become not only a road-survivor, but a road-saint, with legendary status among other musicians (you'll be first in line for a gig when there's an opening in their band)! Nashville is full of great pickers who'll never get a gig because they lack social intelligence.

9. Pull extra weight for a bandmate when necessary
Be the first to step in and offer to bring relief to a fellow bandmate when they're sick, when they've received some bad news from home, or if they need to spend time with a visiting friend or relative. This will come in handy when it's your turn to be "needy." (Warning: this "get-out-of-jail-free card" is very precious, and if caught abusing it...well, see the last sentence of #6)!

10. Carry "extras" to help out when you (or others) lose or break things
I used to travel with a drummer who carried extra guitar picks, strings, pens, pencils, batteries, etc. He saved me and other bandmates from doom more than once. Be the "go-to-guy" in your band when things go wrong. Your forethought may earn you even more "get-out-of-jail-free cards" for the future!

There are many other ways to be a better bandmate. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section. Happy trails, fellow road dogs!

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