How the Replaceable Become Irreplaceable

In my last post, I mentioned that I, Guitar Hero to Many, was once kicked out of a band that I helped start. Anger, frustration, and a sense of betrayal are the emotions that come to mind when I relive that moment.

But, as with any painful experience, I learned.
First, how did this happen?  I started the band with another guitar player.  We added a singer who also played fairly well – he was no shredder, but he was passable.  The original guitar player also played some keyboard.  So, in the end, my services were considered superfluous.  And as such, the band could make more money per person if they dropped me.
I have to admit, it makes sense.  But that’s probably because I have an MBA now 🙂
So what can you, my dear reader, do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?  Here are some suggestions.  You can adopt any or all of them, depending on your situation.  Keep in mind that these are not foolproof and people make crazy decisions all the time that defy logic.  Every band has some politics in it and if you have tension with someone else in the band, you may still end up on the outside looking in.
1) Be professional.  This is the very basic thing I expect everyone in a band to be.  Be on time, be prepared, have your charts, bring your ipod if you need to, have your chord, your pick, etc.  Avoid showing up to practice in any altered state.  You get the idea.
2) Sing.  Many players don’t sing and if you do, that’s a big plus.  I’ve lost auditions by not being a strong singer.  I don’t have a high range and that works against me.  In fact, I’m considering getting a vocal coach to see if I can get my voice back in shape, as I’ve lost about 3 half steps off my high end.
And if you’re a bass player who sings or a drummer who sings, you’re even more golden because it’s not expected of them.
3) Have practice at your place.  This is not an option for me currently, but at one time it was.  Drummers don’t want to move their stuff all the time, and those Marshall stacks are heavy.  If you can do it, and you live in a safe neighborhood, you might consider it.  Just be considerate of your neighbors.  You don’t want the cops showing up at 10:30pm.
4) Find work for the band. This is a big job.  You have to put together a promo packet, drop it off at clubs, agents, etc.  Make phone calls, try to get into those clubs that are hard to crack. You may even consider charging the band a 5% finders fee.  Or not.
5) Chart songs for the band.  It makes their job easier and you become proficient at it.
6) Run the website for the band.  Every band needs a website and if you’re handy with html, you can set up the design of the page, add pictures, mp3’s, a newsletter, and video clips.  Own the domain name 🙂  They’ll have to change their name if they split from you and start all over again.
7) Own part of the PA.  It would be hard to kick you out of the band and then ask “Hey, man, no hard feelings, but can we borrow your mixer for Friday’s gig?”
8) Play another instrument.  If you pick up some keyboards or a sax or some other instrument that adds to band on a handful of songs, that could be an advantage.
Every now and then you have to take stock of the band as a whole.  What is the vibe of the band?  Is someone constantly complaining?  Giving the silent treatment during practice?  Throwing a party and inviting the band but not you?  Are there fights over the direction of the band, the set list, the types of jobs you’re playing, etc.  If the band isn’t acting healthy you need to address it.  Have a sit down.  Act as a mediator and let people air their grievances.  You might be able to intercept a larger problem before it happens.
If you follow some of the 8 guidelines above, people will think twice before replacing you with their best friend from Moraga.
Rock on,
Spencer

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