A band is a unique and complex relationship,
and with so many different personalities and goals among band
members, things can sometimes get tricky. Some people are
direct, some are passive, some are more organized than others.
"Musicians are sensitive and odd creatures," says
songwriter/guitarist Paul Hansen of indie folk band The Grownup
Noise. "So inevitably, it will be a dysfunctional, but
hopefully loving, family."
When you're creating, performing, traveling
and practicing with the same people for hours on end, there's
no question that leadership within the band is essential to
get everyone on the same page, manage expectations and create
camaraderie. "There’s no ambition without leadership,"
says Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Jeff Tobias. "Bands
that function as total democracies can frequently be sluggish
and often unsatisfying. In any case, someone needs to be steering
Leadership can come in various forms. Some have one appointed
leader, whereas others have many leaders, acting more democratically.
“If it's a benevolent dictatorship where one person
is in charge but they make it engaging and fun, that can be
great," explains Jeff. "If the band has more of
a collaborative dynamic, then the leadership role can rotate
when appropriate – for example, one person can lead
on booking, the other person can lead on artwork, etc."
No matter what your band's unique culture is,
these 10 essential leadership qualities will help you navigate
just about any situation you encounter with your bandmates.
Musicians are sometimes stereotyped as partiers or just downright
unprofessional people, but any band with aspirations of making
it big knows just how important it is to prove that wrong.
As we all know, music is an incredibly challenging career
that requires a ton of knowledge, years of practice, discipline,
creativity and organization. The hard work behind it all can
be taken for granted. One way to set the precedent for being
respected and get the results you want is to maintain high
standards of professionalism.
This includes scheduling rehearsals and shows
in advance, being on time, being totally prepared for rehearsals,
promoting your shows in advance replying to emails and phone
calls in a timely fashion. Professionalism helps present the
band in a positive light to the outside world while also setting
an example for internal expectations.
Someone might be a brilliant songwriter and
have lots of great ideas, but a good band member becomes an
amazing band member if he or she is also on time, respectful,
organized and prepared.
It's going to take a lot of time to get to where you want
your group to be, so enjoy the journey. If you're too eager,
you might shoot yourself in the foot. Gather the right people
for the genre and instrumentation you're looking for, and
then practice, practice, practice before performing or recording.
Make sure band members are comfortable with the material,
and if they need extra practice, schedule time for it before
booking your first gig or studio session. The right things
will line up if you're patient, positive and humble.
Just like in a relationship, each person’s expectations
and needs should be discussed. Remember that each musician
brings his or her own expertise, talents, ideas, personal
goals and passions, so let that flourish. If someone feels
taken for granted, unappreciated or overworked, resentment
might build up and affect the music and performances. On the
other hand, if members feel valued and appreciated as individuals,
they will be amped up to bring positive energy and ideas to
"If someone's going to grab the reins,
they should appreciate the support of other musicians and
behave accordingly," Jeff Tobias says. "A good band
leader should inspire confidence and interest in the other
musicians, making their time and efforts feel worthwhile.”
When someone does something well, give positive
feedback – it'll motivate them to perform at their absolute
best more often.
4. An Open Mind
The creative process is a vulnerable experience. When you're
working as a group to create new material or learn new songs,
there will inevitably be moments of imperfection. Since learning
styles and creative vision will vary from person to person,
it's important to stay open-minded throughout the whole process.
Have a brainstorm session, let the creative juices flow, and
allow people to contribute and play around with ideas. This
will happen more freely if the leaders create a supportive
atmosphere. When the leader(s) make final decisions, band
members are more likely to support it they were able to contribute
their own creativity in the process.
5. Big Picture View
Even though many aspects of a band can change and develop
over time, it's good to at least have a sense of what you're
creating and the direction it's heading. This requires some
preparation and thought ahead of time. It's important to be
able to see the big picture as well as all the little details.
Ultimately, it's up to the leader(s) to visualize, communicate
the concepts and determine what needs to be done to materialize
6. Ability to Delegate
Sometimes, it's just too much responsibility for one person
to handle all the details. "In my own experience, it
seems best to have two leaders in the band," says Paul
Hansen. "That way, the one leader won’t be overwhelmed
and alone, but also there won’t be too many cooks in
If you have too much on your plate, delegate
– and be clear about it. No one wants to be the one
loading all the equipment at the end of the show while the
others socialize, or the one marketing the band while others
aren't taking it seriously. If multiple members of the band
have responsibilities beyond learning their parts, it'll become
more equal and enjoyable for everyone.
7. Strong Communication
It's super helpful for the other band members if the leader(s)
express their ideas, goals and vision. This can be anything
from genre to frequency of gigs to long-term vision. It's
also important to lay down the logistical expectations: everyone
coming prepared to practices, being on time, making their
availability known so you can schedule gigs, etc.
"The most high-functioning bands that
I've been in benefited from well-defined roles and reasonable
expectations," Jeff adds. It's up to the leader(s) to
set expectations and to hold the band members accountable
for it. Even if you're the passive type, you'll learn fast
that the best thing to do is be direct and open when something
is bothering you. Otherwise, it may spill into other aspects
of the band and affect the enjoyment of collaborating and
making music. Although it may feel a little awkward, it's
perfectly okay to call someone out if he or she is not living
up to the band’s expectations. No one wants to put up
with that person who never practices and slows the rest of
the group down, so it'll actually ease the tension in the
Good bandleaders have to be able to think quickly and be confident
in their decisions. For example, if it turns out that there's
only time for one more song instead of two at your show, everyone
in the band should automatically know who will choose the
final song. Discussing it for several minutes on stage just
looks unprofessional, and you lose valuable playing time in
It's okay to give guidance, but you also need to give people
some control. A strong leader is able to catch himself/herself
before micromanagement rears its head. Even if you don't fully
agree with your bandmates' opinions, at least support them
by acknowledging that their opinions matter so they don't
feel like just a cog in the machine. They'll be more invested
in the long run. Self-awareness means treating your band members,
engineers, publicist, techs, venue staff (and pretty much
anyone you're working/collaborating with) as you'd like to
be treated if the roles were reversed. Really, it's a pretty
good life rule.
You'll get 100% from your bandmates if everyone is having
fun and feels motivated. Recognize that your band members
are carving out time in their busy lives to learn the songs
– possibly for not a whole lot of money – when
they could be doing other things. Make it an enjoyable and
stimulating experience for everyone involved.