How, When And Why To Fire Or Replace A Band Member
Replacing someone in your band is never easy, nor fun, but in some cases it may become necessary to fire someone from your band. I’m going to share with you ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ to fire a band mate based on my experiences in Rhapsody of Fire, other bands I’ve played in and other professional bands I know very personally and well.
Obviously there can be many reasons why you might need to replace a band mate. In my experience every case is unique and sensitive. For example, we had to separate from our very first drummer some years ago and it was really painful because we were and still are really good friends. Our music is very technical and fast, and even if the former drummer was able to play each single song, it was very hard for him to do it for 60 or 90 minutes keeping the energy and the performance high and steady. In that particular case we started to look for a new drummer long before our very first European tour. We had the luxury of ‘time’ to find another drummer in the meantime.
Later, we had to fire our bass player because of personal incompatibilities. It was kind of sad but necessary. Again we did it in a moment when the band was not in the studio or touring. In this case it happened right after the end of a tour so again we had the time to search for a proper replacement. I do not believe in firing someone in a middle of a tour for example... unless the situation becomes so critical to a point where no one can stand each other. I have experienced that and it’s very hard sometimes to solve everything by talking. Of course the band does definitely need to talk when there is a real problem in order to resolve the conflict or at least contain it until a replacement can be found if firing the person is necessary.
When talking to band mates about problems, always try to get everyone to talk freely. Listening is critically important. Instead of always thinking about what you are going to say when it is your turn to speak, it’s best to focus on trying to truly understand what the other person is saying and from where his words are coming from. Try to understand if the other person is talking from impulse and emotions of the moment or if his words are well thought out and these are his concerns, problems or objections based on careful consideration.
Before you speak, make sure that you understand the other person. This means you may need to repeat to the other person what his problem is and ask him to verify that you understand it correctly. More problems occur because people misunderstand what others mean when they talk and because some people might feel that they have not been heard and understood. When the other person feels that way, it is almost impossible for them to hear, understand and accept what you are saying if your opinions are different from each other.
There are some issues that of course cannot be resolved and the band leader has no choice but to fire a musician. From my point of view I can’t stand it when musicians believe they are ‘rock stars’ when they clearly are not. They start acting and talking in an inappropriate way, sometimes causing other people in the music business, like journalists for example, to think that the entire band might have the same kind of mindset when often the exact opposite is true. This can really damage a band in some cases.
I really can’t stand childish behavior, especially when other musicians or technicians are working and sweating trying to fix a problem directly for this person! The worst thing, which is actually quite common in many bands, is when a few musicians in a band get together and play games against the other musicians, creating a sort of alliance, trying to take control of band decisions or to create a bad mood inside the band, just because they are unhappy with something, maybe what they are being paid, maybe their girlfriends left them, maybe they are just unhappy about their lives and want everyone else to become unhappy like them. Those are only small examples that may not sound so important in influencing a band’s life, but if you have to experience these kind of people every day during a long tour, it can be unbearable.
We have had to make hard decisions in order to keep the band united, strong, and able to keep going.
One of the most important reasons to fire a band member is when that musician is causing a problem that can’t be resolved and that problem begins to spread like cancer throughout the band, the crew or others who work with you. Bands are usually not destroyed by ‘problems’, they are destroyed by problems that spread like cancer. You MUST not allow these types of problems to stand any longer than possible because they may eat your band alive.
When you have to fire someone in your band, consider the timing. Try not to fire anyone when the stakes are high (such as in the middle of a tour or in the production of a new record). Try to resolve the problem or at least contain it until your current tour or record is complete.
The best way to fire someone is in a polite, diplomatic and business like manner. Don’t let your emotions get involved even if you are very angry or upset with the other person. Be professional, if you aren’t, this can really hurt you later in various and sometimes unexpected ways.
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