Looking to tour the world and leave a musical legacy? Only if you don’t call it quits first.
Posted: 5 February 2019
Music is constantly changing. How to create, release and listen to music has evolved drastically over recent years, but the reasons why artists call it a day are pretty much identical to 50 years ago. In this final instalment of our Moving On Up series we tackle why bands decide to throw in the towel and how you can avoid the same fate.
You’re not making enough money to get to your next show. You’re barely eating and are sick of sleeping on floors across the country. This isn’t exactly the glamorous rock and roll lifestyle you originally signed up for. Time to sack it off, right?
Lots of bands must go without during the early part of their careers. The harsh truth is that with a small fanbase you won’t be able to fill out large venues or bring in huge amounts of income from sales of your music or merch.
Having said that, the rewards are worth it. Think about why you first got into making music and take pride in the fact that you are doing something that you love. Check out our Cash is King article for some imaginative ideas to bring in the pennies. If you truly can’t make it work, then consider balancing your music career with another job.
You’ve never really noticed how annoying the singer/ guitarist/ drummer/ insert other band member here really is until you’re cramped into a tour van with them for a month. Between their ego and their desire to control every decision the band makes, you sit and think… ‘I can’t deal with them for a few minutes let alone the rest of our career’.
Being in a band is hard! Simon and Garfunkel, Noel and Liam, Lennon and McCartney, Axl Rose and Slash (plus hundreds of others) have all had major fallouts, some of which are irreparable, even despite their previous success and the huge stakes at play. One thing that’s certain for all artists is that you need to be able to work well with others. It could be others in your band, managers, publishers, or even your fans but without their support you are going nowhere.
That doesn’t mean that you need to bend over backwards to please them. Communicating in an upfront and honest way will help others respect you. Ultimately everyone is pushing towards the same goal of success so put time into keeping your relationships positive, otherwise people will quickly move on to the next promising artist.
You can practise Tuesday and Thursday this week, but the rest of the band can only do Wednesday and Friday, unless you sort out an alternative rehearsal room and travel an hour each way to get there and pay double your usual rate. So at the end of it all, why bother?
Real life hits hard. Working and living takes up a huge chunk of your time, which when combined with everyone else’s responsibilities leaves little time to practise. A band in today’s industry needs to be run like a startup company, with clear business goals and a plan on how to reach them.
As a group you also need to set some simple rules, such as how often you will practise each work, and how many strikes you can get for missing a rehearsal before you’re out of the band. Everyone needs to be held to the same standards and put the effort in in order to make your mark in music.
Why is the bassist hell-bent on creating a 90-minute jazz hybrid album? You thought this was a rock band! This is not what you signed up for.
A band breaking up because of “creative differences” is such a common occurrence that it’s become a cliché. However if a band aren’t all on the same page artistically and 100% committed then it’s a recipe for disaster. One of the earliest lessons you will learn as a musician is the need to compromise to keep people on side.
It’s also well worth sitting down early on with everyone involved to agree on your goals and how to reach them. Are decisions made in your group as a dictatorship or a democracy? It’s no use spending years building a following and booking a big tour to suddenly find out someone in the band has no interest in being away from home for long periods at a time.
You've been grinding away for years and years and all you have to show for it is a ringing in your ears and a few grey hairs. It's a lot of effort for very little reward…
Plenty of bands have split because they weren’t reaching the heights they had first imagined. There are a million reasons why an artist isn’t as big as they deserve to be, and most of them aren’t your fault. It can be frustrating when things aren’t going your way but perseverance is key.
Bruce Springsteen’s first two albums flopped. It wasn't until Biffy Clyro's fourth album,that they broke through to achieve mainstream success. David Bowie's first album didn't even chart in the UK or the US. The lesson here is don’t give up! Plenty of wildly successful artists struggled to initially make a name for themselves and your career may be following a similar path.
It’s not easy being an artist. The sheer number of bands who haven’t had wildly successful careers proves that. It’s a mix of incredible highs and extremely challenging times, but you can mitigate that by being clear about what you want to achieve and by persevering. After all, you never know when your fortunes are going to turn around!