On playing music with others

Disagreements foster resentment and I’m not great at dealing with conflict. I think I do a great job of taking offence, of being on the back foot, batting away my issues with a scowl, a defensive slant to life and a ‘woe is me’ attitude.

These are probably not positives.

I’ve had numerous chats with mates over the last couple of weeks about the trials and tribulations of being in a band. My closing thought post last-nights-rehearsal was the idea that spending time with other people is the hardest part of playing music.

Touring is hard: late nights, travel, dealing with cranky bar staff/venue owners, battling equipment failures, eating crap food and playing to either people who don’t care, or completely empty rooms. Booking gigs, writing songs, rehearsing, performing etc are all tough, but nothing against the actuality of spending time with other humans. Putting yourself out there musically, worrying about your songs and whether your voice sounds good, or if you can even sing at all. These are all problems. But these things don’t break up bands. These things don’t demolish friendships.

How do we play music and keep projects together when the obvious role models are all so negative? Famous bands who broke up from personal disagreements number in the thousands, from the Beatles to Fleetwood Mac to The Police. Incredible bands who struggle along together but famously hate each other in their personal lives are just as common. The Rolling Stones have separate jets, separate limos and separate dressing rooms. They’d most likely have separate stages if it was at all possible.

There is no easy obvious fix. Just a willingness to embrace your own failings and try again. In the same way that romantic relationships fall apart and the participants decide whether its worth keeping this thing going and working through your problems, playing music requires an openness and an ability to see things from another’s perspective. Where it gets harder is when you tie in creative decisions (my song is better than yours), finances (one writer getting a larger cut than another), and the general stresses of gigs. Throw it all together and we have this vibrant, verdant scene with a cynical underbelly of musicians who have played in bands with people they never want to see again.

I’d love to tie everything up with a nice little solution, so I wander back through the Daily Stoic. In today’s entry (probably the darkest yet), Marcus Aurelius’ comment is: “Don’t mind me, I’m only dying slow”. The entry continues with a cliché on how every second can never be taken back and today could be the last day ever.

Placing life and relationships and music into context, if we can garner an enjoyment from the music we play then it’s a positive. If we’re not gaining enjoyment then something needs to shift to bring it back. Bit like life I guess?

Most of my greatest moments, the times I’ve felt truly inspired and happy and in awe of this thing we call life have been on stage, sharing a musical experience with someone.


  1. Hi Nathan – the main thing, no the only thing, that keeps bands together, is management. So many bands ask for a manager to get gigs etc. No – that is what agents do. Managers, well the good ones anyway, keep the show on the road. Cheers

    1. Interesting point John! There’s a lot of independent acts (particularly in the Australian blues scene) who manage to stay together long-term. Whats the secret there?

      1. Well, Nathan – are they “bands” or a bandleader with rotating members? A bandleader is basically a manager. The important issue is the direction. Who steers the ship? And to where?

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