OnlineRock: Empowering Musicians  
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What's a Working Band to Do?
Part 14: Breaking Up Isnít Hard to Do, Staying Together Is
by Erik Jay

When researchers in the psychology department of a major American university were conducting research for the Army on the dynamics of battlefield bonding and foxhole camaraderie, they were curious to find out in what other relationships people would develop such dramatically powerful and protective loyalties. They found similarly strong bonds could (but not necessarily would) form, as one might expect, in marriages, on liferafts and in socially marginalized cults — and, as one might not have expected, among such performers as bands, dance troupes and casts of plays and movies.

In fact, the strongest relationships noted among performers was in rock and pop bands; acting groups and, say, jazz combos built up strong bonds, too, but since they were likely to be older and more flexible in their work arrangements, they lacked one thing that made soldiers in wartime and rock ‘n’ roll bands develop similarly — the bunker mentality.

In other words, the Boys in Company B and the boys in the band share a mindest, that of “us against the world.” If you are a solo singer/songwriter, or a “union hall and on-call” type of musician, the advice in this column may still be useful, although not as valuable as it might be for some 19- and 20-year-olds finding their first flush of success playing medium-size arenas and entering the charts at #30 with a bullet. If you are starting to make it in a band – you’re working regularly, generating fan interest, enjoying some Internet buzz and getting some local and regional ink – you should do yourself (and your bandmates) a favor and study the dynamics of group behavior.

Especially groups with that bunker mentality mentioned earlier.

That psych department study, by the way, showed that soldiers and bands both developed the strong bonds, but that soldiers were far more likely to retain them. That’s because their roles never changed while they were together; they all stayed soldiers or left the group. On the other hand, roles do change among members of rock bands, as personalities rise and fall on the public popularity meter, leadership positions change hands and other fringe behaviors (sexual, chemical, etc.) affect “unit cohesion.”

There is a lot of work involved with surviving the psychological, emotional, financial and artistic battles that take place among bandmates. Various techniques of group psychology, as well as “relationship counseling” methods, can be adopted to ease the stresses, but even arriving at a consensus about the need for such “band therapy” is problematic. If two out of five band members don’t think it’s important to work on the relationships and the “clash of psyches,” that disagreement itself could become the very splinter that later turns into the very wedge that forces a band break-up.

So it all comes down (as it usually does in life) to communication – clear, honest, regularly scheduled and continuous. Taking a hard look at things when they’re not working out right, and being open to change and improvement, are widely known to be good ideas for keeping groups, companies and even countries going in the right direction; what’s rather more counterintuitive is the fact that such introspection and self-assessment is just as important when things are going well.

Just as many bands break up because of success as they do because of failure. In previous columns you have heard about the importance of defining your expectations, your goals and your “master plan.


Erik Jay is a writer, designer, and BMI composer/artist who lives in L.A. with one wife and two dogs. At his site, erikjay.com, you can take Door #1 for his editorial and design work, or Door #2 for original music.

 
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