So earlier this month I wrote an article about the “Main dude” in a band and how that can impact band dynamics. It got quite a bit of traction, especially, I noticed, among main dudes from bands across the world. However, a question that got raised by several friends of mine was simply “What do you do if the guy who styles himself as the main dude doesn’t actually do anything?” I’ll be honest – I hadn’t thought of this question even though its one I struggle with. There are tons of bands I work with where the main member doesn’t actually do anything but still bitches about how their bandmates are totally useless. I get that and that’s endlessly aggravating. So this is a piece dedicated to the secret drivers of bands, the folks who need to suffer under fragile egos and inflated senses of self importance in figuring out what needs to be done.
There can be a lot of weird reasons why the person who thinks they are the main dude is not actually. Maybe they were the ones who started the band and want to claim that they retain some supremacy over decision making. Or maybe they handle a lot of the number crunching and ordering the merch and whatnot so they view themselves as the business person in the band but they don’t handle any of the relationships that get you good shows. There’s also a chance that it’s the opposite – they are the friendliest person in the band but when you try and give them some small project to work on they totally shoot themselves in the foot. It’s not easy to balance these things out, especially with the sorts of people who like to play in independent bands. It’s not an easy conversation to have either – you don’t want to be the guy who says “Chuck, you’re kind of useless, stop shooting yourself in the foot.” Especially if you’ve known Chuck for a decade!
What you need to do is try and establish how much every member of the band does. This can be done in a variety of ways, from band meetings, to spreadsheets to something else entirely. It’s good to have it in writing though, this way if someone is trying to take too much power without the appropriate amount of contribution it’s easy to put them in their place. I think another key when trying to determine balances of power is to put a statute of limitations on any one achievement. For example – you don’t want the guy who booked all the shows in basements early on to insist on remaining in those basements if you’re starting to get real venues. Sometimes people think that they have more experience and knowledge than they do, simply because they have been a part of the scene for so long. That’s totally valid, it makes a lot of sense, and it’s something they hold on to, often desperately. Every case is different but you need to appreciate individuals perceptions of band dynamics before going into any sort of ‘distribution of power’ oriented meeting.
I think the other thing to realize is that different members of the band may place different values on various band tasks, and furthermore these values might be totally different from the reality of the situation. I think it’s important to be open and frank about these realities and figure out what matters the most to your band on a day to day basis. That is to say, if someone is handling the artwork that isn’t usually as important as the guy who books all the shows, because you need shows on a weekly basis and art maybe twice a year. There are exceptions to be sure, like if your artist was producing dozens of pieces annually, but emphasizing the day to day performance is generally a good rule of thumb. The person who is handling the majority of the top 5 most important day to day things is probably the main dude, that’s just the way it goes. Again – this is the sort of thing that sucks to talk about, but oftentimes it just needs to be done for the greater good of your band.
Now sometimes someone really can’t understand that they aren’t all that they think they are cracked up to be. This might be because of a personality thing, a fundamental misunderstanding of the industry, shifting roles within the band or something else entirely. It’s the sort of thing that you just need to accept and then make an executive decision on. In the worst case scenario you have to kick the domineering person out of the band. This is often because when it comes down to it you need to make the best choice to allow your music to grow, and if someone keeps hurting the opportunities that your band might be able to get then it doesn’t make sense to allow yourself and your peers in the group to suffer just because they think that they are hot shit. So when your main dude sucks, be ready to just move on. Even if you have to do it under a different name.
Main dudes in bands are a tricky thing. It’s easy to find stories of groups that fell apart due to a power struggle, or bands where the power struggle is ongoing. Again – it’s life in the arts where we all constantly are beating our heads against a wall and wondering why things can’t get better. If your personnel are holding you back then you have to look out for number one. I know that I’m all about the community, and I think this opinion is consistent with that. You simply need to be aware when there is something that needs to be cut out so that you can continue to be the best member of your scene that you can be. I’d rather you hurt one persons feelings than have your band end up being a leech on local music, such that when things fall apart for your group you can’t find a new way forward.
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