“Democracy Is A Band’s Worst Enemy” by Ness Benamran

cablesNess Benamran is one the tastiest, and busiest, music makers here in Nelson B.C.   His latest moniker is Mooves, but you might also know him as The Man in Havana and Kashoo. He has released music on Ropeadope Records, completed remixes for Adham Shaikh and Delhi2Dublin, and opens for D2D (as T.M.I.H.) this Saturday Feb. 22nd at Spiritbar. He’s also a great writer, and here has great insight into the workings – and failings – of “being in a band”. Hope you enjoy – NFN

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There are two types of bands in this world: there’s the band that likes to get together on occasion and kick some jams, you know, drink a few brews, smoke a couple dubs and play some music. No pressure, no deadlines, no drama. Then, there’s the band that has a distinct mission and shares a common goal: to be known. Whether it’s being known as local small-town legends or international superstars, this band centers around one main agreement: that there’s work to be done. However, many bands ignore the reality that, in order for this work to get done, someone probably needs to step up and embrace a role of leadership: a bandleader.

It’s just unrealistic that everyone in the band will be equally motivated, focused and organised all the time. A house doesn’t get built because everyone magically knows when and what to do: there is always a general contractor, overseeing the project, that works with and relies on the skills of a carpenter, an electrician, a labourer and so on. In other words, a bandleader simply fulfills one role in a team setting. Mistakenly, this role is often associated with a dynamic of control or authority but, as it turns out, it’s actually the hardest function a band member can take on, as it requires discipline, backbone and, most elusively, the genuine support and buy-in of all the other band mates.

Leading a band = Project Management, not Dictatorship

For a group to work well together, it’s imperative that all members have creative input as well as influence over the project’s direction, so being a band’s leader doesn’t mean that you call all the shots. Instead, all that’s happening is that the band has appointed one person to keep the project on track and make sure that the work does, in fact, get done. As an example, it’s common for a band to meet for practice and waste a lot of it, literally, “dicking around”. Practice time for a band (that wants to get somewhere) should be spent on writing and rehearsing music. Sounds obvious? At your next practice, keep an eye on your watch and add up all the time that goes by where you weren’t actually working on your tunes. Don’t be surprised to find out that this can easily amount to a third of your practice. Of course, nobody wants to be “that guy”, so it might not be such a bad idea to have a bandleader who can pipe up and say “Hey you guys, let’s get back to work!”

 Communicate, communicate, communicate

True, it takes a special person to take on a managerial role and not turn into a complete control freak. What’s important to remember, though, is that you are only in this position because the rest of the band allows you to (believe me, this is a fact, even if you think that it’s your band because you started it). As such, admit your mistakes. Accept and be open about the fact that you don’t know everything. At same time, always be checking in to make sure everyone is on the same page and that everyone’s goals and expectations are still aligned. Casually encourage conversations that uncover your bandmates’ concerns or sense of accomplishments. Recognize that you’re a part of a team and act accordingly.

 Delegate and ask for help

For a gigging band, aside from practices, there is an inordinate amount of tasks that need to be taken care of. Anyone that has organised a gig for their music project knows what I mean: venues need to be contacted, dates agreed upon and booked, posters need to be designed, the fans need to be notified, the media needs to be courted, the show needs to be promoted… the list seems endless. A good bandleader identifies each member’s talents and proposes tasks for them to take on. If the drummer is good with Photoshop, he should be making the posters. If the bass player is a social butterfly, she should be networking and promoting the show. On the other hand, the band should recognize that one person can’t and shouldn’t do everything: support your team leader.

Call out the bad apples

This one is tricky. But, a pitfall of “democracy” in a band is that slackers often don’t get “called on their shit”. Slackers destroy a band’s morale. There’s nothing worse than practicing your keyboard parts all week to discover that the drummer hasn’t even touched his kit since the last practice. There’s usually one band member that seems incapable of showing up to practice on time. Or showing up sober. Or assuming that the only role they have in the group is to wank sloppily on their guitar. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, it’s a bandleader’s unfortunate yet necessary responsibility to bring this to light.

Lead by example

This is true for any leadership role: practice what you preach. You’re never going to inspire someone to practice harder if your own playing never progresses. Be the first to show up to practice and get the jam space ready for work. Don’t hog the attention and let everyone’s talent shine. And finally, don’t expect any special privileges because you’re the project manager: it’s just another job that needs to get done.

As you can see, saying that “democracy is a band’s worst enemy” isn’t a criticism against respecting everyone’s value and input in the project. Rather, it’s an observation that teams rarely self-direct or self-maintain a consistent focus and distribution of labour. Therefore, if you and your bandmates are looking at each other blankly wondering why, after 6 months of playing together, you’re still rewriting the same 5 songs or merely daydreaming about better gigs, consider assigning someone to the driver’s seat. You don’t even need a champion race car driver, you just need someone that’ll keep everyone focused on the road.

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