Let’s talk a about politics. I’m not talking about party politics. I’m talking about how we behave in different environments as a musician.
Bands are 100% social environments. Whether you’re in the friendly cradle of a friendship-based band or if you’re a hired hand in the cold presence of strangers, reading the social environment correctly is critical to your comfort level – and we perform better when we’re comfortable.
If we feel intimidated, nervous, or disrespected, our comfort level is affected which affects our confidence and then we don’t play our best. In fact, sometimes it’s just an awful feeling and we play terribly.
I’ve performed with many musicians who are gracious and supportive. They understand that if every member of the band feels good about themselves, the band will sound good. I’ve also performed with musicians who need to establish their place in the pecking order like a big rooster. They’re not
supportive. They’re jerks who demand that you acknowledge their superiority.
When this happens, everything suffers – even THEIR performance, because they put everyone else on edge, and that affects the whole, which in turn, affects their performance. When THEY make everyone feel uncomfortable, they’re playing with a band that’s not performing at an optimal level.
Little things people do on stage can really affect how comfortable everyone is. A smile or nod of approval goes such a long way.
Again – bands are a social environment and all the rules that apply to normal human interaction apply there, too. Getting that positive glance on a gig is great. Getting or giving the ‘stink eye’ is never a good thing. I must admit, I’ve given the stink eye and then felt awful later because I know how it feels to get it. Hopefully I’m getting better about that as I grow up.
In my opinion, smart band politics means to be supportive, even if someone is struggling. The stink eye will never help. If criticism is required, figure out a constructive way to make your point. Sometimes it’s really hard, and sometimes you don’t have time, but try. Knowing how and when to say something, and knowing when to stay quiet, is an ongoing learning process.
Are there politics in bands? Yes, and every situation is different. In the long run, after you learn to play well, it’s all about the hang. Musicians want to be with people whose company they enjoy. But when you’re new and trying to read the scene, take the advice of one of my favorite Americans, Will Rogers:
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
But most importantly, be supportive with your comments, facial expressions and body language. If it’s a substandard situation, you can always politely turn down the gig next time.