6 Things Every Band Leader Should Know

….if you are or have been a Chicago musician, you will probably be familiar with Steve Hashimoto’s weekly newsletter called “News from the Trenches”. Steve is a bass player in the Chicago area, and his newsletter is great. Steve pulls no punches and tells it like it is. I have found that whether you agree with him or not, he brings a lot of insight from a working musician’s standpoint, and overall much of his stuff is totally hilarious. Last week he wrote a few comments about what band leaders should know or be aware of. I asked Steve if I could list them here and he agreed. Here they are…

Excerpted from Steve Hashimoto’s News from the Trenches….

……On another front, I had another gig that showed the perils of being a bandleader (it wasn’t my gig). I won’t name names, because I do think that this particular bandleader’s heart is in the right place, but he does so many things to shoot himself in the foot that, if not for his benefit (he NEVER listens to my advice) but for the benefit of maybe you younger, aspiring bandleaders (I have been doing this for a little bit of time you dig?), here’s Mr. Moto’s condensed bandleader course:

1. ) ALWAYS tell your sidemen as much info as there is; if you don’t have it, then get it! Start time, end time, pay (and when and how they’re going to get paid), dress, load-in, what they’re expected to bring (music stand, lights, whatever), address, directions — this is the minimum of what a sideman should expect to get from a leader. And don’t lie about stuff (this particular guy doesn’t lie to be a weasel, but he feels that guys won’t work for him if they really know how little a gig pays or how long it is, and I keep telling him that guys usually will if you’re up-front, but if they’re expecting XX amount of dollars for XX amount of time and then, on the gig, it turns out to be XX-minus-$20 for XX-plus-an-hour, they not only won’t EVER work for you again, but they’ll tell everyone they know that you’re a lying son-of-a-bitch).

2.) KEEP RECORDS! Especially if it’s a large band you need to know who you have on a gig, what chairs need to be filled, and, if it’s that kind of band, who’s getting paid what. And if a gig gets cancelled, check off every guy that you tell about the cancellation so guys don’t have a non-existant gig on the books. WRITE S**T DOWN!

3.) NEVER TAKE A GIG that you can’t handle. If a club offers you a gig and expects you to fill the joint and you don’t have a GUARANTEED FOLLOWING, don’t take it! If you promise XX-amount of players and you don’t think you can field a band that size, don’t take it! If you’re asked to sign a contract for X:00 to X:00pm and you think that guys can’t make the hit on time or have to leave early, don’t sign! If you have personnel problems, walk the walk, don’t talk the talk. If you keep threatening to fire people who are late or miss rehearsals, then DO IT! This guy keeps walking around looking like Dave Wanstadt on a Monday after the Bears lost, saying “It’s not MY fault, I can’t control these people.” Fire everyone, including MY complainin’ ass, if you have to. If you don’t, well, tough cookies. You bought it, now pay for it. And DON’T be docking people for something that’s your fault — if someone’s late because you didn’t give them the right info, that’s your problem.

4.) LIVE IN REALITY! Don’t be telling prospective players that you have 150 high-paying gigs booked when you really have 20 average-paying ones (which, admittedly, is not bad, but it’s a big difference). Don’t be telling prospective players that so-and-so is in the band if you’ve only talked to that locally-famous person about the possibilities. If (as happened on a recent gig) a soundman asks you if the horn guys are here yet and they’re nowhere in sight, DON’T SAY YES! Tell him the truth so he can move on to something else. Take care of business before you act like a rock star.

5.) DON’T WHINE! If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the f***in’ kitchen! No one’s holding a gun to your head. We lead bands because we have a vision, and every bandleader ought to know that it’s not an easy job. ONLY another bandleader cares about your problems, or understands them. Your sidemen don’t, your clients don’t, your booking agents don’t, and your audiences don’t. If you don’t think you’re up to the challenge, then be a sideman, no one’s going to fault you for it. But if you choose to walk the dark road of leadership, keep it to yourself, or join APOL and talk about your problems with other bandleaders. And NEVER put your business on the mic, onstage! Don’t point out to an audience (who might not know the difference until you tell them) that you’re missing a third of the band! (The only exception to this is something I sometimes do, I’ll admit; if after playing a particularly hard chart and playing it well, I may tell an audience that we were sightreading, because it lets them know how great my players are, and it makes them feel like they’re in on a secret).

6.) REHEARSING IS A DRAG. No one likes to rehearse, unfortunately, so when you do, make sure that every second of the rehearsal is productive. Everyone should have their own s*** together, ’cause we’re all s’posed to be adults here. If cats keep their own books, then they should have their music together. Singers should know the arrangements. People should be on time. And if they’re not, FIRE THEY ASSES! And don’t rehearse people to death. If you have much work, it’s kind of ok, but the ratio should not even approach one rehearsal per gig; in an ideal world (and I know, this world doesn’t exist), you would have 10 or 12 gigs a month, and one rehearsal a month, to work up new material.