Breaking up the band: When to call it quits | Bleader

Breaking up the band: When to call it quits

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Every summer, I volunteer as a band coach and teach little kids how to play music at Girls Rock! Chicago. And every year, someone inevitably quits the band—usually it's only for five minutes, but still.

My first year at GR!C, I wasn't expecting this situation. The band I was coaching had been working for almost a week in preparation for a showcase where they'd only get to perform one song. Two days before the show, the drummer presented a completely new song to her eight-year-old bandmates. It was a great song, and she'd stayed up all night working on it. But it was a little more advanced than her bandmates could play, and with the show mere days away, there just wasn't enough time for everyone to learn the skills required. The band voted to stick with the original song they'd rehearsed all week. The drummer, devastated and, I'm guessing, humiliated in the face of her creativity being rejected by her peers, immediately quit the band and took refuge under a desk. Naturally. I had no idea what to say to get her to crawl out from under her tiny fortress, much less how to get the band back together again. I have to admit that a little piece of my heart broke off watching her hide under that desk—I can't even tell you how many times in my life I've wanted to do exactly that. So I ended up telling her that, and then launched into an off-the-cuff speech about diplomacy and how sometimes you have to take one for the team and about how you have a lifetime to see a song through to fruition. Little did I know at the time, I would end up giving a version of that speech every year to the girl who quits, and little did I know, I was actually giving some advice to myself to stick it out with my own band.

With any group project, whether it involves a band or an astronaut job or maybe even a marriage, we all hit a wall at some point. We all have ideas that get rejected. We all get burned-out when we've been doing something for too long, or when we have been doing too much in too short a time span. We put a lot of effort into the things we care about, and we can all relate to feeling underappreciated when those efforts aren't well received. At our breaking points, we wish we had the balls to throw our hands up and hide under a desk. But let's face it. We're adults now—our pride and self-respect have robbed us of such simple solutions. We choose to endure with our socially acceptable masks firmly in place and our heads held high.

So. Are you really ready to quit your band, or are you just tired? Let's discuss.

You should probably quit your band if:

You've lost all interest in the project. As in, you have seriously lost all interest in the project. You are legitimately bored with it, which, btw, is quite different than being frustrated with it. You never think about it. And on the rare occasion that you do think about it, you are bored by thinking about it. Go watch the shadows on the wall or something. That might be more fulfilling.

You stop setting up your instrument altogether. You've managed to show up on time for rehearsal, but you already know that nothing is going to happen. I was in a band once where we ended up just sitting on the floor and gossiping. Soon I stopped getting my guitar out of the case; eventually I just stopped going to practice. I know a band whose "rehearsals" disintegrated into making competitions out of drop-kicking empty beer cans into an empty case of beer. These activities would be a lot cooler if everyone could forgo the guise of playing music and just say stuff like, "Hey, wanna meet up on Monday at 8 PM to kick beer cans around?"

Band practice is a chore. Remember when you were little and you had to do all of your chores before you could go out to play? If your band is not your main source of income, and rehearsal feels like an obligation that you dread going to, and you wish you had that time to do other things, do other things.

You and your bandmates truly have artistic differences. Please note the word "truly." "Artistic differences" is a PR phrase that kinda cracks me up because it's often a fancy way of saying everyone hates each other. But my bands always have artistic differences. In fact, humans in general always have artistic differences. I may or may not have thrown a guitar and gotten a recording engineer's intern fired over artistic differences, but I didn't quit my band over it. When the gap is so wide that you're not on the same page, much less reading the same book as your bandmates—i.e., you're dying to play electronica while everyone else wants to play 90s grunge, or you really hate the music you're making together—you've entered the realm of artistic differences. But if you're still fighting, if you still care enough to push and pull, then guess what? You're still in the band.

Everyone hates each other. You may play the best music ever with these wretched people. But if you hate them and they hate you and you hate spending time with them, plus you're not making bank on this band, then there are probably a billion better ways to spend your precious time.

You should probably not quit your band if:

You just need a break, not a breakup. You may be burned-out. You may have played or listened to one of your own songs so many times the mere thought of it makes you want to gouge out your own eyes. Go play music with people you've never played with before. Go make a song on your own. Play an instrument that's unfamiliar to you. Or hey, don't play music at all. Maybe you don't even want to listen to music right now. Maybe what you really need to do is lie down and take a monthlong nap. There's nothing wrong with that. Trying any of these things might give you a fresh perspective.

You're ambivalent. You're probably not quite ready to quit . . . yet. It's easy to get stuck on the ambivalence hamster wheel. You can run that loop for a long time, maybe even years, but vacillating is a part of the decision-making process. Eventually your psyche will become so worn down by all of this thinking that it will have no other option but to save you from yourself and make a decision already. It all comes down to that same incredibly annoying phrase that happy people who have met their soul mates like to tell you about how you know when you've found "the One": when you know, you know.

Andrea Bauer writes about band life on Saturday.

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