Diplomacy: How To Fire A Bandmate

Road Worrier: Dropping The Hammer

Single Strokes

One of the innumerable entries of rock lore tells us of a clear-cut case in which a bandleader was able to guiltlessly “fire” two intimate associates in one fell swoop. The incident took place when his dim-witted guitarist showed up in the studio wearing one of the bandleader’s favorite T-shirts. Good-bye guitarist; ditto, wife. Although surely not an emotional decision, it was certainly justified.

Often our reasons for dismissal are fairly ironclad (though hopefully not as traumatizing). Among them are: inebriation, shirking of responsibilities (gear loading, punctuality, learning parts, an so on.), disruptive behavior, or basically anything that can potentially capsize the already precarious vessel of a touring band. Occasionally (yet more awkwardly), the conditions under which we must let someone go are a bit more gray. How, exactly, do we sack someone who has played their heart out, been on time, caused no trouble, in short, are guilty of only one insurmountable crime — they suck. Okay, maybe they don’t suck, but they’re inarguably holding the band back.

I believe, in all cases, if a band member has sufficient redeeming qualities (and they must have had at one time — after all, they got in the band, right?), they’re worth a few talkings-to. Ideally, the member closest to the guilty party should attempt this. Other candidates include the most diplomatic member, or the bandleader. Full-band interventions can make a person thorny and defensive.

Having been in this position (both sides, I’m afraid), I’ve found that a private, non-confrontational broaching of the problem achieves the best results. Make every effort to come from a place of friendship, so as not to be construed as “the messenger.” Let the person know how important they are to the band, and perhaps gently offer a few tips on how they might improve their role. With each subsequent discussion, impart a little more clearly how troubling their transgressions have become.

I’ve found three to be the limit — after that, jettison their dead ass. By this time it’s clear they either can’t cut it or don’t give a damn. And if you’ve exhausted every approach, then you’ve more than done your part. By this time, if the party in question hasn’t made sufficient efforts to carry his or her weight in the band, then, as surely as holding onto a drowning victim in a rescue attempt, they’ll pull you all down with them.

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