Line-up changes are something that every musician in a band has likely had to deal with at one point or another. In a nutshell, they’re never a good time.
Whether someone has made the decision to leave a project or they were – for lack of a better term – kicked out by the group, line-up changes can be a huge source of stress and uncertainty. However if lineup changes are not dealt with in the right way, they can completely derail a band’s progress.
As someone who has been playing in bands since my early teens, I’ve dealt with my fair share of line-up changes. Whether it’s been me coming into an established band that needed a new singer, or a band I founded losing members or needing to part ways with someone, I’ve seen it all.
I remember the first major line-up change I experienced though. The guitarist I founded my last band with had to leave Australia to go back to Indonesia. He was the first person I felt truly ‘got’ me as an artist and being that he was so far from home, he’d literally migrated into my family. We were very close and being 22 at the time, both professionally and personally, it felt like a huge loss.
Much like a breakup, when a band member leaves – especially a core member – it can sometimes feel that you’ll never make it work with another band member or band again. But like your first love, you’ll get over it. Here’s how to do so and keep moving forward.
Don’t take it personally
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about band members leaving it’s that it is rarely a reflection on you, it’s a reflection on them. The ol’ concept of, ‘Making it’ in music is not as relevant or important to some people and the music industry is a beast that not everyone can handle. And that’s ok.
Similarly, people’s circumstances change and their music tastes evolve. It’s all just a part of life. I’m sure you’d be hard-pressed to think of a band that had it’s entire line-up all the way through. Motley Crue came close…kind of (I loved John Carabi). But to be honest I think everyone is just surprised they’re still alive, let alone together!
When someone leaves a band you can catch yourself wondering what you did wrong or why you didn’t see the signs. But at the end of the day, if someone isn’t into it anymore for whatever reason, they shouldn’t be in the band. It’s as simple as that.
It’s ok to be sad or freaked out
When you trust four other individuals with your career and you think they have your back, it can be devastating when they leave. I’ve experienced a whole range of emotions after a line up change: anger, sadness, feeling alone or even feeling relieved! Take some time to process that the working relationship has ended. Hopefully, if things have ended in a good way, you will still have the friendship.
Leave things on good terms
That’s not to say it’s not going to be awkward as hell at first. If you’re the one leaving the band or initiating giving someone the boot, try and be REALLY clear as to why. The worst thing is being unsure of why someone is leaving or why you’ve been fired from the job. So if you’re instigating this line-up change, you need to lay all the cards out on the table and keep it as professional as possible.
Don’t forget to give people space. I’ve never had a super ugly band breakup but whenever there has been a hint of animosity between myself and old band members, it usually dissolves over time. Not sure if I’m just super nostalgic but I honestly think that playing in a band is a unique experience that, especially if you’ve toured together, creates a special bond. You should honour that.
Reflect on what you’ve achieved and your own talents
If this is not your first line-up change, you’re ahead of the game because if you’ve made it work once before, you can do it again. When the guitarist I mentioned earlier left my old band I honestly thought I could never write music again – I know, very dramatic! But logically I know I’d been writing songs for a decade before I started working with him and therefore could surely write songs without him again!
The heavy music scene is small. Don’t be petty and shit-talk another band member (or ex-manager, label, anyone you’ve worked with) as usually this just reflects badly on you. Take the high road (as hard as it can be sometimes) and you’ll find that people will respect you a lot more and in turn, more doors will open for you.
Consider not announcing the line-up change on social media
If you’re a local band it’s my opinion that it’s not essential to announce line-up changes on social media. This is a personal choice and does depend on the circumstances but I think too many bands put too much importance on people coming and going in the band. If you post about this too many times it can look a bit…unprofessional.
If you must draw attention to it, announce the line-up change only when a new member has joined. This way things look positive for your followers and it makes the whole thing seem a bit more seamless, especially if the music industry happens to be stalking your Facebook page.
This is the crux of everything I wanted to talk about in this post. Now you’ve had some time to sort out how you feel about the situation, it’s important to practically figure out how to keep moving forward as a band.
My advice is to get back on the horse ASAP. Too many times have I seen line-up changes stall a band’s progress, sometimes for YEARS. While you are finding new members, wait for them to learn the songs and trying to figure out if you like their personality or not, you could actually be getting so much done!
In 2019, you do not have to wait to replace any of your band members to go into the studio or play your next show. Maybe you can leave smaller shows for now but if you get offered something big, get resourceful, grab a mate from another band or session guy/gal and move forward as if nothing happened.
In terms of actually moving forward, if you’ve lost a core writer, start working with a producer on your tracks or writing with someone from another band as a guest! The songs will turn out awesomely and you’ll probably become a better writer in the process. Better writing leads to more fans and bigger opportunities.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the music and your music is attached to your band name. So whether you’ve lost a bassist or a vocalist, so long as the next song or video that goes with it is good, that’s all the industry or your followers will notice or care about.
Try not to grab any old musician to replace the person that’s left. Take some time to figure out what you need out of a new addition to the team, not only musically but personality-wise and skills-wise (do you need someone to look after socials, do you need someone who has a home studio to make demo-ing easier, etc.). In the meantime for live performances, put the missing instrument on a backing track. It’s way more acceptable nowadays especially if you’re already using tracks.
And if you’ve been the one to leave, don’t jump into the first band you audition for. Continue writing on your own or work with a producer. Also, make sure you also check out this blog post all about finding band members.
This has been a pretty personal and timely post for me. So I want to leave you with something else I have learned along the way. Are you ready?
Every single line-up change I’ve been through has ALWAYS been for the best. Every. Single. One. Let that sink in for a sec.
I didn’t see it at the time and it’s understandable if you don’t either. Even when the band I was in for 6 years broke up – it was for the best. If that band didn’t break up and I didn’t have such a gap to fill with creativity, I wouldn’t have joined HEAVY Magazine’s core team and get to interview some of the biggest bands in the world as well as some amazing up-and-comers to find out what they did to make them a success.
I wouldn’t have had the life crisis I had to push me into the world of digital marketing and I wouldn’t have learned the skills and lessons I now share with you all (and it’s my mission to KEEP learning for all of us).
I wouldn’t have moved to Melbourne and founded the band I’m in now and become a better vocalist, songwriter and frankly, bandmate.
I wouldn’t be writing this blog or have the skills to bring The Last Martyr up to almost the same level as my old band in a sixth of the time.
Being in a band is one of the most fun and fulfilling things in the world. But unless you have no desire whatsoever to learn or better yourself, you do not need anyone else to succeed. The power is entirely yours.
I’ve seen local bands with only 1 original member play festivals and big supports all over the world. I’ve seen bands that saw countless lineup changes (even the vocalist) get signed and cultivate thousands of genuine fans that love them. These bands found a way to keep going and so can you.