From baby bands to superstars, unfortunately, money is the main reason bands break up. The baby to mid size bands that legitimately cannot survive on the income their band is generating tend to get tired of living well below the poverty line. Each member, one by one, begins to peel off to ‘fall-back’ on their accounting degree and to ‘start a real life.’ Music is not for the faint of heart. For the superstars, it comes down to the perception of fairness. Coldplay famously splits every song equally four ways. Even the acoustic ballad that Chris Martin clearly wrote by himself, every member gets an equal songwriting credit. Some may call this not fair, but if the other band members start to see the lead songwriter sitting first class driving a Ferrari when they’re slumming it in coach, driving a Hyundai, it ain’t gonna end pretty. It’s less messy this way. Don’t try to argue that your guitar riff leading out of the bridge should earn a 15% songwriting royalty, just split every song equally and it’ll work out in the long run.
2) Clashing Personalities
Above money, this has killed most of the greats. Noel and Liam. Sting, Summers and Copeland. Henley and Frey. Axl Rose and Slash. And it happens at every level. These are the acts you’ve heard of, but there are thousands of bands who never broke out on a mainstream level because they just couldn’t get along. Typically, one member starts to take over control much to the others’ dismay. And the resentment settles in. Or one member takes over the leadership position to fill the void of a manager (in the early stages) and no matter how much success they see, it’s never enough and the others’ start questioning the de facto leader – never giving her the recognition, thanks or acknowledgement of the hard work she put in.
3) Allocation of Business Duties
This goes along with the above point. In this new modern age of the music industry, bands are able to grow much bigger without the aid of a manager, label or booking agent. However, if the band members don’t execute the assigned business duties, resentment within the group can become overwhelming. If each member isn’t organized and responsible enough to at least make it to rehearsal on time or cover simple business duties, the band isn’t going to function. A band in the modern industry needs to be run like a startup company. No longer can you be strung out, carried into the venue on a stretcher and thrust on stage. It doesn’t work like that. The modern rock stars (and mid level bands) who are making it work are smart, responsible, hard working and business savvy. And have their shit together.
Every successful musician has an ego. You have to. If they didn’t believe that their songs (and show) deserved an audience paying the ticket price, they’d never perform live. That takes confidence and a bit of ego. However, when one of the band member’s ego starts to make him believe that he is better than the others, is when the band’s days become numbered.
5) Conflicting Goals
The conversation every band needs to have from the get go is what are the goals of the group. Do we want to have a family life at home or do we want to live on the road? Do we want to take the major label risk, or go at it indie? Do we want to build it online first or live first? It’s surprising how many bands don’t have the goals discussion early on and 3 years into the project, when they finally get a big tour booked, the drummer explains that he doesn’t want to tour – seemingly out of nowhere! Make sure everyone in the band is on the same page before it’s too late.
6) Musical Differences
This is the reason that the band’s publicist always gives out to the press. Most of the time it’s complete BS. However, legitimately, some musicians like to evolve and experiment and others like to do the same thing they’ve done since the beginning – which has “been working.” If the members can’t agree on the musical direction, it won’t work and shitty solo careers typically follow.
No matter how successful a band becomes, sometimes the grind of the road can become too much. If it’s a touring band and the members tire of touring, it’s going to be hard to transition to a licensing/merch/sales/digital-only act. For the digital-only YouTubers, creating weekly videos might get old and exhausting. Luckily, touring is the logical next step – however, it typically takes many YouTube stars a few tours to become profitable.
8) Significant Others
There I said it. Whether it’s Yoko Ono or the husband who wants to start a family with the musician wife, significant others will eventually tug the musician in a direction that is not conducive to the band’s best interests. That is unless the significant others are involved WITH the band. The most successful girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives take active roles in the success of the band. Be it the tour manager, manager, booking agent, accountant, promoter, publicist or social media manager, if the significant others are not directly involved in the band’s success, they will resent their love spending so much time away from them. And ‘music’ then becomes a dirty dirty word in the relationship. Almost as toxic as the ex’s name.
The list of famous musicians who have ODed is endless. There’s no Nirvana without Kurt Cobain. Or The Doors without Jim Morrison. Trey Anastasio of Phish famously said to his bandmates “If I don’t get out of Phish now, I’ll die.” The band revealed that they had become enablers of each other and it was nearly impossible to get through a tour without serious drug and alcohol use. Only after they got sober could they reunite and healthily continue forward.
If performing live isn’t enough of a high for you then you really should pick another profession.
Photo is by Freshwill on Flickr and used with the Creative Commons License