Band Relationships and Band Size

This post will talk about the affect the number of members in a band has on the band relationships. It’s an observation that’s obvious once you know it, but isn’t immediately intuitive.

Humans are social creatures, on the whole. Our relationships with other people have a fundamental impact on our lives. A really good relationship with a friend, partner or family member will bring us joy, strength, security, confidence and a whole host of other positive benefits. Conversely, a bad relationship will cause us stress, anger, worry, resentment or worse.

In band relationships this can be particularly intense. Bands tend to generate strong relationships, good or bad. This might be because band members spend a lot of time together. Next to the people you live with and work colleagues, band mates can be the people you see more than anyone else once you add up rehearsal time and all the inevitable hanging around before and after gigs. On tour you may be with each other 24/7.

Then take into account that music is something we musicians are usually very passionate about. Add its impact on our confidence, ego, image and self esteem and you have a potent combination. There’s a good reason why almost every film about a band has told the story of it falling apart.

Number of people vs number of band relationships

Let’s look at the number of relationships in groups of different sizes. The simplest relationship configuration is that between two people. Two people will have a relationship, be it good, bad, indifferent.

Let’s add another person to the mix. Now there are three people and three relationships (see diagram below). Add just one more person and you have six relationships. The number of relationships goes up a lot quicker than the number of people in the group.

band relationships numbers

(Anyone familiar with maths will recognise this sequence as the triangular number series.)

Bad relationships

I want to concentrate on bad relationships as these are the ones that can really destabilise a group. It’s hard to quantify but it’s inevitable that in any given number of relationships some will be really good and some will be strained or worse.

Bands of just four people can sometimes find members are falling out. As we’ve seen the are only six relationships in play there. Add two people to a band of four and the are now fifteen individual band relationships. More than double the original amount. It’s likely there’s also more than double the chance of one of them going wrong.

Let’s take another common situation: the band of four goes on tour and their partners tag along for the ride. Now there are eight people and twenty eight¬†band relationships. That’s more than quadruple the original number. By this time the likelihood of at least one of the relationships being fractious is really quite significant.

Irritation contagion

Why can just one bad relationship can cause so many problems? Can’t you just keep the two apart and get on with things? The trouble with a really bad relationship is that it affects everyone. It can manifest in various forms: bitching and grumbling behind peoples’ backs; sulks, grumps and un-cooperativeness; sniping and needling at each other; full blown arguments; even violence.

All of these things affect everyone in the group. They bring everyone down. As a consequence other band relationships become strained. People who normally get on OK can start to fall out because the really bad relationship is taking an emotional toll and sapping everyone’s mental energy.

This is the real danger of a bad relationship. The irritation and negativity it generates is contagious and it can destabilise all but the best of the other band relationships. Before you know it you can end up with a vicious downward spiral where more and more relationships deteriorate until the whole situation becomes impossible.

Think carefully

What are the consequences of this knowledge? There are three to my mind:

  • Think carefully about adding members to a group.
  • Recruit carefully if you do decide to add a member.
  • Be aware of the impact that each extra person has on the group dynamic.

Thinking carefully before adding members to the group is important. Ask yourself if you really need that extra person? Is what they’ll add sufficient to take the risk of destabilising the group? Also, it might not be just them. If your band tends to have partners come along to gigs and tours you are potentially adding two people to the group.

Think about the existing group dynamic. If you have a fairly harmonious group and the new person is also easy to get along with then it is less likely that problems will occur. If there are already some difficulties between people then adding a new person and all the extra band relationships that come with that is unlikely to make things better. It could easily make them worse.

I’m not saying you should never add new members to a group, but you should realise that it is a BIG decision. It should not to be taken lightly.

Recruit carefully

If you do decide to add people to the group, choose them carefully. It’s more important that they’re a good fit for the group than that they’re a musical virtuoso. They may have the voice of an angel but if no one can stand being around them you won’t have a group left before long. I’m going to blog in future about the ‘Airport Lounge Test’ which is directly relevant to this, so keep an eye out for that.

Be aware of band relationships

The best way to minimise the impact of destructive band relationships is to be aware of their possibility and to be aware of your own emotions.

Try to spot tensions before you start sniping at each other. Manage your own actions and reactions to keep things friendly. If you do this you may be able to get through the rocky patches. Everyone in the group needs to do this. The more band relationships there are, the more vigilant everyone has to be of their own behaviour and responses.

More is not necessarily better

So keep in mind that the number of relationships in a group increases dramatically faster than the number of people in it. This can cause problems or exacerbate existing ones. If you’re aware of that and you factor it in to your decision making then you might be able to head off problems before they happen.

Picture by Ryo Asakura – used under Creative Commons license.

4 thoughts on “Band Relationships and Band Size”

  1. And having existing family or romantic relationships between band members trebles the danger I think?!!

    1. It certainly intensifies the relationship even more than it already is by the band environment. It also makes it harder to step away and get some space. And the consequences of it going bad are even more dramatic.

      So yes, they do pose an extra danger. I wouldn’t rule out a potential band member completely just for that reason. There have been very successful family and partner musical collaborations. But I would think about it very carefully.

  2. Pingback: How to choose the right band members - The Airport Lounge Test

  3. Pingback: Maintaining Band Relationships 1 - Self-Awareness - Matt Helm Guitar

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