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Why Bands Break Up

Article from Making Music, August 1986

A unique Making Music survey; plus a quiz to find out if you're the splitting type.

Is there anyone who hasn't been in a band that's split? Lot of it about, isn't there? Making Music decided to ask around and seek out the state of not-playing in Britain. Report Paul Colbert. Research Carol Irving.

BREAKING UP, whatever the song says, is dead easy to do. Bands split all the time, but have you ever wondered why? Is there perhaps some divine pattern forever forcing us to argue with the bassist/disagree over the encore/fall out with the record company?

If we knew the most common causes, maybe we could avoid them. So began the Making Music survey of melodic divorce. We quizzed musicians well-, slightly- and barely-known on their experiences of those awful quiet moments in the rehearsal room. And this is what we found...

Firstly, that all important question, WHY. little problem here since there are only two major contenders — general dissatisfaction through a lack of success (the biggie) and personality clashes. Frequently both.

Many bands mistakenly see the-getting-of-the-record-deal as the end of their struggle. It's barely a six to start. You're now up against the lethargy of the record company and if you thought you could define frustration before...

Sadly, more than a few of our 'samples' thought the band had been playing at its peak at the parting of the ways. But you can only stand so much brick dust on your forehead before banging your head loses its charm.

And those dreaded personality clashes — anything from the guitarist running off with the bass player's girlfriend, to the singer perfecting his Mussolini impression during your solo. Two experienced commentators here. Ultra realist Edwyn Collins concluded that the best way to avoid personality clashes, was to have only one powerful personality in the band. Neat solution. In a parallel vein Geoff Nicholls reckoned that if you do have a 'boss' figure, at least get him to work for you. If all that front of his does produce gigs, deals, reviews and attention, then maybe it's worth suffering his appalling ego and dreadful jokes.

"The worst sin is committing adultery with another band."

NOT TURNING up for rehearsals was another big needler, though differences over the music came surprisingly low in the chart. Also, did you know that divorce is seasonal — bands form (or reform) in the Autumn with the lure of Christmas gigs. In January they settle down to "really make it work this year" (when in Spring they search for hits, studio bookings go apeshit — Wordsworth), then by Summer they either get fed up, or go on holiday when rot and suntan set in.

If there is any single event designed to have band members eyeing each other for weaknesses, it is 'the chance to make the single'. Sorry to break the bad news but drummers and vocalists are the most common victims in the night of the long drives (back from the gig).

Just over half of our sample reckoned the whole band came to that fateful knock-it-on-the-head decision as one. Most of the rest put it down to a single member saying goodbye, and taking a lot of the enthusiasm with him. But then we didn't talk to the thousands of bands who found a replacement and went from strength to strength.

The universal method of sacking someone is still pretending to split the band and reforming without him, under another name. We're such sensitive flowers.

And what sins can this unfortunate soul commit which will bring down the band meeting wrath? Finding a girlfriend or worse, getting married, are grounds for suspicion under the heading 'but what about your commitment, Justin?'. So are buying a house and having a baby (or buying a baby and having a house). However, the ultimate crime is adultery — nothing to do with the Mrs this time, more a matter of being caught with your straps down playing with another band.

"Nobody knows anything."

Yet, in all this divisional despondency there is cheer. However gloomy you may feel about your band breaking up, it's invariably the best decision in the long run. A fresh start. That was the opinion and experience of every musician we questioned. Their only regret was that some good players dropped out of the running, though crunching through the figures it does seem that 75 per cent of parted musicians live to play another day, and nobody ever gives up completely, there's always an instrument of some sort under the bed.

The vast majority of you splitters would be happy to collaborate with ex-partners at some later juncture, and you generally stay friends. Some of you even have regular reunion gigs.

And the feeling of our samplists, when tears of sad remembrance had been dashed away, was that somehow, talented players will always get through. Now there's positive.

SO WHAT can we learn from all this, fellow oarsmen in the skiff of life? Our sampled musicians were also invited to offer tips on how to stay together in the pursuit of fame and fortune. "Nobody knows anything, so stick to your own opinion," and "Do as much as possible yourself, don't involve other people," were two replies which showed the general thrust of their argument.

There was also — be professional, but don't be careerist or you'll lose the fun; be understanding of other musician's feelings, but stay firm about commitment and don't tolerate timewasters; and be confident of your ultimate success while remembering there's no shame in calling it a day if you've all given your best. Perhaps the breaks just didn't come your way.

"Talented players always get through somehow."

Finally, in a less than entirely serious attempt to define the perfectly amenable musician, we boiled up our guinea pigs' experiences down into the nearby quiz. Give it a try but remember, no one is born a perfect band member, just as no one is bom a perfect musician. You have to learn both, and it takes a long time. Sermon over.

How long had the band been together?
1yr 25%
1-2yrs 25%
3-4yrs 30%
4+yrs 20%
Did you all decide to break up the band (A), or did one member leave and the rest fall apart (B)?
A 64%
B 36%
Had the band ever split in the past, then reformed?
Yes 50%
No 50%
Had one member ever left and then rejoined?
Yes 46%
No 54%
Do you regret splitting up?
Yes 4%
No 96%
Was the split brought about by differences oven (A) the music, (B) the equipment, (C) personalities or (D) a general dissatisfaction through a lack of success?
A 14%
B 10%
C 30%
D 46%
Did you lose money selling the joint owned gear? (A question posed only to bands who did have gear to sell.)
Yes 64%
No 36%
Would you ever work with any of the others again?
Yes 88%
No 12%
How many members of the band carried on playing music after the split? (A) All, (B) more than half, (C) less than half, (D) none.
A 38%
B 50%
C 12%
D 0%


Will your band have a long life? Are you a warm, caring musician or a musical despot? Do you dare complete the Making Music I Quit Quiz to find out?


The singer suggests that the rest of the band rehearses without you. Do you: (a) recognise they need to concentrate on their parts and happily give them time, (b) say okay, but you want to sit in, even if you're not playing, (c) no way Jose, it's all of us or nothing, that's what bands are about.


Another member still plays with a friend from an old band, and enjoys it. Are you: (a) concerned that he may not be giving his best songs and ideas to your band, (b) indifferent, (c) glad and believe only make you all experience cana better musician.

"Don't do it for money."


You're offered a great deal to make a single, if you reform under another name and get rid of the sax player who started the band. Is your answer: (a) yup it's for the good of the majority, (b) hope it's unfair on the minority, (c) talk it over with sax player, even if the record company say's they'll dump you if you mention it to him.


So you're famous. You've been friends for five years. You have thousands of fans who pay £10 for tickets. Now one member has developed a drug problem and is becoming increasingly unreliable. Do you: (a) ask him to shape up or quit, (b) carry him and hope no one notices, (c) have his part played by a dep behind the curtains.


The band shares a house and you all pay for the phone. You discover one member has paid his share of the bill by claiming 'band calls' from the band account. The rest of you have paid out of your own pockets. Do you: (a) ignore it, (b) talk to him and say he should return the money, (c) suggest you all do the same.


At the 20th gig the guitarist makes an appalling cods of something he's played perfectly for the last 19. Do you: (a) laugh it off, (b) suggest extra rehearsal for that number, (c) deliver a brief, friendly but noticeable bollocking.


During post-rehearsal pubbing the singer says he's heard of a brilliant local guitar teacher who's helped a lot of players. You are the band's guitarist Do you: (a) feel vaguely insulted, (b) ask the name, (c) express interest to keep him happy knowing you're not going to do anything about it.

"Weddings and babies have split more bands than any record company."


There is a single track in a 20 song set that everybody loves bar one member who hates it. Do you: (a) agree to drop it for his sake, (b) ask him to keep playing because everyone else enjoys it, (c) compromise by reworking the song, taking out all the stuff he dislikes.


For one reason or another, you're seeking a new name. Three are shortlisted. The band likes (a), the record company really likes (b), the audience and your pals adore (c). Which do you choose?


Your elected leader is a dictatorial show-off, and a glory hogging big head, but lummy, can he get the audience going and he sure hassles for gigs. Do you: (a) leave as he can only get worse, (b) stay and hope he'll calm down, (c) swallow your pride because if anyone's going to make this band work, he will.


1. (a) 5, (b) 3, (c) 1. Suspicious, aren't you?

2. (a) 3, (b) 1, (c) 5. Indifference about anything to do with the band is the very worst crime.

3. (a) 3, (b) 1, (c) 5. Life is unfair, but you do your best with it.

"They were all so pigheaded and narrow minded - if only they'd listened to me."

4. (a) 5, (b) 3, (c) 1. Be tactful and caring, sure, but ignoring the problem is bad for everyone, your mate and the audience included. And if you really want to wreck his last shreds of self respect, get the dep in.

5. (a) 1, (b) 5, (c) 3. It's just these sort of niggly things that cause band splits. You really ought to sort them out, in the open, from day one.

6. (a) 5, (b) 1, (c) 3. He got it right 19 times so he doesn't need more practice. Mr Perfect yourself, are you? If you can't laugh off the occasional ludicrous bloomer, you sure must be a fun bunch to be with.

7. (a) 3, (b) 5, (c) 1. Everyone can improve. Maybe you should feel piqued, perhaps you haven't been pulling your weight. Eh? And feigning interest is where deceit begins. Anyway, what if you heard of a brilliant vocal teacher. Would you keep it to yourself?

8. (a) 1, (b) 5, (c) 3. It's not too much to ask. Compromise and you risk producing a song everyone hates.

9. (a) 5, (b) 1, (c) 3. The band is always right.

10. (a) 1, (b) 3, (c) 5. You elected him to do the job, remember? There must have been a reason. If he calms down that much maybe he won't pull the audience anymore.

50 to 41. You're a good, well rounded, caring and determined musician. An invaluable member for any band. You think with your head and your heart, you're not stupidly proud, you will go far. Remember us when you're famous, and how about an interview.

40 to 31. We'd have you in our band even though you can be impetuous, and a bit softhearted at times. Leading a band from the front might keep you awake at night, but you'd make a brilliant second in command, rallying the troops.

30 to 21. Well, you do have some problems understanding how bands work. They're all sensitive individuals, right, but it's also one unit that has to pull together. A tad more professionalism, maybe.

20 to 11. Cripes, Ginge, you've stormed out of a few rehearsal rooms in your day. Can't have it all your own way you know. Maybe a solo career might be best???

Under 10. You can't score under ten, thicko.

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Columbus Crest 175/C guitar

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Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Aug 1986

Feature by Paul Colbert

Previous article in this issue:

> Columbus Crest 175/C guitar

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> Program Notes

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