I Hate My Band, I’m Going Solo!
That’s it! Your drummer never stops playing which makes it almost impossible to talk to anyone during practice, your bassist can’t actually play bass and all your guitarist does is tune their guitar before, after and sometimes during songs. No one ever arrives for practice on time and you have trouble communicating with them. You’ve had enough and you’re hitting the road, it’s time to go solo! But what if you’re the problem?
When deciding any change in musical or artistic direction one always has to wonder if they’re doing it for the right reasons. Here’s something to think about. Your bandmates are human as much as you. As much as they may get on your nerves, much like any other type of relationship it takes work and compromise to make sure it doesn’t die a horrible death in a red hot inferno of miscommunication and ego. One of the first steps to to doing that is making sure everyone understands their responsibilities. In most cases the leader of any band is at least somewhat responsible for making sure everyone turns up for practice sessions, rehearsals, soundchecks as well as shows. This means calling them the day before, letting them know what time you need them to be somewhere, where to be and what they need to bring.
Similarly however, you have to draw the line somewhere. If you’re not the leader of a band it pays to be easy to work with, remember that it never hurts to make life for the people you’re working with easier, especially if complaints from other band members and pissing off the leader of the band could potentially cost you your place, which in some cases it could. That being said I do not believe having the misfortune of having to deal with unsuitable bandmates is a legitimate reason for going solo. Which leaves us with the 2 more common definitions of going solo.
1. Forming a second band but under the name of its leader (or that is that leader’s choice) who writes and helps to perform all of its material while still working within a semi-permanent band eg. Tom Petty, Alanis Morrisette, Avril Lavigne, Sting
2. Doing shows solo with 1 person on stage. More commonly (though not always) done by artists like John Mayer, Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift.
Now, if going solo means you still play in a band like in case #1, who wouldn’t go solo just for more of the limelight? Going solo in most cases usually means not only writing most of the music on your own, but also paying for recording time at the studio alone as well managing and marketing most of your shows alone, not to mention paying session musicians whom you decide to hire to play with you. This can be quite the load to carry if you decide to do this at the wrong time in your life or career. If money is tight and you’re still learning the ropes and don’t really know what you’re doing, trying to do it all alone is going to leave you very frustrated at times as well as upset and potentially disappointed. Making the leap from co-worker to employer may not seem extreme at first, but once you think about paying session musicians and putting in all that elbow grease alone, the limelight may lose some of its attraction.
Doing solo shows can also have have a double edged sword effect on a person if they’re not ready. On one hand doing solo shows offers a lot of flexibility as you are free to improvise freely on stage at shows with minimal planning and/or make changes in certain songs or the set list without anyone ever noticing a thing or even knowing. That being said you are still just 1 person with typically 1 or 2 instruments (think Bob Dylan with his guitar and harmonica) excluding vocals and that limits the amount of musical layers you are able to bring to the music on stage. While being alone on stage can sometimes lend a very intimate feel to a performance it could also potentially make it feel boring. Very few people can hope to match the energy that a 4 or 5 piece band can bring to a stage during a performance. On a visual as well as sonic level, it is just unfair to expect an individual to be able to match what 5 individuals can do in terms of a high energy performance as well as creating musical layers. Hence why artists like John Mayer, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift are still known to sometimes perform with a band on stage especially when performing at festivals, concerts or just bigger stages in general.
In conclusion, while being in a band may be cumbersome or difficult at times it is not without its merits, the same goes for being a solo artist. At the end of the day choosing to be in a band or perform as a solo artist is a very personal decision and everyone goes through a different combination of thoughts and experiences that take them wherever they will go, there are very few rights and wrongs in the world of music and it’s all just part of an experience of people doing what they do and enjoying it. That wraps up a short piece on my thoughts on performing solo vs being a band and have a wonderful day!