One of the most profound heartbreaks of my entire life occurred when I was 17. It had been a long and intimate relationship, we’d traveled and basked in collaborative creativity for hours on end. To this day, some of my happiest memories are rooted in those bonds, and the strangest part of this relationship wasn’t at all romantic, and it wasn’t shared with one person.
Around the end of my senior year of high school, it had become increasingly clear that the band I’d put my heart and soul into for over two years wasn’t going to live on. While there had been initial inklings that we might try to stay together after I left for college — the other members already having graduated — unresolvable conflicts of interest between members accompanied by the fact that I’d just found out my parents were moving cross country turned that prospect into a pipedream. It was a difficult realization to say the least, and the ensuing conversations were some of the most painful I’ve ever had.
I now await the repetition of this process with my current band. With one of our members studying on the other side of the world and two more graduating and scattering across the country before he gets back, it seems inevitable that a breakup or indefinite hiatus will result. It’s not any less frustrating the second time around, and the thought of starting over for a third time is almost daunting enough for me to surrender from music entirely.
For better or for worse, the relationships you form as a band are some of the most intimate connections imaginable and severing them isn’t easy. Here are a few suggestions to help make the breakup as seamless as you could hope.
1. No One Needs to Be the Bad Guy
It would be entirely unreasonable to expect every musician in an ensemble to align with each other on every priority. Despite the unit that you and your bandmates make up when you create music together, bottom line you’re all just individuals. Ideally, you’d all be good friends and care about each other, but even that is not a given in a professional atmosphere. If differences in opinion become so overwhelming that it makes the prospect of playing together at all seem unpleasant, it might make sense to call it quits.
At some point, if there is serious disconnect between bandmates, that conflict will manifest itself in the music before you even realize it. You’ll fall into creative traps, songwriting will become formulaic and unoriginal unless you can comfortably enter discourse with one another about the exact direction you want your music to go. It’s your responsibility to check yourself on this, and make sure that you communicate any of your observations to your bandmates.
If it seems like the breakup is inevitable regardless of how hard you try to maintain a healthy relationship with your band, it’s important to avoid singling out any person as the sole reason you want the band to stop playing. Just because playing together might not have worked out does not mean you are entirely out a close friendship, and the fewer enemies you make in a music scene the better.
2. None of the Time You Put into It Was Wasted
As heartbreaking it might feel when the realization of a band breakup might be, it is important to remember that just because the work you put in might not come back to you directly does not mean it was pointless.
Success, in music, is a relative term. For one person it might be playing enormous, sold out venues night after night to thousands of adoring fans; for others it might be getting to write and record album after album with complete creative freedom (the former fed into the latter for the Beatles). Someone else might get the most satisfaction strumming an acoustic guitar with their family on the front porch.
Regardless of what your definition is, any and all effort that you put into your band contributed in some way to helping you realize your musical dream. Even the worst experiences you could have had with your bandmates provides a valuable lesson about precisely what you want out of your musical career. Every connection you made and song you learned added to your own subjective understanding of the music industry, and that fact alone is worth celebrating.
3. The Next One Will Be Easier
There’s a lot to learn early on in your musical career. There are so many parts to the industry — including some which are still evolving today — and learning how to navigate any of them fluidly can be a challenge. As a result, any band is going to make mistakes. Ideally, you’ll make as many mistakes as you can and take to heart every lesson you obtain from them.
You are never too old to make music. You do not have to take this breakup as a representation of your own musicianship or quality as a bandmate. Seek this time as an opportunity to reflect, garner as much wisdom from your frustration as possible. Beyond anything else, your band breaking up is giving you a small taste of how taxing the music industry can be for anyone involved.
You might realize that you just aren’t cut out to be a musician if any trouble this process brings you feels overwhelming. That’s entirely okay, and as respectable a conclusion as any. If you do choose to continue with your journey as a musician, you will be enlightened about many various obstacles that you may have to take on; if you’re lucky you might even realize ways to avoid some completely.
It doesn’t have to be easy and it doesn’t have to be fun, but your band’s breakup has the power to add a surprising amount of positivity into your life. Be patient.