Talk about a rough year.... I know Dave and some others have shared some stories... I could write a best selling autobiography about the trials and tribulations of my band over the past 10 months.
I know most of you know me and my band through past posts. We've been a band for 11 years that started as a hobby and started managing it as a business. From our height in 2007-2012 we dominated the local club scene and played regional clubs in 4 states. The big achievement really was growing a large local following of fans that gave us leverage with club owners and made us first call for public and private events. Even though the band was functioning like a machine there were some definite cracks. And those cracks became a big fissure when our singer abruptly quit the band last January. It started around Thanks giving but the truth is there were signs as early as a year or two before that things were brewing to a head with him. He was feeling burnt, sometimes isolated (he did that to himself). In the summer of 2012 he asked the band to book less often (he wanted 3-4 times a month-we were booking 7-10). The band agreed to accommodate and some players formed a side band to pick up the extra dates. In the Fall even though we were playing less he seemed even more detached and irritated over things little and big. After Thanksgiving weekend last year we had a weekend off and when he returned the following weekend (in Dec) he was not the same. He did not want to be there. We played an excellent show to a very friendly venue and he was not interested in being there. The morning after he sent us all an email... he was moving on, after 11 years. He was frustrated over many things and felt that they would never be fixed and he couldn't work with that any more... so he was leaving at the end of the year. His last show was going to be Jan 5th.... 4 weeks away.
We were stunned of course. Shocked but not surprised. After all as I said we could see little signs over the course of the year that he was drifting away. He wasn't excited over any material, had let go of many responsibilities, he didn't want to do travel shows... load out was never fast enough. It wasn't that he was openly negative... but he was rarely positive. The only time he really smiled was on stage or talking about something other than the band. He was also in a fairly new relationship (which we all believe played a role). Most of us reached out to him within 24 hours independently and received no response. So how did we handle it? A meeting with him... and intervention... and begging to reconsider?
HOW WE HANDLED IT?.... um poorly LOL
We met the next night to draft a strategy of keeping him on.. reducing his responsibilities, maybe even offering him just a hired gun... show up, get paid, leave. etc. Any of it didn't seem very feasible. Just like the recent Budget Wars in Congress we would be capitulating to him on his terms. When we did make contact about his departure he was very glib and very matter of fact about it. He had some definite problems with our band co-founder (him and our bass player were the defacto leaders of the band) and they had been friends and musical partners over 20 years. It seemed on his end that things were irreparable. Things had been building between the two for years... decades even. It was always a creative tension between the two... ying and yang... polar opposites that really drove the chemistry of the band. Like Henley and Frey, Lennon and McCartney, Martin & Lewis. What drew them together at first, over time drove them apart. Finally our singer felt that the only way he could resume being in the band was is the bass player wasn't in it. The bass player didn't care one way or the other. So guess which member the band went with.
So we decided very quickly to annouce his resignation from the band and start advertising for a new frontman. Then and only then did our singer start to backpeddle. He didn't quit... he was pushing for a reaction... some reaction. I honestly believe looking back he thought the band wouldn't continue without him. It was an incredible blow to his ego. He really pulled a Mike Portnoy... in my 10 years of playing with him in a band I would never have thought it would come to this. We were pretty good friends up until this point. In the early days we vacationed together. But at this point we couldn't be farther apart. Things between us have been awkward since.
So January we recruited a local singer of a popular rock band that didn't gig very often to substitute for us until we could find a permanent replacement. We cancelled all of January off the calendar and figured that we would have until April to get a new singer in place. That would leave the summer intact for bookings (our busiest period). We put together what I believe was a reasonable timeline. If we could find someone quickly enough we would have 2 months and 8 rehearsals to get things tight. How hard could it be to find a singer willing to step up to the plate and join a band that was making great money, had a terrific reputation and was booked nearly a year in advance? Answer: Pretty **** hard!
JAN 2012-FINDING A SINGER
We quickly found out with our sub singer that just having someone sing the setlist the way our singer sang it was like someone other than Christopher Reeve wearing the Superman suit. These were HUGE shoes to fill. Our singer was a very popular frontman. He was an important part of the chemistry and most of our setlist material was molded around his vocal style and delivery. It was foolish to think that no one would notice or care that our frontman was no longer with the band. We acted as though our hands were tied yet it was our decision to move foward and believe everything would work out that really threatened the viability of the band. People were soft at first. They didn't immediately reject the idea of us with a new singer... but having the sub or anyone play songs that were our setlist staples just drew immediate comparisons to our former frontman. There are few Van Hagar moments in the real roick world. Any negative feedback was testing our resolve.
We knew that just anyone couldn't fill this role. Who ever was a frontman had to be able to engage the audience. So we immediately checked off all of the singers in other bands we already knew would not be considerations (classic rock singers, blues singers etc). We didn't get much response from our Craiglist and other listings looking for a singer. But low and behold the first singer who showed knocked it out of the park. He showed up late but looked the part... like a rock singer. Tats, hair and a great voice. He sang "Don't Stop Believing' and literally sounded like Steve perry. He wasn't familar with any of our material so there was lyric sheet shuffling and some other nervous tics but when he walked out we all looked at each other and thought "OMG is this the guy???". Sure enough the next two guys who walked in were train wrecks. We continued to audition for a week and then brought him back in. By the 2nd audition he seemed more confident and we saw the potential. So we extended him an offer to join. He accepted and we laid out a rehearsal schedule that would keep our sub singer in play but would also rehearse new material. When we played our first show in feburary at a packed venue and had the whole crowd chanting we all looked at each other on stage and thought "we can pull this off".
FEB 2012 DEFECTION and GRRRRL POWER!
Of course when you go through an event like this you have some people who buckle down and work to endure the suck that follows. Then you have others who will look to escape the lifeboat to find a better ship. At the time we were going through auditions a popular regional band was having a complete lineup change. They were looking for a guitarist and we knew that our guitarist was interested in the job. He was single, 25 and completely dependent on the income. We felt he had run the course with our band and the fact that we stumbled onto his intent to audition didn't give us a real warm and fuzzy feeling. In truth... I thought it was a great opportunity for him and I encouraged him to take the job. This band traveled often and he wanted that experience. I thought it would be a good opportunity for him. What we didn't know was he had put this bandleader in touch with our drummer. Our drummer had been a friend for years but only a part of the lineup for 9 months. Both him and the guitarist sent a joint resignation note to the band... in an email... 'please don't be mad'. We felt punched in the gut. They gave 6 weeks notice. They would cover gigs until 3/17. St Pats. We were between working with a sub singers and getting the new guy up to speed we now needed to find a drummer and guitarist. It crushed us. In my head I didn't blame these guys for leaving but in my heart I felt asskicked. Both musicians held their exit date over our heads to limit blowback and pissed reactions.
So again we met... now just four of us... two keyboard players, our manager and founder/bassist. First question out of our bandleaders mouth "So does anyone else want to leave?" It just so happened he could sense this could happen (our guitarist was exceptionally nervous about losing our singer) and he ahd made contact with a former guitarist. He was looking for work and was happy to rejoin! In the course of the night... the guitarist was solved. He could start in April. We just needed to find a drummer. So again in late Feb we plastered ads looking for a drummer. We had three that responded... a local guy, a seasoned drummer from 90 mins away and a local unknown talent... a girl! The local guy was a great drummer but not the right fit... the seasoned drummer was a bit arrogant (check). Both made excuses why they didn't have the material down. Guess who showed up fully prepared with the audition material???. Yep... the girl and she nailed the audition!
She's 21. Here we are... men... 35-42 in age... missing a singer and replacing the guitarist and drummer.... we gave her two weeks and just ONE rehearsal to learn all our songs and medleys. She's quiet, low drama, and has been an extremely positive addition to the band.
(Her very first gig with the band. We hired her March 11th and this gig was March 22nd)
APRIL-NEW LINEUP MINUS ONE SINGER
So we had given ourselves a deadline by April 4th to have our new singer in place, and to let our sub focus on his primary band. While we were struggling with the lineup changes we really weren't paying any attention to our new singer. In hindsight we really should have been more disciplined with him in terms of his conditions for hire. We would suggest he come out to shows to see how we perform the material but he would never show (we should have made his attendance mandatory). We would ask over email if he had questions regarding material (we gave full live recordings of the whole show) and he would reply he was fine. But he wasn't. Our drummer literally learned our setlist in less than two weeks.By mid March he was still asking questions at rehearsal like "Do I sing this part?" "Oh we are doing that verse?" Slow going doesn't even describe. In late March we had our first full rehearsal and he couldn't get through half of the material. He was so stuck on lyric sheets that we were afraid he was never going to look at the audience. WTF!!!! His lack of experience was clearly showing. He was a singer NOT a performer. And we were again in a terrible position. We asked the current sub to stay on through the end of May and we fired the new singer.
JUNE/JULY-THREE SUBS IN A BLENDER
We cancelled all of our shows in April (between Jan and April we gigged just 8 times) because the sub had many conflicts. We reached out to another singer of a band that had said he was looking for extra work. He knew alot of the same material (his band plays mostly pop music) and his band only played 3-4 times a month. We met and instantly we all connected. He knew the material, the drill he just needed to learn our presentation. We sent him live tracks and he drilled it, showed at rehearsal and he nailed it. Nailed it so much that at the end of his first show he asked our manager if he could fill in indefinitely until we hired a replacement. Our eyes lit up... he was great onstage and really worked the crowd. So what if we had to share him. So we agreed to work around his band schedule and try to search for a new singer while putting on the best show possible. But like all things temporary it could sustain itself. Already by June he had backpeddled on committed dates with our band b/c his primary band had two surprise opportunities. We would always be 2nd fiddle and then we caught wind that he was starting a third band. LOL Still he was doing us a great favor and he was doing a great job fronting for us. We couldn