10 Ways to Suck as a Music Leader

I recently read an awesome blog by Michael Hyatt about 10 of the things he thought makes a lousy leader.  It got me thinking- how could I become a suckier music leader? Here’s my plan to reach my goal of being even worse at my job than I already am: 


10.  Don't listen to your players. 


If they have a suggestion, tell them that you’ve tried that before in the past and it didn’t work. It doesn’t matter if you actually did, or if the situation has drastically changed in the last 20 years. Repeat this like a mantra until your musicians stop bothering you with ideas on how to make things better. 


9. Change things last minute. 


You’re done with practice and the group sounds tight and confident about the show. What do you do? As they’re walking out, hand them a CD and say “Yeah, we’re adding these 12 songs to tomorrow night’s set. I need you to have all of these fusion jazz riffs memorized by tomorrow”. 


If it’s too much work for you to practice the music yourself, just burn some random music on to a CD, don’t practice the tunes yourself, then cut all of those songs right before you get onstage with the excuse that “I didn’t want you guys to struggle with the music”. 


8. Be vague about everything.


When band members ask what kind of sound you’re going for on the song, use terms like “tight”, “cool”, and “sort of like the Beatles, but not”. Apply this principle to every area of communication. If the gig is at 7 PM, tell them it’s in the evening sometime. Never get back to them with an exact time so you can text them “DUDE. Where r u???” about 30 minutes before sound check. 


7.  Be moody/unpredictable. 


It’s okay to be happy and encouraging once in awhile to your band members, provided you balance it with a healthy dose of angsty drama. My personal favorite is to walk in while texting on my phone, close it and let out a huge sigh, and then start rubbing my temples vigorously to indicate stress. When asked what’s wrong, reply with “nothing”, but refuse to make eye contact with anyone else in the band for the rest of the practice. 


The next step is sudden random outbursts. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hostile, just unpredictable and vague. Say things like “is that how you’re playing that section now?”, or swear under your breath and shake your head from time to time for apparently no reason.


6.  Need everything right now. 


Projecting every request as a life-and-death emergency will train your musicians to jump when you say jump. Make sure that you have so much going on in your life that you never have time to plan, so that all of the tasks you assign have to be filled immediately to compensate for your lack of self-management.


5.  Focus on catching people making mistakes. 


It doesn’t do anybody any good to tell them what they’re doing right. Focusing on everyone’s mistakes keeps musicians tentative and afraid. Remember: a musician that’s scared he could get fired is a musician that won’t be asking for raises. 


4. Verbally critique musicians in front of their peers. 


This is the fun part: come up with reasons to run down your musicians whenever you can. Even after an amazing set, take a few minutes out before you start packing to do an evaluation of the night. 


Stand in a circle, and very calmly go through each musician’s performance. I might say something like this: “Okay, it wasn’t bad tonight. There were only a few spots that stuck out to me. One of those spots was Tim. Tim, you did pretty well until the chorus of “Where the Streets”, and you blew it. That’s probably because you suck at rhythm, and you have bad breath. Let’s try fixing that, okay?” 


3. Don't provide practice materials. 


Even the best musicians in the world can’t be that great without practice materials (again, we’ve seen in previous points how important it is that those under you feel worthless). When musicians ask for setlists and charts, I’ve found it works best to stall them rather than give them an outright answer. This will make them put off practicing the set, thinking you’ll be sending a chart like your text says: “no later than the weekend”. 


Of course, don’t bother sending audio files or charts, insisting that “you know all the songs anyway”, followed with “we’ll do them exactly how they are on the album”. Purposely refuse to mention which album, or which artist for that matter. For the setlist, you’ll want to scrawl the order of songs on the back of a napkin as you walk onstage. 


2. Constantly remind your musicians that "there are a lot of musicians that would love to have this gig." 


This is another great tip for cost control, and strikes the perfect balance between a professional compliment and a threat. The implication comes through loud and clear: you’re replaceable. In fact, you’re replaceable by a huge number of musicians. Most of which are willing to work for half your salary. So jump when I say jump, got it? 


1. Create unrealistic expectations for the future, and use those expectations as bargaining chips in the present. 


So you’ve read through this post and said, “Eric, how can I possibly keep musicians in my band if I treat them so bad?” Simple: hope. Most musicians are so desperate to take their career to the next level,  they'll cling to even a tiny shred of hope that the band is going to hit the big time any day. 


To build this illusion, try making phone calls around your musicians. Get off the phone, slowly turn to your band mates, and in a hushed tone say “that was Sony records”. If you’re concerned about lying, call up their headquarters and leave a voicemail so you can genuinely say you’ve “been talking to Sony Records”.


Now that you’ve established the illusion that your band has a bright future, use it as a bargaining chip. Tell them only the best of them are going to be asked back when the band goes major label. Use this to make even bigger demands from each musician. Ask them to watch your kids, or clean your car. Get creative! If someone quits under the strain, tell the other musicians that “he just wasn’t serious enough about building his career”. 


There you have it- my top tips for being a music leader. Did I forget anything? Leave a comment below.