Musicians: How to Deal with Bad Attitudes

Human beings can be pretty complex life units. Some people are easy to work with while others seem impossible.

In the professional work-a-day world of a freelance musician there are fewer attitude difficulties than when guys are just starting out. Why? Well, when you have attitude problems that make getting the show on the road difficult you get fired. Period. When rehearsals and gigs need to occur, there’s no room for wasting time on people with attitude problems or lack of commitment when commitment is needed. One of the hallmarks of a professional is not letting his emotions, personal feelings or hobbies get in the way of productivity. The only people who get away with problem-attitudes are guys that are so great at what they do that they are in great demand. Even so, they don’t last long!

A bottom line observation is—just as you have things you want to do, and ways you think they should be done—so do others. Conflict simply arises when person “A” and person “B” see things differently. Though some people are crazed beyond sanity, and some people act evilly towards those around them, they are still just trying to do what they think is best. Keeping that as an underlying viewpoint can be quite helpful.

When dealing with sane people, working out conflicts is feasible because you can discuss different points of view and come to some kind of conclusion about whatever you’re dealing with. (This doesn’t mean that if you can’t come to a conclusion that one of you is not sane though...) People want to be right and live well, but sometimes their idea of right is either very different than yours, or enforced on you.

When faced with conflict, communication is the only remedy. When you have enough understanding of another person’s viewpoints, and they have enough understanding of your viewpoints—resolution is possible if the goals involved are aligned enough. In order to accomplish this, you have to respect people enough to let them have their say, and inquire about things that you don’t understand, while really listening to what you hear. It’s amazing how different another person’s viewpoint can be.

Working things out with people who have heavy attitudes can be a different story, and depending upon how good you are in human behavior will have an easy or rough time at it. The same principle of communication being key applies, but you need to have more patience with someone if they: reject what you say; don’t seem to be willing to get the point; argue needlessly; or portray a myriad of unworkable attitudes. You need to deal with them at a reality level they’ll get—and talk it out until some conclusion is arrived at.

A workable method of dealing with negative attitudes is to align the conversation to the goal of the activity, e.g., what’s going to get us the most work, what’s going to make rehearsals more efficient, etc. Regardless of the attitude, the one common reality you’ll have is that you are both currently in the same location, the room for example, and probably in the same band with some kind of mutual goal. That’s the alignment factor and your safety net because you at least have these things in common.

Something to realize is that some people will never change their attitude unless they go through some intense emotional and/or spiritual changes that undercut their entire mental attitude of existence. If you try to change them you’re not only wasting everybody’s time, but are headed for disaster and endless difficulty. A rock is a rock. But, if you can get some agreement on where you are going and what are you doing to get there, sometimes you can work things out. You don’t have to be friends with the people you work with. When you’re playing good music the aesthetic quality of the creation of art can transcend the entire human factor, though it is best to like the people you play with.

If you can’t work things out, there are only three things you can do:

1. Live with it.
2. Fire the person.
3. Quit the band yourself.


I was in a nine-piece show band at an amusement park many years ago, and the drummer was impossible to work with. He’d throw trash on the floor wherever he was, constantly made fun of people, rushed like mad when soloing and accused the rest of the band of dragging. He was a real pain. Everyone in the band, especially the band leader, had called him aside at one point or another and tried to work it out. We wanted him to stop doing these things because it bugged us, but the drummer was always right. He always had a reason and a “valid” excuse for every point mentioned and wasn’t going to see anybody else's viewpoint for nothin’. Socially he was a pretty pleasant guy—but his attitude about life was pretty hostile. If it was my band I would have fired him. But, I liked the gig so just never talked to him about anything more than the weather, and never hung out with him unless I had to.

Because of the way I acted, I had a very cool gig for four years. On the other hand the trombonist was constantly getting into squabbles and arguments with the guy because he was trying to get him to change—which was a losing battle.

The person with the highest awareness of the situation inherits being responsible for it one way or the other. It’s as much your responsibility to work with an unruly person as it is for him to work with you. Given that we don’t need to agree on everything to gig with each other, many situations can be avoided by not actively aggravating the situation ourselves.


A keyboardist in my main casual band once would not get with the program. He was a great player, but during dinner sets would always get too loud and “outside” for the audiences we were playing for. We extensively discussed how it was bad for business in that it annoyed people, displeased the clients and could hurt our referrals. He was a seasoned player and knew all of these things, but his heart was no longer in this type of work and he just stopped caring about anything but doing what he wanted. So I fired him—and he was a friend of mine.

Business is business.

Before firing somebody it’s good to give a guy a chance unless he’s totally impossible, then I suggest the following sequence:

  1. Talk with the person and try to work it out.
  2. If the problem persists, talk with the person again and be very specific—get down to all the fine points. Discuss what is being said or done, and what the results of his/her actions are, and the whole thing. Talk about the who, what, where, why and becauses of it all.
  3. If the problem still persists give him one last warning.
  4. If the problem still persists fire him.
Realize too, that people can have bad days and go through tough times. Nothing justifies being unprofessional, but unless something is chronic (always there), helping someone work something out is a very cool thing to do. It’s good to help the ones we’re associated with, and after all—we’re all in this together. The better each of us does, the better everybody around us will do and vice versa.


Sometimes you just have to quit the band, or not join it to begin with. If you’re not gigging and are mostly playing for fun and experience, don’t do it if it’s not fun!

If you don’t need the money, or feel confident about getting another gig as soon as you need to—quit, and be done with the hassle. But, if you need the money, and don’t have the confidence that you’ll get another gig by the time your money runs out you might want to stick it out.

Something to keep in mind is your own mental disposition toward things. If you are going to quit a band because certain people introvert you and make you feel bad—well, maybe anyone can introvert you and make you feel bad because that’s the way you are. Some people take offense easily, for example, and are quickly bothered by things said to them, like constructive criticism or not accepting an idea you had, or whatever.

All I’m saying here is to also inspect yourself as well as others. We are responsible for the things that happen in our lives and earth is a two-way street whether we like it or not. All too often people point fingers toward someone else before first seeing what’s going on with themselves.

There’s no one formula that says to do this or that. Some people never put up with crap from
anybody at anytime, while others can work things out. One person can be bugged by someone’s attitude and somebody else not. We’re in the field of human behavior here, and it’s a pretty large one. The bottom line is—you do what you need to do according to what you think is best. You need to keep your personal integrity intact and take counsel with yourself despite any evaluations from others.

(Be sure and work something out with groups you leave so you don’t leave a trail of potential enemies behind. These may be people you eventually want to work with, or people who might want to hire you at some point in the future.)


The more confidence you have in yourself, the easier everything is. When you are self-confident you feel good about who you are, what you are doing and have faith in your ability to make correct decisions. The better you feel about yourself the easier it is to actually observe what’s going on, then determine what to do or how to act in any given situation.

Though many things can contribute to one’s confidence level, the bottom line for a musician is his or her musicianship level, balanced with playing experience. When you are good and know it, when you’ve played with many people and experienced doing well, and when you’ve recovered and moved forward from falling on your head a few times—you develop self-confidence. When you have confidence in yourself it will come across to other people and they will have confidence in you as well.

Whereas crooked teeth, being unhealthy and any emotional instabilities can all diminish self-confidence; practicing efficiently, sounding good and liking what you do can raise it. Practicing your instrument isn’t going to “cure” a deep-seated fear of purple grasshoppers but the more you know about what you are doing the better your chances are of having true confidence.

Certain people seem confident all the time no matter what they’re doing, or no matter how well or not they are doing it. Some people are just like that, whereas others need to work at it harder. Displaying confidence can be many things from having a natural inner calm, covering up insecurities, to a burst of power to pull oneself through a tough time.

People increase their confidence in many ways. Musically speaking, when you train at your craft, get good, feel good about your playing and play with others a lot you gain confidence.


You cannot be successful or confident at anything if you are closely connected to someone who is antagonistic toward you or what you are doing. Whether it be open hostility toward you, or the smiley-faced-stabbing-remarks that “don’t really mean anything,” these people can ruin your life—and will.

For the more innocent people in the world it can be hard to believe that someone you are close to would prefer you to fail. Why would anybody be that way? Well, without getting into the “Whys” of it all, some people are like that and you need to be alerted to this fact.

Have you ever known anyone, that every time you’ve finished speaking with them about what you are doing you feel like maybe you shouldn’t do it; or maybe you’re not good enough; or you feel a little “smaller” than you did before? Well, they might or might not be “bad people,” but chances are you shouldn’t talk to them about your personal activities anymore.

The person who doesn’t believe your musical goals are valid and thinks they should be given up; the girlfriend or boyfriend who gets pissed because you’re always practicing or going out to rehearse; the person who insists that you should “grow up” and stop dreaming about things that could never happen; and a dozen viewpoints like these mean one thing—they want you to give your music up, because in their eyes you are going to fail. (Chances are they gave up their dreams long ago and couldn’t imagine anyone else achieving theirs.)

Life can be tough enough without close contacts making it worse.

If it’s not a chronic thing you can generally work it out. For example, if a husband starts neglecting his wife, there’s gonna be trouble, and some family policy needs to be made. If Aunt Martha hasn’t a clue about what’s happening, you might be able to explain it to her in a way that results in her saying, “Oh! I had no idea that you were so serious about your music. Well, good luck!”

These are isolated situations that are easily remedied. But, when you have someone actively counter-intending what you are doing, you have got a problem that needs to be dealt with. There are only two ways to go: (1) you handle the person so they never say these things to you, and even if they don’t support what you are doing, at least they don’t oppose it—openly or internally, or (2) you have to not see this person anymore. Period.

I’ve seen people quit playing because of associations like this; and I’ve seen a dramatic resurgence of a persons career after remedying it. This is very important, even if difficult to deal with—which it can be.

Fun and success are what’s happening, so don’t let anyone kill it for you—not anyone.

The world needs good music and good entertainment; and if you have the chance of supplying it I invite you to do so—it can benefit everyone around.

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