I've always been a lurker when it comes to actual political organizing. I've been to plenty of protests, but only when someone said "hey, we're doing this on this day at this place, be there!" I've never been part of a committee, never lead a march, never been anything but an additional body at a rally. Mainly because I didn't think I have people skills. I mean, I have people skills, but not the kind that would be useful to motivate people to do something that involves a lot of unpaid effort. Then it occured to me. I have been doing this very thing for years. In a band. So I thought I'd share some thoughts on organizing, maybe it will help you- or maybe you can give me some advice, as you'll see, it hasn't always been easy.
I don't want to out myself, not that it would matter. I play in a punk band you've never heard of. It's not how I make a living. We don't have dressing rooms or guarantees or riders or roadies or fans numbering in the... hundreds. We've never had a month where we made more than we spent on studio rent. We don't drink (much) for free or have groupies, male or female. We just do it for fun. And some of the time it's sublime. A lot of the time it's boring.
As the frontman/principal songwriter in almost all the bands I have done, I have become the "leader." In exchange for getting to play the music I like to play, I am in charge of:
-Making sure people come to practice
-Recruiting new people when members quit
-Making sure rent gets paid
-Mediating disputes between members
-Schmoozing other bands so they’ll ask us to play with them
And lots more. This, all so I can enjoy playing a half hour set before a paying crowd of a couple dozen. I’m not complaining, when it goes well, it’s the best. When it goes badly it makes for amusing anecdotes. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. And it has taught me a lot-
Be up front with your goals
I tell people- we’re old. We’re not going to be famous or rich. We’re just going to have fun. If you have illusions about becoming the next Kings of Leon, we’re not for you. I imagine a lot of political groups get sidetracked because the goal is too lofty.
Don’t take sides in disputes
Ok, I’m lying. Take sides. Because some people are more important to your group than others*. But try not to look like you’re taking sides. And let everyone else know what’s going on so they’re not blindsided and so the feuding parties don’t spend their time lobbying everyone else to take their side. Actually, this part is really ugly and almost never turns out well. If someone is making trouble, it’s really best to get rid of them sooner rather than later. Then again, don’t start going on Stalinesque purges either.
Actually, I really can’t give advice here. I’ve had stuff blow up in my face more than once. Seen people who had been friends for years scream at each other over song choice. Seen malfunctioning instruments thrown into walls**. Seen grown men cry. Bands, like politics, seem to attract a certain kind of person who just can’t let go of the drama. Sometimes all you can do is just wait for things to blow over, and hope you don’t lose too many key players.
Voting sucks. For huge groups, it’s the only option. But when there are 5 or 10 of you and someone shouts out “let’s hold a vote” they’re not trying to find a solution that fits everyone- they’re trying to shut down the conversation. If it’s truly important, then you’re just going to have to argue until everyone is willing to compromise. The person who doesn’t care that much can say so and go take a break.
If it feels like a job, people will want to get paid. And if you can’t pay people (I sure can’t!) then you’ll have to have fun. Allow everyone to have a say. Be willing to try out people’s ideas even when they seem silly and/or embarrassing. This last point I can’t stress enough- too often you get someone in your group who will pooh-pooh every unorthodox idea. Get rid of that person.
On the other hand, if you find yourself guilt-tripping people into showing up for events, just know that when you finally get that big important gig, those people will gleefully flake on you at the last minute.
I’ve been doing this for years. I had to start small. First the goal was to play a gig, any gig. Then it was to record a demo. Then it was to play on a weekend. Then play a gig where we got paid. Then save enough money to record at a real studio. And so on. Maybe someday one of our songs will be on the local radio…
*This may be news to people who don’t do music, but there is an unspoken band hierarchy, and it roughly goes in this order starting at the top: Singer, Drummer, Lead Guitar, Bass, Rhythm Guitar. And yes, I know I’m putting myself at the top of the hierarchy- I’m a front man, what do you expect?
**I once smashed a guitar myself during a live set just to see what it felt like. Let me tell you, you think it looks really cool until you spend 5 minutes after the set picking up pieces. Then you just look like an idiot. Don’t do it! Unless you have someone else to clean up after you.