Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear Dude,

I’ve been playing guitar for ten years and have been with my current band for four. It began as a bit of fun, as all bands do, and it has gradually grown into something a little bigger than I ever expected. We are currently playing gigs in support of an EP – released on a small independent label with national distribution. It has been getting some good reviews and selling consistently, and we are starting to make a name for ourselves. The next step is to start writing our debut LP.

Despite all this positive growth, I am no longer enjoying my time in the band. For the past six months or so, I’ve gradually been losing interest due to a number of reasons, from personality clashes, to questioning other members motivations and dedication, to even getting bored with the music. I’m missing that variety of styles I started out playing. In short, we can just label it the age-old classic, “personal and musical differences”.

This has reached a climax as of late, and I’ve decided that to preserve the fond memories I have of the band, I should leave. I feel selfish for wanting to leave at such a pivotal point. I feel I wouldn’t be giving the necessary 110% if I stay, but also fear losing the friendships I’ve made if I do leave. I do still want to be in a band and play gigs and tour, just not in this band and style. I know you’ve covered the subject of band members leaving from the one side – members being asked to leave – but what’s the best way to approach it from the other side, when you want to leave the band?

I’d like to know if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, and how you approached it. Or, how would you suggest I approach this issue and explain myself to the band in a way that won’t hinder the band’s progress, or affect my relationship with the remaining members?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear Should I Stay or Should I Go,

You know I have received many emails about member changes and issues, but I have never had the chance to write about it from this angle. Though I’ve never actually quit a band before, I have had to deal with this issue several times in my life and have successfully made it through with friendships intact. It’s not easy, and will take honesty, trust, and most of all understanding to make it work.

OK, just so you know, it’s totally cool to have the feelings you do. Music is about creativity and expression and it certainly involves a lot of sacrifice and dedication. Therefore, one of the most honorable things you can actually do as a musician, and fellow dude to your friends, is bow out if your heart’s not in it. I have both been in bands and worked with bands who have members that are just buying their time. The worst type is the dude who just sticks around because they think there’s going to be quick success right around the corner. Look, its just best to be honest. Do you love what you’re doing? Does it fulfill you creatively, professionally, and personally? Leaving a band, especially one that is a working band (touring, playing shows, releasing records), is not a decision you should make overnight. You have to remember there is only so much time to rock before it’s all over, so if you’re unhappy don’t waste your (and everyone else’s) time doing something your heart’s not into.

So there you have it, some food for thought. But you’ve already decided you want to leave the band, so what is the most positive way to go about doing it? What’s the most DUDEIFIED way to gracefully leave and still remain friends with the rest of the band?

These are my suggestions;

– To start, you need to have a one on one talk with the band leader or leaders and tell them why you’re leaving. Its almost like breaking up with a girlfriend, so just remember its best to be short, honest, and keep it relatively simple. Give your friend a chance to talk and make sure you allow them to be angry, depressed, worried, whatever their reaction is. It’s ok, take it from a band leader who has had this happen to him numerous times, they will survive.

– Second, tell them that you’re committed to helping in the transition of a replacement. You will promise to help in anyway that is reasonably possible to keep the band moving and functioning seamlessly. You have to remind them that you have dedicated a lot of time, energy, emotion, and self to giving life to this band and you do not want to hurt the band. You only wish to leave to follow another path.

– Next you’re going to have to notify the band. You want to make sure it is the band and only the band that is there for this conversation. Try to keep it short and tell them what you told the leader (who should not tell the band you are leaving before you do). Remind them that you care about their friendship and that you have really enjoyed your time together. It’s important to bring up big picture things here like friendship, hard work, and all the things you have accomplished together. You should remind them that being in a band is not just about being a rock star, it’s also about the time trying to get there. After this conversation things will be weird. The band is going to have to see you as an outsider for itself to survive. They may treat you a bit differently and they may act almost crazy, but you need to give this both time and space to heal. It’s not something that will work itself out in one night. The natural response is for them to be upset to you leaving, but I promise if you handle it with respect, loyalty, and understanding these feelings will subside after they find a suitable replacement.

– You should define what the band needs to be able to survive. Are there any current shows booked? Are there songs left unwritten? Do you owe any of them money? Whatever it is make sure you define exactly what they need you to do before you go. If they have shows booked or songs half written offer to close those lose ends. You should definitely either tab out or write out all your guitar parts in a way that another guitarist can easily read or pick up. It would be ideal if the band would allow you to train other members, but chances are they are going to want you out of the picture as soon as possible, so make sure you have a map of all the music for the new member to follow. This is a really helpful way for bands to move on from a line up change fast. You need to make sure you allow the band to function as if it were business as usual right up to the point where you exit the band. If you have followed through and kept up every commitment, they should, hopefully, not resent or have any ill will towards you.

– After you and the entire band have fully discussed all the details of you leaving and you’ve committed to completing any and all obligations, its good to figure out when your actual exit will take place. Now this might not happen right away, it could take as long as a few weeks before you’re free from all commitments, but its good to set an actual end date. See, you don’t want to quit a band just to become a fill in guitar player for the same band! You have to be able to set goals and one of them is defining when it is this actually over. This is going to be different for every band but the easiest way to set this goal is to say, ‘ok after this tour, or after these shows, or after we record this, I’m out.’

Obviously, these are not hard and fast rules, but it’s at least a good place to start. See, every band is like a family, or a gang, and every band is going to have its unique set of members, attitudes, and inter-dynamics. You have to go into this thing with an open mind. If the bandleader slams the door on you and throws your Les Paul in the pool next to the practice space, then so be it. But, if you want to quit the band while maintaining your friendships, you’re going to have to be patient and give it time. In the end, it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Shit, when you started, or joined, the band I am sure it was great fun and very simple. Try to keep that in mind too. Some people go to work all day in hospitals, or as police officers, and deal with real drama, so try not to blow it out of proportion. In the end it’s a band, and there will always be other bands. You need to keep both your perspective as well as your cool. Make sure you’re open about your feelings and you do everything in your power to be fair and help your bros continue. When they see you are working to make sure they can survive so you can move on, then they will forgive you for leaving and respect you as a true friend.

The Dude


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