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Shaman's Q&A:


Shaman --

Enjoyed your latest column. I'm a singer who recently left a band because of a very "bad-witch" guitar player. We had a huge blowup over the usual band-related crap. He plays too loud -- I mean unreasonably loud -- and drowns out my vocals. He won't switch keys to fit my my voice type and vocal style, saying I should be able to sing anything in any key.

The problem is, he's a great guitar player, but he does not have the maturity to work with other people in a way that will compliment them, him and the whole band. Hidden agendas? He views music as a competition and a battle. He's life is really screwed up, so I think he's trying to even his little scores by walking over everybody with his amplifier. (He uses a concert hall amplifier when we practice in a friend's basement.)

Anyway, I've tried to reason with him and work with him for a couple years now, but I think that's an impossible task. Is there any strategy you might be able to share with me to get though to this guy. I only ask because he's really a talented musician who is wasting himself because of his attitude and immaturity. I'm not the only one who feels this way. He alienates most people who play with him.

-- Carmen G.


Carmen, I feel for you in your situation. There is still hope though. I could do a much better job explaining this to you in person, I will try to be helpful via email:

When you say you left the band, was it the first time? The reason why I need the clarification is that for some people "leaving the band" is an expression of their disgruntled-ness. Which I am assuming that it is because you obviously care about jamming with this guy. You've also spent some time together, which is a good thing in a band. Blow-ups in themselves aren't necessarily bad as long as something is resolved and you can move on together. (My email consulting will be limited because of the nature of email. So take the following advice with a grain of salt if it doesn't sound like your situation.)

He's definitely behaving as a bad-witch. It sounds like he wants people to work with him, but he won't work with them. Bad-witches sometimes view making music as a way to "get their way" and feel better about themselves??.by using control. Sadly, good-witches sometimes give-and-give; they are there to make music and have fun doing what they love.

It reminds me of the story of the Sith Lords from Star Wars. They split from the Jedi because the Sith motto was "power unused is power wasted". They had learned to harness the power of the force. The end result was that they killed each other off because they were trying to be more powerful over the next guy. So then a new Sith rule was developed about only having two Sith at any given time: master & apprentice. Whereas the Jedi can get along no matter how many exist, because they believe that the force should bring balance to the universe.

If you follow me: bad-witches together kill each other off. Bad-witch with good-witch creates drama. Good-witch with good-witch creates a team. The question here to a certain extent is about power. Power in the hands of a Sith Lord is used one way, power in the hands of a Jedi is used another way. If you had more say in the band (ie. Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Mellencamp, etc.), and were a good-witch, you wouldn't have much problem handling a bad-witch. In these bands, a bad-witch doesn't have much power to abuse. But your band doesn't sound like that??.

In a fairly democratic-operating band, the only way that you will be able to salvage this musical partnership is to get the valued guitar player to come over to the light side of the force. You can attempt to change him, but in the end, you have do decide if its worth your time, etc. Otherwise your choice is to find someone new. You have to weigh the pros and cons yourself though. In the end, the only real control you have is over yourself.

When dealing with someone like this, Its important for you not to participate in argumentative behavior. (ie if he insults you, don't insult him back. Try not to participate in the drama of the situation; it will take a lot of control on your behalf.) Try to keep your own personal focus on music. Realize too that all people are not as good expressing themselves in a non-aggressive way. When you behave argumentatively, your giving an argumentative person a license.

I could actually go now to explore different relational techniques, but first you need to make sure that this is someone you should be playing with. If you do decide to leave though, don't make it personal. (ie don't say, "I'm leaving because you're a jerk.") You've said some legitimate things in this email. (After all, how can you sing if he won't work with you? Singers need some different attention because their instrument functions differently than the rest. A person can do a lot to be healthy and affect their voice (ie range and stuff) but it doesn't happen overnight??..)

Overall, my simple answer is that this guitar player has issues to work out. Issues and behavior which are ruining his musical relationships. Your choice is work through it with him or move on. You could decide to wait it out, but you have no idea when he'll come around, y'know? While you are waiting, other people are making music. Before moving on though, I'll give you something to try. "Coming around" doesn't happen over night, but if you can get him to at least move in that direction, you can salvage the relationship.

Remember to be professional and humble. Do not sink to his level if he insults you. Try to sit down with him and say something to the effect, "hey, I really want to jam with you because I think you're an awesome guitar player. I really have tried to work with you, but I feel like there's nothing left that I can do to make the situation better. These are some problems that I've tried to overcome??." And then you'd discuss specific issues (ie you have a hard time singing over his amps, you feel like crap when he insults you for it. etc.) Then continue: "I feel terrible because I don't want to leave, but I also feel like you are not working with me. I feel like I have no other options." Then just wait.

The whole point is for you to be as honest and professional as you can, without adding to the emotional intensity. You are trying to resolve the situation with is both professional and personal. (ie. Making music is both professional and personal.) He'll respond in one of two ways: he will either insult you and go on as a bad-witch; or he just may attempt to resolve the issues. If he doesn't show any concern about the issues, then you know who your dealing with. By doing this though, your giving him a chance to behave productively in this interaction.

There's many issues in a band, and unless the members can discuss things, then there will be no band. I hope this email has helped. You should feel free to write me for clarification or further comments. (At least write me back and tell me how things go, I'd be interested to hear.) If this is a musical relationship that you value, then my best wishes to your resolving it. Just remember to be a good-witch at all times. Being a bad-witch even for a second can give a bad-witch reason not to change. Get good at turning-the-other-cheek and emphasizing what you honestly value about the person (even if you feel they don't deserve hearing it.) Being a good-witch at all times makes you the most valuable musician to work with because you are behaving professionally. Keep your eye on your personal goals through it all. Good luck.

--Shaman Sean


Thanks for your your perceptive comments and advice. Relating to my situation with the bad witch guitar player to the Siths in Star Wars was right on target. The whole thing with him is power -- and if he was a Sith in Star Wars legend, he would have been dead long ago.

Yes, I've left the band (which has gone through several >transformations already), more than once on the tail of the same complaints, but the guy doesn't get it and continues to act like a Sith. I had the conversation you had suggested I have with him about a month ago. Mainly, I told him, very diplomatically, that he had to start bending and working better with people. I haven't heard from him since, even after following up with a phone call about a week ago.I heard they're even trying out new singers.

That doesn't bother me. It's for the best. He hasn't worked with a lot of singers, and I'm sure others will have similar complaints, unless they have five octave ranges (impossible) and can scream louder than Sammy Hagar, Roger Daltry and Steven Tyler put together.

And in good witch fashion, I've wished them well via conversations with other band members, whom I still get along with. (For the record, they complain about him too, but they are old friends of his and can put up with him more easily than I can. I also said I'd show up at their gigs.

I pretty much came to the conclusion that it will never work with him (I can be a pain in the butt too sometimes) or that he will ever change, Shaman, and what you've told me just provides further confirmation.

And, yes, I have hooked up with other musicians whom I'm more compatible with and who realize that a band is not about one person -- it's about collaberation and bringing every one's talents to the forefront to make the best music possible.

Thanks for letting me sit on your pyschiatrist's couch. I enjoy your column and will continue following you in the Muse.

-- Carmen


I'm glad to hear that you've been moving forward from the situation, and that you've found a band. If you play in Detroit, let me know.

May the force be with you. (i.e. the muse),

--Shaman Sean

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