Addressing The “Hang Factor” – Part 1

Musicians get to “play” with passionate, creative people, see the world, receive the adulation of fans, and, in some cases, even become rich in the process.  But because of such enticing possibilities there is a never-ending crush of skilled players jockeying for good gigs, which creates a friendly but authentic rivalry that raises the standards of professionalism for everyone involved. To take a paying job as a musician it is assumed that you can give the artist, band, or producer what they need, with ease and conviction, and on great sounding gear. These expectations don’t generally faze an aspiring musician. Part of what compels players to attempt music in the first place is a shared inner confidence that filters out those who would be demoralized by such demands. But there is another, often non-verbalized component to success that can keep us from our goals no matter how well we play or how great we sound. It is called our “hang factor”. If we can’t get along with players off stage, it will considerably decrease the time we spend on stage.

The world of professional music can be everything you’ve always imagined, but not all the time. And it’s normally only after a full life-commitment that a less considered side of the business begins to emerge. Long drives, frequent waiting, schedule changes, lack of privacy, etc. Eventually the highs of playing can be interspersed with deep lulls of boredom, exciting shows can be followed by disappointing ones, and sudden plan changes can affect sleep patterns and eating schedules. After a while the emotional ups and downs of the music business can start to sap your energy and kindness, and this is a good time to consider how you might be affecting the people around you, because bad moods tend to be the time when we are most in jeopardy of lowering our hang status.

Everyone reacts differently to surprises, disruptions, and annoyances. In an intimate endeavor like music, however, bad moods and hurt feelings are not only awkward but can stifle creativity or even stop the whole process. Everybody is a joy when things are going well but if you’re no fun to hang with during the hard times, you put yourself at a huge disadvantage for getting work. Players who disrupt the mood of the group don’t tend to get as far or stay as long as players with better composure. The good news is that your character faults don’t have to limit your career. You can turn it around and become a good hang anytime you choose. Like, right now – before any damage is done.

Bigger issues quickly work themselves out but some of the less noticed offenses can also stack up in time. Here are some less discussed “Bad Hang” offenses that many people may not even realize they have been committing:

Straggling –

Anyone can end up late once in a while but chronic tardiness can be very draining on the people with whom you work. Not only is it rude to make others wait but to run behind schedule can be costly in the studio and create huge problems on the road. On tour, if one person is regularly late everyone else begins to delay their arrival times accordingly. Soon there becomes a “meeting time” and a “band time”. Eventually someone shows up late for “band time” the clock is recalibrated yet again. Bands can do this until their departures are so far behind schedule that they have to skip meals or miss load-ins and sound checks. We can’t control when the rest of the band will show up but we can make sure we aren’t part of the problem. True professionalism is only recognized by true professionals, and those are the players to side with anyway.

Stinking:

Proper hygiene is a relative term and some people are more comfortable being dirty than others. Some people are allergic to deodorant. That’s fine. Just make sure you don’t stink. Likewise, consider what your socks smell like if you want to take off your shoes on a long drive. Just because we spend a lot of time with folks doesn’t mean we’re with our family. Sometimes we can forget we’re working!

And then there’s tobacco. Smokers are usually polite while having a cigarette but often don’t realize how bad they smell directly after the act. An equal offense is wearing thick aftershave, cologne, or perfume. One time I was on an overnight drive with a player whose Petrulli oil had so permeated the bus that I had a dream I was at Woodstock! Traveling with a band tends to cram players into close confines for long periods of time. If people can smell you for more than a whiff or two, you are likely overextending your boundaries.

Star-i-tis:

If our musical self-worth is too great to accept direction we limit our options and drive people crazy at the same time. Temporary feelings of superiority are not worth the separation they create. It’s more fun to have a good working relationship than some unnecessary illusion of respect. I once did a tour with a horn player who operated on a different level than the rest of the band. One day he complained about having to step over a guitar case to get in the van. When somebody suggested it might have been easier to put the case inside rather than step over it, he replied the immortal words: “I don’t do gear.” We never brought him out again but in a way he never stopped traveling with us. The sentence “I don’t do gear.” went on to become a popular inside joke, usually spoken right before load in/out, or whenever someone was perceived to be acting in an ego-soaked manner.

Whining:

As a wise sage once said, “Discomfort is like gas. Keep it in and it affects you. Let it out and it affects everyone.” I was in a band that  once booked a short East Coast tour in the middle of winter. Before we even left home we could see it was routed straight into a storm the locals were respectfully calling a “Nor’Easter”. Between the anticipated cold, delays, and traffic snarls, this was destined to be a challenging trip. So on the first drive we decided as a band to try and do the entire run without complaining. It was quite a test and there were many close calls. One night we unloaded our gear at the back door of a venue in the freezing wind and snow only to discover there was nobody inside to let us in. Our van and trailer were already gone to look for parking and we were forced to stand in a windblown alley until someone arrived to open the door. As the snow piled up on our cases somebody yelled “Damn!” We thought we had him but he quickly added, “I can’t get over how damn refreshing this air feels!” As it got colder one line built on the next and soon we were all cursing loudly at how “effing” incredible it all was. Nobody wants to be around a whiner. It is unattractive and unproductive. It helps to try banning it completely as an option. Every little whimper we overcome can be a sign of progress.

Sulking:

Sulkers are silent whiners, which is even less acceptable. At least whiners have an opinion and the courtesy to let you know what they’re mad about. To sit in the corner with your arms crossed and your head on your chin is only permitted as a sleeping position. It is important to remember that just because your mouth is closed doesn’t mean you aren’t still communicating.

Grenade throwing:

I was in a band once that ordered some expensive tour posters and when they arrived we found an obvious misspelling in the copy. It was too late to change the error or get a refund and I was filled with self righteous indignation. Never mind the fact that I hadn’t helped design the poster, proofread it, or seen to it’s printing. I hadn’t bothered to be involved at all but still felt compelled to drill for answers on how such an oversight could have occurred. I was more interested in who was to blame than how to fix the problem. It’s important to remember that the business of music often requires us to take care of many details. The amount of duties and organization required create plenty of opportunity for mistakes to occur. Pointing and pouting without offering a solution doesn’t change the situation for the better. We can’t be a team players while throwing grenades at our teammates.

Most professional musicians are able to overcome the small differences they may have with their band mates and go on to enjoy great working relationships, but it never hurts to take an honest look at your behaviors and attitudes. Nobody is perfect but if you are at least mindful of the aspects within your control you will have much better odds of getting along with others. Most of the problems that arise are easily surmountable when analyzed from a different perspective. Part two of this topic will discuss a few of the factors that may cause a musician to lose their poise, and explain how you can process the pressures and strains of music life so that they won’t give you (and the people near you) as much grief.


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14 thoughts on “Addressing The “Hang Factor” – Part 1

  1. Kevin

    Hey Steve – I had no idea you were such a good writer. Love the “I don’t do gear” part. Funny.

    – Kevin

  2. NAME*

    MESSAGE* Well put Steve. Doesn’t explain why I’m still broke. I think it’s because I chose kids over living on the road, a choice I would NOT change, but well put! There are 2 kinds of horn players- those who “don’t do gear” (wimps) and those of us who “do as much gear” as possible because we feel guilty for not having any gear! LOL Love your take on stinkiness too! I’ll never forget the time our bone player was dropping the nastiest egg bombs the whole trip over Donner Summit. It was snowing AND the first day of Winter break, so about a 17 hour ordeal getting to Tahoe. The driver couldn’t take it anymore (and neither could the rest of us) so actually pulled over and stopped so everyone could breath and he could ventilate the van. The perpetrator wakes up and yells, “hey close the doors, I’m trying to sleep!” He almost got jerked out into the snow and ditched. We’re all TRYING TO BREATH and didn’t bring our gas masks! LMFAO! I still love the guy, but HOLY WAH!!!

  3. Robb Horn

    Always liked reading your thoughts on DFO. Keep it up and keep me current!!

  4. william madrid

    Really great advice! Not only for musicians, but for everyone in general . Getting along with others is essential for human development. A little humility goes a long way.

  5. Kat

    Great insight Steve! Some of these band maladies are universal. Thanks for the advice! Some one asked me many years ago what it was like to travel on the road. We were so young and green that it was all by-the-seat-of-our-pants. The only description I could think of at the time was the movie “Light of Day” with Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox. The similarities were scary.

    Love your blog. ~Kat

  6. Julio Reyes

    THANK YOU!!! I’ve met so many great musicians that have no clue why they don’t get called for tours or gigs, in general. He kept complaining every time we did a gig together. He is a guitar player and a good one, too. We played in a country rock band and opened for lots of heavy-weights. We all got tired of his complaining that I finally pulled him aside and told him that he’s a great player, but he’s not being called because he acts like a spoiled little jerk and needs to be more of a team player and not a diva. He caught on and changed. He now tours with a very well-known band, who shall remain nameless.

    I’ve noticed that if your ability to hang is better than your aptitude to play, you’ll get the gig over somebody who is an awesome player, but acts like a jerk.

  7. Hillary

    Steve – these are life lessons for all of us – thank you and I plan to share your insight with my teenagers!!

  8. Island MOUNTAIN pat

    🙂 NICE WORK STEVE 🙂

  9. Martha Yawn

    Really enjoyed what you said.If everyone in the world would read and learn from your readings,things could and would get better.

  10. Steven W Bowman

    Great information and insite that will help musicians and bands especially young bands. I have said for years that many bands would have been successful if they didn’t break up.
    I know this first hand as the band with the greatest potential I worked with broke up due to some of the issues you discuss here.

  11. Cathy Scott

    This hits it right on the head – I’ve been touring with a group for over 10 years now, with a 6 yr break in the middle. The group was eager to get me back in, despite having to deal with some logistical issues, because they always felt I had the best interest of the group at heart, and wasn’t out for myself. Thanks for the article!

  12. Don Lee

    Thanks Steve. This subject has been on my mind, but I could not have put it as eloquently.

  13. Brett King Cosby

    Steve, Excellent article. Very insightful. There is no atmosphere more poignant for having/developing supreme social skills as in an environment where the goal is artistic expression achieved through interaction.
    Very cool!

  14. Jonathan

    Steve,
    I love reading your stuff. It’s very insightful. I’m glad you are doing this.