The Devil’s Advocates

Q: I’ve been in a band with the same two people for about seven years, ever since we got our very first instruments. In the past few years, though, one of the members has really advanced tremendously in terms of both technical skill and songwriting ability, while the other has barely progressed at all (and may actually be worse in some ways).

The work of the member who has advanced (I’ll call him “Paul”) has become the main thrust of our recorded material, while the music of the other (I’ll refer to him as “Tom”) has fallen by the wayside. This really wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but Tom has difficulty learning material, especially the more complex things that Paul writes.

Ideally, they could switch instruments (Paul plays guitar and drums on most of the recordings, whereas Tom only plays guitar) so that we could play Paul’s songs, but Tom can’t play any other instruments well enough to make this feasible. We can’t play with only two people (especially with some of the more recent arrangements), and finding musicians of high enough quality to fill out the lineup is proving impossible.

Adding to the trouble is that Paul and Tom are brothers, live together, are my first cousins, and some of Tom’s songs are fan favorites. Plus, Tom is very sensitive about his work and does not respond to criticism well. I don’t know what to do about all of this, and I’ve been worrying over it for quite some time. Help me out.

-Need a New Bandmate

Dear New Bandmate,

The fact that you are having problems with one of your business associates is very unfortunate. After all, that is essentially what these people are to you. Being in a band is a job; you work together and a lot of time is invested in your interaction with these people. You want it to be successful, and that success is measured by whether or not you feel that you have been wasting your time.

Your situation is complicated even more by the fact that you are related to these people. You may feel an obligation to the band, but at the same time you must also keep in mind the commitment you have to your family. From my point of view there are two possible solutions to your problem: be cruel or be patient.

Being cruel is not nearly as bad as it may sound. Perhaps I should call it something else altogether. But that is neither here nor there. This method would require you to employ the thinking of the brilliantly-minded Nietzsche. You want the band to succeed, right? Your cousin Tom is slowing you and your adequate cousin Paul down. So why not simply dump the bum? Just because Tom cannot get with the program does not mean that you should have to get dragged down with him. Family or no family, you should let no one get in the way of your goals of fame and fortune. And if Paul begins to slack off, get rid of him too. Come to think of it, this solution to your problem is not cruel at all. Maybe I should change it to “cool” instead.

Your second option involves you doing what the pesky many would consider “the right thing.” Personally, I think this bit is a crock of bull, but what kind of advocate would I be if I refused to show you both sides of the coin? Besides, I may be evil, but I am definitely not unfair.

This solution sounds fairly simple, but it is actually quite hard and a true test of character: love your family. Love Tom when he is lazy and slow. Be patient when he screws up. Love him more when he gets mad at you for calling him on it. If you want to get him up to speed with you and Paul, offer to help him. He may not be as sensitive to criticism if you make it constructive and non-threatening. If that does not work, then you should refer back to the “cool” method.