Why Most Bands Don’t Last

In response to a Maclean’s magazine interviewer who found it “hard to understand why so many bands implode at the height of their careers, when they’re poised to make the most money,” David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears had this to say recently about his group’s situation:

“There were massive egos, and success only made them bigger. When I joined BS&T there was already a lot of political infighting, and by 1969 we had the number one album in the world–throw $20 million into the mix, and love beads and flower power go out the window. There were nine guys in the band, and each one had a girlfriend or family telling him, “You’re the real star, you don’t need those other guys.” Another issue was that a few of us were making a lot more money than everyone else. I was the principal songwriter, so I was making royalties off the songs I’d written, like “Spinning Wheel”, and two others owned the band’s name, so they were really the owners of a corporation and getting a bigger cut. Everyone else only made money if we toured. Because the band was run like a democracy, the majority was always voting to tour–it was their only way to make a living. Touring like that was very hard on my voice, and while a trumpet player could take a break and they’d bring someone else in, the lead singer has to go on every night. In 1972, I quit because I just couldn’t take it anymore.” [from “On the implosion of Blood Sweat & Tears”, Kate Fillion, Maclean’s, August 30, 2010]

This band had all the creative and performing talent in the world, yet it’s demise, which came sooner rather than later, was inevitable.

Contrast that to the situation with U2, a band that’s been together for over three decades and consider themselves family. They set it up from the beginning that each member is an equal in terms of decision-making and most of the revenue sharing and writing credits. While one member, Bono, is the lead in the act and unquestionably has more prominence in the public eye, and each member has a degree of freedom to engage in music-related projects unrelated to the band, the group is structured to survive. It doesn’t hurt that they like each other as people as well.

There are lots of things a band can and should do to protect each member’s interests as well as go a long way to ensuring that the band survives long-term. I’ll have more to say on this in a future blog.

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