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When a Band Member Quits: A Discussion of Music Rights, Replacements and Other Considerations

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Q: I play with the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots (Arlington, VA). The only founding member of the band who’s been with the band longer than I have has just decided to call it quits. He was responsible for the riffs on our first album, which is also still under production. Now while I am the band’s primary vocalist/bassist/songwriter, he laid the instrumental groundwork for most of the songs. I’ve still got a fantastic drummer and lead guitarist (we were a four piece) who are a couple of wildcards, but I want to keep moving forward. So my question is this: should I replace my rhythm guitarist, or should we try rockin’ a power trio vibe?

A: There are many things to consider here.

The first thing I’d worry about is your material. If the now former member came up with the majority of the musical material for the band, or even just parts of various songs, you will either want to get his permission to continue playing those songs. This is especially true if you are recording them. You’ll need to decide what to do until you have enough newer material to phase those songs out, or you may want to simply start working hard on new material.

The question of whether to find another guitarist or do a power trio is one you’ll have to answer for yourself. Personally, I love the power trio format. It allows for more interaction and often also allows for a wider dynamic range. But you’ve got to discern for yourselves whether or not the trio is strong enough on it’s own to carry the weight.

Additionally, it is certainly cheaper to work as a trio. More money per musician, less gear to shlep, fewer hotel rooms, and you can likely tour in a minivan instead of toting a trailer, saving on gas and ease of travel.

The big question is that of ownership. If he formed the band, he very well may not like you to a) continue under the same name b) play and/or record his tunes.

If he is with ASCAP or BMI, he might be willing to simply continue owning a percentage of the songs and be given credit on the album, but you’ll need to suss that out with him.

If there is a modicum of success, I’d plan on legal fees, unfortunately. It’s all really a matter of scale and ego. If this is more fun than career, it likely won’t be much of an issue. But if you are going to start touring and then do even a little well, he very well may decide that he deserves a slice of the pie, depending on his level of ownership of the material.

If you are all serious about the project, I would choose a lineup which best supports the band and then focus on discerning who owns what musically. You’ll likely want to develop more tunes and phase his stuff out as soon as possible.

Like I said, if there is success or money involved, you would probably best be served by paying a lawyer to answer some of those questions, and draw up a contract.

Readers, how have you handled transitions like this? I look forward to hearing your stories and advice. Please post them in the comments.

Photo by bobthemast

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