When we’re collaborating with other musicians, we can default to thinking that our musical abilities are the only qualities that matter. If we can play well, we think, we should be seen as the MVB (most valuable bandmate) that we are.
Obviously, there’s more to being a valuable member of a musical team than simply playing your own instrument excellently, and I’ve noticed that certain musicians seem to not only execute their own parts well, but add to the sense of musical enjoyment for everyone involved, simply through the way we interact!
Players like this become coveted additions to any project, valued as highly for their catalytic nature as their actual music-making. Luckily, they seem to share a few common behaviors, so we should be able to glean from their experience:
Perhaps the most obvious mark of a great bandmate is their constant engagement. Whether actively listening to other’s ideas or providing feedback or direction where appropriate, these players foster the team dynamic through their communication. When we intentionally verbalize ideas together, we can process together, and eventually take more collective ownership of any musical product.
No one has ever felt too much encouragement, and the most valuable bandmates around distribute compliments freely. This behavior actually exists in two steps, since a meaningful compliment can only be delivered if we’ve been paying attention to noteworthy actions of others in the first place! Letting the drummer know that their fill made the transition pop makes them feel noticed and appreciated, which is what any band member wants to begin with. An encouraged musician often becomes a confident musician, and a band full of confident musicians simply sounds better.
Too often, we let big moments like a well-executed set pass us by. Whether it’s because it was “supposed to go well anyway,” or because cool kids don’t show happiness, we leave valuable motivation on the table. When we help each other feel victories, we keep ourselves in the right headspace not only to appreciate the present, but to make wins the repeatable occurrences we intend them to be.
It’s understood that we all carry a significant amount of personal baggage into any music-making venture, which is why it’s so powerful when someone puts their own gratification on hold for the sake of another. It’s easy for us to turn every song or show into any opportunity to serve ourselves, and we shouldn’t be surprised when it leaves us feeling a little empty. Selflessness breeds selflessness, and often creates more complete musical products than when we all tug our music in opposite directions to try and fit our own ideal.
We’ve all felt the exhilarating absurdity of unwarranted care. A person who shouldn’t have any concern for us asks a meaningful question, or goes out of their way to help, all to show that we mean something in their world. It always takes more work and breeds more hurt to treat our bandmates like family, but the more familial we are, the more significant the music feels, and the tighter we play.
The harsh reality for me in writing a post like this is that I don’t exhibit these qualities the way I want to. Hopefully, the ways being a great bandmate can shape our musical environment for the better are enough incentive to grow, both for me and others like me. Ultimately, our growth can bring us that much closer to making our music say what we mean.