RockStar Leader: Playing From the Same Sheet of Music

RockStar Leader

Having played in many rock bands, I can tell you that when you start a band, everyone has similar goals.

  • “We want to be rock stars!”
  • “We want our music to change the world!”
  • “We want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone!”
  • “We want to be rich and famous!”  

Making Beautiful Music

What’s not so easy is getting all the band members to agree and (more importantly), “buy in” to how those goals are going to be accomplished. The clichéd sex and drugs part of rock & roll often leads to juicy headlines that seemingly kills bands and creates “former” band members.

But not playing from the same sheet of music is what ultimately puts the musical nail in a lot of band’s coffins.

Be Wise, Harmonize

For years I was convinced that my band was playing from the same sheet of music.

We all wanted the same larger goal which was to make a comfortable living playing our own original music.

  • Everyone was committed.
  • We all showed up for rehearsals.
  • We tried to contribute based on our perceived strengths
  • And to our credit, had very little conflict or drama.

Looking back, I realize that having the same goals and simply showing up wasn’t nearly enough.

In fact, we weren’t anywhere close to playing from the same sheet of music.

Finding Your Groove

So what does it mean to get everyone playing from the same sheet of music?  

More importantly, how do we get there?  

There are two critical steps in making this happen so your band doesn’t become a VH1 Behind The Music casualty.

Step One

First, it is necessary to create a set of norms for how you are going to treat each other in the creative and decision-making processes.  What does that look and feel like?  Try to create a jam-session-like vibe that energizes and inspires band members to feel like they can contribute AND be heard.

Keep in mind that a great jam session starts with open-minded players, is never forced, and feeds off positive creative energy.

Step Two

Next, you have to get everyone to clearly agreed-upon strategies, goals and desired outcomes.  If you send a band into a studio and there isn’t a clear vision of what kind of record is being made, guess what you get?

  • You get chaos, arguments that go nowhere
  • A project that goes way over budget and takes too long
  • And ultimately, a record that sucks.

Sound familiar to anyone?

A Broken Record

The EdgeIt might surprise you to know that the band U2 came dangerously close to breaking up when they recorded the album Achtung Baby.

They spun their wheels into frustration because of a severe lack of direction or vision.  So much so, that it made them question who and what they were.

They were literally going to call it quits until the band’s guitarist, The Edge walked in to the studio and played the riff for what would become the song One.

Luckily for the rest of us, they came together in that moment, gained clarity on the kind of record they were going to make and were able to record a great record.

The magic didn’t happen until they all started playing from the same sheet of music.

Playing in Harmony

To determine if your band is playing from the same sheet of music consider the following questions:

Have you ever gotten the band (your team) together to collectively define the creative and/or decision-making process? If asked individually, would everyone in your band describe the record your making in the same way? Do all of your band members clearly understand how their efforts support the larger vision? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Alan Schaefer is CEO of Banding People Together

He serves his clients with high-end music-based collaboration training
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2 responses to “RockStar Leader: Playing From the Same Sheet of Music

  1. I liked your post Alan – very insightful around the dynamics of how flat org’s (bands) create collaboration through alignment. The next time you post here I’d love to learn how leadership plays a role (or doesn’t) in how rock bands specifically achieve steps one and two.


  2. I like what you asked about “playing from the same sheet of music” My last company was NOT…in every weekly meeting we had two people clashing egos and it seemed like everyone had a different agenda (push forward MY goal instead of together as a team with OUR goal). We were like “The Police” 🙂 we could have made great music if our Sting and Andy Summers could have gotten on the same page! Great actions at the end and I’ll ask in my current team. Thanks!


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