Firing a band member is a tough proposition. First, you have to be sure you even have the right to fire someone from the band and continue on using the same name and material. Don't assume this is the case, because there may be legal issues involved.
As much as no one likes to fire a co-worker or bandmate, sometimes it has to be done. There's little you can do to make it sound like great news to the person getting the boot, but there are things you can do to lessen the fallout and protect yourself and the band. Before you take the step, make sure it's worth it. Is the person not showing up for rehearsals? Is their behavior toxic to the rest of the group? Maybe they're not up to the job musically, or, perhaps it's just a personality conflict that can't be resolved.
They Don't Show Up for Practice
Bands have different approaches to practice depending on their schedules and music goals. The important thing is that you're all on the same page with how things are done in your band. If the rest of you are absolutely committed to making regularly scheduled rehearsals and working hard while you're there, but your bandmate isn't, then you've got a problem on your hands. Their lack of commitment to practice is likely to spill into other areas of your music.
Their Behavior Is an Issue
If someone in your band is forever picking fights at venues, showing up late to important appointments, or overindulging in music biz excesses at the expense of the work you're doing, this kind of bad behavior may seem very rock and roll to them, but in reality, they're making you look bad and giving your band a reputation that could impact your chances of getting new shows, attracting managers and agents, and so on. If you're getting kicked out of every venue you're showing up to play, it's time for a little damage control.
Your Band Is Their Side Project
When you're getting started as a band, it's not uncommon to bring in musicians who have other projects going on. That's fine, but that sort of relationship has its way of running its course. This band member may get so excited about your music that your band becomes their main thing, or they may be already so committed to another act that you're always going to be second fiddle. If things start happening for your band—like getting big touring opportunities or a deal—then you need someone who can be on board with the project all the way. If you've got someone who just can't, you're going to need to find someone to fill their shoes, no matter how big.
They're Not Up to the Job
Not every musician is a fit for every band. If you've got someone in your band who isn't musically up to par when it comes to playing your songs or excels at things your band doesn't really need, they'd probably be happier playing with a different group—and you'd be happier with a different musician playing your tunes.
You Don't Work Well Together
You may think that you can tolerate someone because of their skill, but in the long run, skill isn't enough for a band to succeed; it takes commitment to the band and each other, and mutual respect. If you're a new band building your music career together, you don't have to do it with people you can't stand. Now is the time to build a band you can go on this journey with, and it's much easier if you all like each other and support each other. It's not going to get easier to get along once deals, money, and big decisions start entering the picture.
Things to Do Before You Fire a Bandmate
Once you know that you're ready to part ways and let your bandmate go, there are a few things you need to know before you have the talk. First, you want to make sure you have the authority to do so because in most cases, you can't just show someone the door. Depending on which member of the band is being fired, the rest of the group might not be able to continue using the same name and songs. If the person you're getting rid of has some claim of ownership in the band—like a founding member, for instance—you may be looking at more of a band break-up scenario than a straightforward firing. You'd be free to continue with the rest of the band, but you may be playing under a different name and with new material. You can't continue to use someone else's creative work while cutting them out of it unless it's clearly spelled out under a band contract.
If you have a contract, it almost certainly deals with situations like firings and acceptable reasons for termination from the band. If you've got the agreement, you have to abide by it, but the contract may allow you to fire a key person for a cause stated in the contract and continue using the name and the music—with the requisite compensation, of course.
If you have a record deal and the person you want to fire person is specified as a key member in that record deal, you risk the label dropping you as a whole. The label believes this member is so important that losing them would result in a different band from the one they signed. This is usually the case with a lead singer. For example, if U2 fired Bono, they would definitely have a label problem. But a key member can be any band member that your label views as critical to your project and public image.
How to Make the Firing Fair Financially
The financial complexity of firing a band member depends on where you are in your career when the firing takes place. If there's no money coming in and no deals about to be signed that this musician helped you obtain through their talent, work, or connections, then it may simply come down to putting down a little good faith cash. On the other hand, if you've got a record deal, albums that are being sold, licensing income being generated on songs this musician helped write, then things can get messy.
If you've got a contract, you'll know exactly how to deal with the situation, but if you don't, discuss the issues and hammer out an agreement in writing—especially if this person invested a lot of money in the band and should be paid back. If it gets too complex or too contentious, get a mediator or lawyer involved to help you come to an agreement. It's easier to deal with this now than have it become something way messier down the line, like a lawsuit. Plus, it's fair.
How to Make the Firing Fair Personally
Firing someone does not typically endear you to them. In a perfect world, the musician being let go will agree that this just isn't working out and move on, but this doesn't always happen. Try to convince the person you're letting go that it's in both of your best interests to keep this whole affair as professional as possible. If you can, come to an agreement on how you'll address the questions that will come up.
After the dust settles—and it will eventually—what people will remember is the grace you showed in the situation. It will make you more attractive to work with. Treat the outgoing band member with as much respect as possible. If you owe them money, see that they get it. If they bought some stuff for the band, make sure they get it back. If you know of a gig that might be just right for them, pass it along.
Do the Deed and Wrap It Up
Don't prolong the firing process. Sit down, have the discussion, and make sure you're clear about how any loose ends will be tied up. If you need to negotiate some things, put them in writing. That's the best and fairest thing for all parties, and it will let you both get on with pursuing your musical ambitions a lot quicker.