Many old rock bands fail to become old rock bands for a variety of reasons, ranging from simple logistics to the ever-popular music industry euphemism creative differences. Some young rock bands disband before they play their first paid gig, while others disband after decades of touring and performing in sold-out stadiums. The music industry is notoriously difficult to break into, even if a fledgling rock band has the talent and ambition to succeed on a professional level.
A combination of logistics and real-life pressures is one of the reasons why many new rock bands break up. Being a member of a garage rock band necessitates a certain amount of self-sacrifice, such as hours of unpaid rehearsal and a willingness to travel long distances for little pay. When the drummer is also a video store night manager, the guitarist is a full-time college student, and the lead singer has a wife and two small children to consider, it’s not easy. Many rock bands fail to make it through the early stages of their transformation from individuals with obligations to a unified group focused on making music.
If the members of a young rock band are able to overcome the challenges of everyday life, the next step is to build a strong repertoire of original and cover songs. This is another difficult situation for a young rock band, because members may have different musical tastes, and frustration may arise if certain members feel compelled to perform in other members’ styles while showing little interest in their own. Songwriters may want to learn more original music, while bar bands may want to learn cover versions of well-known songs. The conflict between the two camps may be enough to break up the band.
When a rock band matures and tightens, the decision of whether to pursue commercial success or stay a big fish in a small pond is frequently a source of concern among band members. For example, the grunge rock band Nirvana struggled with this issue throughout their entire career. Commercial success means more people hearing the band’s music and less money worries, but it can also mean creating a sound that appeals to the general public and record labels rather than the eclectic or artistic material that defined the band’s original sound. Some rock bands disband at this point because some members want to pursue a commercial career while others want to stick to their original, albeit non-commercial, fan base and artistic vision.
Some rock bands have achieved commercial success in a musical genre that has a distinct beginning and an equally distinct end. When folk rock became popular in the early to mid 1960s, a number of bands, including the Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful, Mamas and Papas, and Buffalo Springfield, enjoyed several years of popularity among the young record buying public. However, the late 1960s, many of these organizations had disbanded or reformed as more progressive organizations. Rock bands sometimes break up because their style of music has fallen out of favor or become “dated,” whether it’s folk, glam rock, punk, disco, New Wave, or grunge.
Internal strife can break up promising rock bands, just like it can break up any other group of collaborating artists. The legendary Beatles began as an amateur skiffle group made up of four working-class boys from Liverpool, England’s industrial heartland. Even though Beatlemania helped forge them into one of the tightest rock bands in history, real-life jealousies, insecurities, and violent disagreements could still break out within such a strong group.
Rock bands that have been together for a long time often begin to resemble married couples’ dynamics. When one group member is enraged with another, the entire group senses the tension, and productivity and cohesiveness suffer as a result. One or two members of a rock band may be considered dominant within the group, making the more submissive members feel undervalued for their abilities. As with the Beatles, lead singers and songwriters may begin to treat others as subordinates or glorified session musicians.
A successful rock band can sometimes continue to perform even if individual members are dealing with serious personal or professional issues, but more often than not, pent-up hostilities and jealousies explode onstage or during private rehearsals, bringing the band to a halt. Some bands break up due to the pressure to meet record company deadlines during times of internal strife or a creative drought. While working on their album The Long Run in the 1970s, the country rock band The Eagles encountered this. Individual band members crumbled creatively as the weeks turned into months in the studio due to personal disagreements and contractual obligations.
The notorious band-killer known as “creative differences” is closely related to the internal strife situation. A rock band is rarely a democracy, and some members may be blessed with exceptional talent but struggle mightily with band diplomacy. Some musicians don’t mind playing a more subservient role in a band with Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, but others have their own career goals and aspirations that aren’t fully realized in their current band’s material or style. Other producers or record companies may court a particularly talented member to become a solo act, making it extremely difficult for the rest of the band to continue.
Absence may not make the heart grow fonder, even if individual members of a rock band are given the opportunity to pursue solo projects. When the cost of maintaining the band’s image or popularity becomes too great, rock bands sometimes break up. Many legendary rock bands, such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac, initially disbanded due to creative differences or internal strife, but they reformed to keep in touch with their ardent fans and introduce themselves to a new generation. To avoid the inevitable decline in popularity and performance standards, some rock bands disband at the peak of their careers.
Forming a rock band is not easy, and many would-be rock stars quickly discover that reality differs significantly from the demo. Sometimes the right players come together and a certain amount of musical alchemy happens, but more often than not, a fledgling rock band practicing in a member’s garage or a rented storage unit realizes that their potential to be the next U2 or Metallica is not worth sacrificing their day jobs or neglecting their other real-world obligations to friends and family.