Check Your Ego

What is ego? Have you ever come face to face with an inflated ego – even your own? We’ll confront this destructive trait and learn how to control your inflated ego in a band in this episode of Indie Confidential.

You’ll also hear how I destroyed a band in a few simple ego driven words and I’ve got a three step plan that may help you tackle this invisible monster.

The brilliant and funny Australian band, Skyhooks, released a song in July 1975 called “Ego is not a dirty word” and back then, nobody even knew what ego meant. And the lyrics didn’t particularly help:

Some people keep their egos in a bottom drawer
A fridge full of Leonard Cohen
Have to get drunk just to walk out the door
Stay drunk to keep on goin’

So if you got an ego
You better keep it in good shape
Exercise it daily
And get it down on tape

So let’s take a little look in the Collins dictionary …

‘Someone’s ego is their sense of their own worth.’ So, if someone has a large ego, it means they consider themselves to be ‘very important and valuable’.

The Large Ego sounds like something straight out of “Rock-band” dictionary to me. In fact, bands aside, it’s everywhere, and this is a lesson for life – not just music. 

Managing your ego and others’ egos is essential to thriving in your world. Large egos are self-destructive and are the real issue here. I reckon a healthy balanced ego is required to grow as a person and it’s important to like and feel good about yourself!

Looking for approval, resisting help and assistance, never being wrong, comparing yourself to others, competing and never being satisfied are some of the hallmarks of the inflated ego. Yet some of these behaviours seem quite common in day-to-day life.

What I’ve seen time and time again is emotionally charged and desperate musicians trying to democratically write music and perform within a team.  There’s just too many inflated egos in one space and it’s a disaster at best. When there’s a solid agreement, a game plan, and an understanding of members’ responsibilities, there can be some balance.

Paradoxically, where money is involved – for example cover bands and top line original acts, I’ve seen people actually rein in their rampant egos because good income and lifestyle are at stake, and they know that if they upset the apple cart, all that will be gone.

The real long-term casuality of an inflated ego is regret. Over time, and after we learn to manage our egos, we can then see the colossal mistakes and poor decisions we have made throughout our lives. Therefore, getting a hold of your ego early in the piece is essential to avoid looking back with regret.

Hobby Horse 1989

Take it to the world!

So, there’s four talented, good looking and ambitious, young men in their late teens and early twenties playing in successful bands in regional Victoria. They’re making some good money and their song writing skills are developing nicely. Keen to be rock stars, the decision is made to move to Melbourne to start afresh and take on the world. Such youthful exuberance.

Melbourne in the 1980’s and still today, was seen at the arty and music capital of Australia. Every band in the country was migrating to the southern capital and the competition was understandably fierce.

With so many amazing venues like The Espy, Punters Club, Palace, Prince of Wales, Evelyn, and the Corner, and independent radio stations such as the seminal Triple R and 3PBS supporting local acts, it’s the only choice to make.

So, we ditched our day jobs, friends, and family and make a base in the northern suburbs of Brunswick and Carlton. The year is 1989 and we only have access to a Tascam four track recorder and a few mics, but begin to make some great demos by bouncing tracks down to a stereo pair.

We decide that shacking up together is the way forward, so the four of us set up house in the eastern suburbs in 1990. A huge brick 1950’s house with no heating or cooling.  Each enormous room was like a rehearsal studio with music pouring into the icy corridors. We find ourselves a killer drummer, and we all know a great drummer is a key ingredient to being an ace rock band. We are now five.

Things were looking pretty good then. Plenty of booze and parties with girls coming and going around the clock. Around this time, we begin to see some substance abuse but nothing to be alarmed about. We’re writing great music and getting along pretty well and having a blast.

We sign up with a music manager who has great expectations for the band and a couple of our songs start to get radio airplay on 3PBS and Triple R. By this time we’re rehearsing an exhausting three times a week at Factory Sound in South Melbourne. 

From memory, we were sounding pretty amazing.  But the pressure and expectations are building, and some allegiances are beginning to form among the five of us.

The band’s singer and myself had always been very close friends, and went back a long way. As I was the primary songwriter, we teamed up and made the decision to escape the rest, and move in together after the lease was finished.

We both had visions of greatness and St Kilda would be the perfect place for us to party and get lost in the beachside decadence. It was an exciting and dangerous place to be, and we loved it.

By now the band had begun to play live, with some shows organised by the giant booking agency Premier Harbour. The shows were packed and the band was well received due to the effort we had been putting in.  There was a real sense that this thing was actually building into something brilliant.

The manager was earmarking songs to be released as singles and getting all kinds of music industry folks to the shows.

There’s trouble in the camp

After moving into St. Kilda together, the singer and I began to develop some issues with each other. The mindless hours of hanging around in a cold damp house, being bored and homesick was beginning to taking its toll. Fuelled by alcohol and dope, both of us were struggling with our egocentric mindsets, and thinking “It’s about me”, “I’ll call the shots”, and “You’re just a loser and waste of space”. 

Talk about paranoid! Deep resentment was building between us and we rarely spoke, let alone discuss music. Then suddenly, the singer of this great band we’ve created decided to move out and I’m shattered.

A number of weeks later, an urgent band meeting was called by the manager.  We all met at the guitarist’s and keyboardist’s old Victorian townhouse in Port Melbourne. It was a glum and chilly evening. And it was even chillier in the lounge room where we all stiffly took a seat, and deliberately and arrogantly ignored each other. How did it get this way, I was thinking.

The manager spoke first, who by the way is a seasoned and articulate lawyer: “OK. What’s going on here? What’s the problem?” He awkwardly looks across at me. “John?” And in an instant, I impulsively retort, without even considering the consequences, “fuck this, i’ve had enough. I’m out”.

Immediately the singer stands up and says,  “Me too”, he brushes past me, walks out the door and drives away! Everyone is gobsmacked. Nobody says a word – not even a, hang on minute people let’s talk about this. Within a matter of seconds, it’s finished!

I’ve often pondered this moment in my early career. I relive exactly how I should have dealt with the situation a million times. My unforgiving and out of control ego, fuelled by my insecurities and the fear of being rejected, ruined what could have been an extraordinary band.

Every person in that room had put that band first and foremost in their lives, and given up everything! In just a few ego driven words, I destroyed their hopes and efforts; shameful and regrettable, to say the least. 

Later that night, when I arrived home to my lonely cold house in St. Kilda, I realised I had just lost not only my family and friends from my home town, but my best friend, my band, and my music career.

I was so confused and devastated by this chapter in my life, that shortly after, I packed my bags and went to the USA. I bummed around for 6 months with my acoustic guitar, sleeping on sofas, and the back seat of my car. I was able to regain some clarity about that evening and identify the damage my ego had caused, and I came back in late 1991 ready to start afresh.

We all make mistakes

Looking back now at my long tumultuous music career, this one reckless, egotistical decision set in motion a trajectory of redemption that has never really ended for me. This cannot be overstated enough. In its wake, I was left with unrealised and relentless ambition and drive that has almost pushed me over the edge on numerous occasions.

Had we managed ourselves, and our attitudes, better back then, and let the band evolve without senseless intervention, I’m convinced life would have been different for all of us. Let me just say, this kind of story is very common for musicians.

We can’t change history, but we can certainly learn from it, as I have done. I still battle with my ego, but through therapy and soul searching, I have grown to understand its ever-present symptoms, and I can mitigate certain behaviours when they rear their ugly heads.

Needing control and validation was always the underlining issue for me, so I needed to learn to lay down my cards, remove my protective amour, and become more vulnerable.  In essence, it was about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Not easy for someone like me, let me tell you.

But it’s likely you’ll find a multitude of reasons for large egos. Identifying them the best you can and negotiating and compromising is the best way to manage egos. More likely than not, you’ll need to take the first steps. Some people aren’t even aware they have an ego, let alone a destructive one. So lets hope there’s not one in your band! 

In my band there were no less than three!

Here’s my practical 3 Steps solution to managing your ego:

1. It’s your team 

You need to embrace the concept that we’re all in this together. Acknowledge that we all have skin in the game, and want the same kind of success and that we all need each other equally, even when at times it doesn’t feel like it. It’s the old cliché of ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

You’ll have a much greater chance of achieving your goals collectively, even if you think you’re above the rest. The alternative is leaving and going it alone, and that’s extremely difficult early on. If you have solo ambitions, make it a weekend project, like playing golf!

Do it in your down time while keeping your band on track for success. Remember, your time will come eventually.

 2. Be vulnerable

Practice letting go and dropping your guard. It’s actually liberating. We all have some kind of barrier up to protect ourselves, and that’s natural. But when you’re in a team of equally fragile personalities and you relax and let go, and allow yourself to be vulnerable with them, people will respond positively. 

It will transform them too. It may be the very thing that empowers you and your band to grow and become brilliant. It may take some time for others to get comfortable with it, but lead by example.  After all, what’s the worse that could happen?

3. Keep busy

Seems kinda obvious but keeping yourself active is paramount. I’ll get into this subject later in the series, but you should always keep a day job for a multitude of reasons. Always keep socially active and have some hobbies outside of your band – even though the band is your world.

Being in a relationship was always good for me. A partner can bring calm to your world, to keep you on the straight and narrow and thinking positively. As in my story, sitting around aimlessly, waiting for the next show with a beer in your hand sounds like fun, but it will eventually destroy everything. Don’t do it, keep your hands on the wheel and be in control!

Keep it simple and don’t let your ego manage you.  You manage it.  Focus on being a positive, selfless contributor to whatever project you’re involved in. You’ll find a truer sense of fulfillment and purpose than could ever be accomplished externally through seeking praise and validation.

Do you have any ego stories you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them. Jump on indieconfidential.com and let me and others know of your band battles! Don’t forget to sign up to my mailing list for updates and giveaways. You can follow me on Instagram @indieconfidential and this blog can also be listened to via my podcast here.

The next episode is about your niche. What is your niche? Does it matter what your niche is? Tune in next time to find out how critical this is.

I’ll catch you soon.

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