Should You Be a Solo Artist or Band Member?
Solo artists are artists who perform alone and keep creative control over everything. A band member is an artist working with other people in a group or band, meaning they all share responsibilities equally.
At some point, many musicians confront the choice of going solo or being a part of a group or band.
This may sound like a subtle choice but this fundamental decision will dictate various aspects of your musical journey.
A solo artist keeps creative control and doesn’t have to share the spotlight with anyone. They have a higher percentage of profits, but that comes at the cost of doing all the work, bearing the responsibilities, and taking the risks. It can be very rewarding, but it can also be a lonely journey for some. It suits a particular type of personality.
A band can be a fun ride to fame with great friends or like-minded musicians. You can share responsibilities, costs, and collaboratively compose new music. Depending on your skills, you might have a much higher potential for your music career by being in a band. However, being in a band can come with many issues.
Therefore, there are pros and cons to either approach.
Throughout history, we have seen various bands fallout, leading to their members pursuing solo careers or fading into oblivion.
While essentially the verdict will boil down to your personal preference, we’ve jotted down some invaluable points to consider before you make this crucial choice.
Music should be a journey of passion, don’t just do it for your music career prospects. This is a difficult industry to be in. You need to stay engaged in your craft for many years.
If you think you will be happier as a solo act, then go for it. If you want to bounce ideas off friends and collaborate, then go join a band!
The most common types of solo artists
Some of the most common types of solo artists in popular music
- Singers that use backing tracks
- Musicians that are highly talented and skilled at one particular instrument (e.g. piano, violin, guitar are some common ones).
Of course, that list is not exhaustive, but it makes up a large portion of solo musical artists.
Do You Think You Will Make Better Music in a Band or as a Solo Artist?
If you think your musical abilities would suit being a solo act, ask yourself the next question, will you make better music as a solo artist or as part of a band?
Many musicians are skilled and talented at a few specific parts of the music creation process, but not necessarily strong at the entire process.
If you’re an all-rounder who is great at songwriting, melody, and rhythm; while being a self-starter and one that can promote yourself and perform with confidence, then a solo act might be great for you.
However, if you feel that you only have a limited amount of creativity and inspiration when it comes to the overall songwriting process and song arrangement, then you would probably venture better with a band rather than be a solo artist.
Nevertheless, you should spend a lot of time working to improve your overall skills and experience in areas that you might be lacking (check out our article on tips to become a professional songwriter for more info).
Do You Thrive Off Independence or Working with Others?
Solo artists, for obvious reasons, have more independence in making their career choices, as opposed to a member in a band.
You can hire and fire backing bands or music managers at will and you compose and write music as you see fit. There is no one to preempt your creative juices and rain on your vision (apart from record labels and the temptation to adhere to Spotify algorithms, but those are both other conversations!).
As a band member, you have to sometimes keep your pride (and ideas) aside if the rest of the group isn’t on board. You may feel underappreciated or underestimated, either intentionally or inadvertently.
Solo artists have far more freedom and independence in all aspects of their creative endeavors.
However, with independence comes loneliness – are you equipped to handle that?
A solo act can feel hollow and lonely at times, especially on the stage before you succeed and can collaborate at will.
The early stages of your career will involve long hours of work that will encounter apathetic crowds at underwhelming venues.
As you progress, you will be working with artist management staff and going up on stage with session musicians who may not share your vision and passion.
Any good band is a ‘musical fellowship’ of sorts. They share an “I’ve got your back” solidarity and a musical commonality that can lead to some legendary friendships like Dave Grohl-Taylor Hawkins or Flea-Anthony Kiedis or David Bowie-Iggy Pop!
When you see a great band perform on stage, their chemistry and camaraderie shine through.
It plays an affable role in how they are perceived and substantially elevates the appeal and allure of their music.
Do Solo Artists or Bands Make More Money?
Solo Artists get a much bigger piece of the pie. Band members need to split their earnings. However, a small piece of a much bigger pie sometimes works out better!
On the surface, it may feel like solo artists make more money than a band and it is undoubtedly true to a great extent.
However, a solo artist also needs to invest that much more in music to achieve success.
For instance, if a 4-piece band works on an album, they divide the costs among four members.
Thus you only bear a fourth of the cost for recording and post-production of the album. This also applies to marketing, promotional, and tour merchandise costs. In return, you also receive only a fourth of the profits from anything the band makes.
Solo artists don’t need to share profits and can get potentially 4x the costs in the same scenario. However, you need to source and pay all the people involved in a wide-ranging spectrum of album production, launch, and post-launch activities. This includes recording, post-production, branding, marketing, touring, and promotion.
This is the classic “risk: reward” scenario, and if you can afford the added financial stress of initial investment, the high risk can lead to a higher reward.
Do It Yourself or Work Together?
As a group or band, tasks get delegated to whoever is good at the said task – well, at least in theory they do.
Delegation can also lead to certain members slacking off and irresponsible decisions that impact the band as a whole.
It can be demotivating to work with band members who need to be constantly pushed. A proactive musician with a DIY ethos would prefer to shoulder the whole shebang of tasks and go solo.
If you have that level of aptitude and capability, it will yield extravagant rewards. You can always get help once you start cashing in on your talent.
However, as a solo artist, you have to scout for good support staff for the stage and studio while simultaneously doing your PR, digital marketing, promotion, composition, recordings, and rehearsals.
And, you must do this all by yourself. Even after you succeed and hire someone to do many of these things, it will significantly add to your expense.
Every individual is wired to work better in a different context. A solo career is better suited for those who have a DIY ethos and enjoy multi-tasking.
A band is a better option for people who enjoy sharing tasks and working as a cohesive team.
More Fame or More Fraternity?
As a solo artist, you are the face of the brand/music with a free hand to chart your musical journey.
That is how it will always be – center stage and in the spotlight.
This can vary in the context of a band and will greatly depend on the role you play.
Firstly, there is something about a band that erases the individuality of many of its members.
Unless you are the vocalist or a flamboyant prodigy like Slash or Joe Dart, a majority of the audience outside your hardcore fan base is unlikely to notice you.
We all struggle to recollect the name of the bassist or drummer of famous bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, CCR, Smashing Pumpkins, or even Nickleback.
However, many musicians don’t enjoy the spotlight and prefer to play a supportive role.
Some of them are camera shy and just like to focus on making music. The result should conform to your hunger for the limelight and your personality.
Which is Better Long Term?
If you think about long-term prospects for the particular act, if you’re in this music game for the long haul, and if you want to do it for many years, then being a solo act is probably the most secure option.
The reason for this is that you’re not dependent on other musicians in your band that might change priorities later on in life and leave.
Bands also very often break up over creative differences or arguments or problems with each other’s personalities. You do not really have this as much when it comes to the solo game. So, if you’re talking broadly, going solo is a more long-term and secure option.
However, if you’re part of a great band, then this might end up being a lot more lucrative. So there are pros and cons to either approach.
As another point, if you were a great band member then you could potentially quickly switch between different bands or join multiple bands at once. Although, going back and forth between bands can be exhausting and you won’t be giving 100% which tends to be the downfall in most situations. However, this could make it a more resilient option for your musical career than a solo act.
This is particularly true if the future for your solo career is tied up with your own particular solo ‘act’. If you would fit it difficult to get gigs and other musical work if your solo act were to lose popularity, what would you do?
The answer to this could range from smaller solo gigs, cover bands, collaborations with other artists, session work, etc.
Best of both worlds?
You could dabble in each of the two options. For instance, you could be a drummer in a band and take studio session gigs or sit in for other bands.
If you are a vocalist with a band, you can start your own channel on YouTube and upload covers or original material.
On the other hand, you can be a great session drummer and start your own trio or band. There are many examples of famous session musicians who also have extraordinary solo careers.
However, at some point, the two paths may clash and you will have to prioritize one over the other.
Moreover, each role will add to your duties and responsibilities and you may run the risk of being spread thin.
Yet, while it works, it can give you insights into both fields as long as you can handle the added commitments and pressure.
The decision between playing with a band or as an independent solo act is not easy. The two options have their pros and cons that need to be carefully weighed before making a final choice.
If you are looking for long-term prospects then going solo gives you more control over your future. However, if you want interesting work and the potential for large earnings, then you should join a band.
If your solo act is tied to your particular persona or brand, it could be difficult to change course when things go south. So that is something to consider as well.
However, if you can dabble in both worlds without neglecting either one of them entirely, you can gain insights into each of the musical roles and perhaps learn something new from one of your peers.
Finally, you may want to give some thought as to how well your stage persona would resonate with audiences in either scenario. This is not the only decision you need to make but it may be an important one nonetheless.