When life gets brutal with a musical partner, you may come to conclusion that you need to part company and fire someone in your band. The decision to sack someone in your musical project is never an easy one. No one ever likes firing someone, and certainly no musician ever likes to be shown the door on a project in which they are involved. Still, sometimes it's just not working out and the dirty job has to be done. There's not much you can do to make this sound like great news to the person who is getting the boot, but there are things you can do to try to lessen the fallout, protect yourself and the rest of the band and make sure everyone comes out as unscathed as possible. Here's what you need to know before you fire a band member:
Do You Have The Authority To Fire Someone?
Guess what? You can't simply decide someone has to go and then give them their walking papers - at least not in all cases. Who exactly are you firing? Are you firing a founding member of the band? A chief songwriter? Then you may not really be able to just fire them and then go on with the rest of the band using the same name and songs. If the person you're getting rid of has ownership of some sort in the band - they started it, they helped start it, they write all the songs - you may be looking at more of a band break-up scenario rather than actually firing someone. You'd be free to continue on with the rest of the band, but you'd be playing under a different name and with new material. You can't just go on using all of the stuff someone else created and then cut them out of it.
Except when you can, and that is where a band contract comes into play. If you have a contract, it almost certainly deals with things 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 so-called key person for a cause stated in the contract and then go on using the name and the music (with the requisite compensation, of course).
Another time you may not be able to fire someone from the band? When you have a record deal and that someone is specified as a key member in your record deal. That means the label thinks they are so important to your band that losing them would make you not the band they signed anymore - and if you fire that person, the label can (and probably will) drop you. This is usually the case with a lead singer - U2's got a label problem if they fire Bono - but it can extend to any band member that your label views as critical to your project and public image. You CAN fire these people from your band, but don't expect to come out on the winning end of that one.
How Can You Make This Financially Fair?
The financial complexity of firing a band member depends on where you're at 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 throwing down a little good faith cash if, say, the departing member was the one who always paid for the beer. On the other hand, if you're got a record deal, albums that are being sold, licensing income being generated on songs this player helped write, etc, etc - things are gonna get messy in a hurry.
Once again, if you've got a contract, you know exactly how to deal with this. If you don't, well, you're making this up on the fly. Don't hide your head in the sand and don't try to obscure money coming in that this person really should get to share in. They'll be plenty of time in the future to make money without them. Instead, hunker down, discuss the issues, and hammer out a deal in writing. Ditto 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 something way messier, like a lawsuit, down the line. Plus, it's only fair.
How Can You Make This Personally Fair?
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 for anyone and move on, but don't hold your breath. That may mean that they may vent about you to all and sundry for awhile. It's going to get your goat. Instead of retaliating, take the high road and refuse to discuss the situation with anyone else. No one really needs to know the ins and outs of what happened to lead you to this point anyway. Even better, 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, and if you can, agree to how you'll address the questions. They may not buy it, but it's worth a shot.
If they go around talking, you can address any wildly damaging accusations in a professional manner to set the record straight, but other than that, just stay in control. After the dust settles - and it will - all anyone will remember is the grace you showed in the situation. It will make you more attract to work with. This industry is way too small go around making enemies needlessly.
Beyond that, even if you literally cannot stand this person and can't wait until they're out of the band, treat them with a bit of respect. 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. You know what they say about karma.
Do The Deed and Wrap It Up
Don't prolong the firing process - and no, you can't do it by email, Facebook, Twitter, text, phone or Pony Express. Only in person will do. Sit down, have the discuss and make sure you're clear about how any loose ends will tied up. You may need to negotiate some things. If you do, put it all in writing. That's the best and fairest thing for all parties and will let you both get on pursuing your musical ambitions a lot quicker.