Your Ego, My Music: Conflict Management in the Music Industry

by Stuart Yahm & Matt Kramer

For many years musicians, songwriters, singers, personal managers, record company personnel, publishing company personnel, and others interested in pursuing a career in the music industry had to learn the ropes “on the street”. Talented people with no concept of how to promote themselves, how to maximize their special artistic vision, how the music industry really works, etc., lose their way and fall by the wayside. They are missing the knowledge required to recognize opportunities; they are intimidated by the unknown; they are misled by people writing about the industry from outside the industry; they read success stories blown all out of proportion by publicists trying to make an interesting story; they hear the rumors and the rationalizations of those who have failed; and their own imaginations lead them far from reality. The result is a great deal of waste; wasted time, wasted money and wasted talent.

One of the greatest wasters of all is the misuse of conflict.

Unless you are taking your first step into the world of music, you have some skeletons in your closet. Your first garage band – how did it end? Your first efforts at co-writing — what went wrong?

Many artists form relationships before they have fully expressed their needs and their expectations of each other and the group. As a result, they are surprised and unprepared for the conflicts that will surely arise. Those experiences were necessary steps in which you learned from mistakes that had to be made or the lessons would not have been learned. But at some point, you may find yourself in a magical combination of talents and personalities that has the potential to be great. Then, when problems arise, you want a better solution than breaking up the group. There are better ways to resolve conflicts and that’s what mediation is about. You want a solution that preserves the relationship and inspires even more magic.

Conflict is not a problem when it is treated as a source of information.
Mediation, the ancient practice of resolving disputes with the help of a trained, neutral third party, succeeds by transforming conflict from being a problem into a tool which reveals information that can be used to resolve the dispute. With the mediator’s tools and skills, the parties in conflict are guided toward their own mutually satisfactory resolution. Mediation promotes positive communication and cooperation by reducing rancor and tensions. Rather than having a solution imposed, as would be the case using an arbitrator or resorting to the courts, the mediator helps the parties clarify their positions, surface their needs, and create a workable solution of their own while resolving the underlying issues that led to the conflict in the first place. Other benefits of mediation over arbitration or the courts include greatly reduced costs, complete privacy and a safe, confidential environment in which to discuss all issues of conflict and their potential resolutions, and, perhaps most important, the preservation of the relationship.

It is time to bring in a professionally trained mediator to help you resolve conflict when the conflict has become volatile; when communication has broken down and is simply not happening; when the issues are so sensitive or overwhelming that the parties feel uncomfortable or frustrated when trying to speak to each other; when the parties are stalemated – when the dialogue is trapped in a cycle, repeating the same positions over and over again, unwilling or unable to compromise; or when the parties are immersed in a conflict that is camouflaging other conflicts. It is never too late, no matter how close the court date, or how hopeless the situation appears, to bring in a mediator. When you feel that the argument has reached an impasse, the mediator is ready to begin.

We have mediated between clients who have been in business together as long as twenty years.
They were often surprised to find that all those years they had been misinterpreting or misunderstanding some of each other’s perceptions, beliefs, priorities, and intentions, which had been the basis of many of their arguments. The work they did in mediation resulted in valuable revelations that were both healing and enlightening. The results of mediation are that you, artists and business people alike, can spend more time being creative and artistic, and less time being stressed and frustrated. Unresolved, poorly handled and all too predictable conflicts contribute to the loss of wonderful music and great careers.

By understanding conflict, you will experience better working relationships. You will improve the day to day interactions and underlying factors that affect the ways in which people relate to each other, especially when dealing with the inevitable and inescapable issues that arise between creative people. Conflicts can be faced and resolved before they cause significant damage to the relationship. Here are some of the most common conflicts that come up in our daily lives in the world of music: Who wrote the song? How do we share royalties? Who, and how many, do we get on the guest list? Lateness (rehearsal, gig, airport); Upstaging; Solos; Is the drummer really a musician? Volume; Stage clothes; Girlfriends and boyfriends; Disagreements with managers, publishers, agents, club managers, record company contacts, other professionals; How to split the money; How to split the bills; How to fire a band member; Musical direction; Company politics; Career conflicts; Lack of empathy and acknowledgment; Prejudice and bias; Ego (a certain amount is required but how much is too much?); Who owns the van when the band breaks up?

Pure and simple. Conflict is a message that something needs attention. We are trained from childhood, mostly by example, to avoid, suppress or defend ourselves when in conflict. The result is that the source of the conflict is seldom addressed.

The secret is to close your mouth and open your ears. Allow the other party to be heard – without judging, rationalizing, defending or fixing – just hear the message in and behind the drama you feel being directed towards you. If you can listen – really listen – without interrupting until the person has emptied their cup of angst, you will have taken a major step towards a true resolution. Having been heard, they will be better able to hear what you need to say. You will have established the beginning of an effective dialogue, one which has a good chance of achieving a mutually agreeable solution.

Stu Yahm and Matt Kramer collectively spent over 60 years in the music industry running record companies, managing artists, producing concerts, running nightclubs and, in general, introducing great musicians and audiences to each other. Some of their stories are in their book on conflict management, And The Band Broke Up, You can reach Matt Kramer at and StuYahm at



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