What Music taught me about Business Part. One
As I look back almost two decades of helping companies grow, I amazed by how much I’ve learned from the experience. I was first exposed to marketing and sales in a very unorthodox way: my first job was as a professional musician. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about sales processes and marketing communication, I was simply looking for a way to meet girls and get paid. Performing music paid for my college tuition and helped my launch my first company – a marketing firm that grew from nothing to over three million dollars in revenue. Of course I’ve learned an equal amount from mentors and clients over the years but the music business unexpectedly gave me the tools to succeed.
I discovered early on that if I was going to benefit from the joy of performing music, I singularly needed to make it happen. I had to take over the business of the band because if I didn’t do it, nobody would. At first, I tried to dictate everything from wardrobe to what notes to play. Surprisingly, that approach didn’t work. Then I switched to the democratic model – everybody gets a vote, everything is debated and discussed and we do what is best for everyone. That didn’t work either. Finally I settled on a more effective approach – first, to surround myself with people who were much better than I was in terms of musical and instrumental ability (what we hip musicians call “chops”). Secondly, to provide direction and structure and let them simply do what they did best – perform. Once I counted on my carefully chosen band mates, we won some music awards, outgrew most of our venues and, most importantly, our fees quadrupled.
Getting a group of musicians ranging in numbers from four to ten or more to move in the same direction is akin to herding cats. Drunken, goofy cats that show up late or not at all in some cases. I tried everything from fining them to begging and nothing worked. Finally in my exasperation, I started looking for more professional musicians. So I ran a classified ad. For every one hundred people who auditioned, all of them had some deal breaking issue. Some simply couldn’t play. Others showed up drunk and stoned. Still others didn’t have working equipment or transportation. This is when I learned that simply having the ability to play a lot of notes in a short period of time isn’t enough. Your team has to have a similar mindset, (professional, capable and sober). They need adequate equipment and transportation. Above all they need the right attitude. When it comes to managing people, I learned that everything starts with hiring the right people to begin with. The best musicians are referred by other great musicians. When you have great leadership and the right people, they don’t need to be managed. The lesson? Stop managing and start hiring the right people.
It’s hard for me to think about the years I spent playing for an audience of empty chairs. I’m sure those chairs really enjoyed the show but I didn’t. Promoting a band is not much different from promoting anything else. You need to understand your audience. It took me a few years to realize I had two interdependent audiences: blues fans AND club owners. I had to please both. Another key concept I learned was “awareness equals perceived quality”. I found that the more often people saw the name of the group (frequency), the more they correlated this with quality. “They must be good – I see their name everywhere.” So we made sure our gigs were always in the papers, our posters were ubiquitous, we were on the college radio station semi-weekly and we sold thousands of T-shirts and CDs. Of course we needed to make sure that our product was indeed a high quality experience and we worked hard to ensure an ultra professional, tight show. Once we understood what people wanted and the more we extended our brand into the community, venues and our calendar started filling up.
Meanwhile, if you want to hear some of my music, heck these live cuts from my past life. I’m playing guitar and singing lead …
Born In A Biscayne (by Spencer Bohren)
Girl on the TV News (by the Belairs)
My Baby’s Lovin’ (by D. McClinton)