We're A Lot Alike...
When it comes to doing business, corporations have certain ways of doing things. From what we’ve seen of the music business in the last decade, this hasn’t always been the best ways of doing things, but from a pure business and project management point of view though, there are a couple of things that we can learn from them. For one thing, businesses always put together a business plan including all of the financials when they first start out. This may be overkill when first starting a band because initially you may just be jamming and seeing if you gel. Once into a situation where you’ve been together for a while and are planning on going to the next level and plan on getting things done, you should get together and discuss some things. You may want to discuss where you are all at as far as the band is concerned, see what you want to do next and see where people’s priorities are.
On the surface you may not realize it but you have the same issues that a big corporation would have when taking on a new venture. You may be trying to figure out your style and the look and feel of the band. You want to get a demo done and start making some money. You want to set up some shows. You have to get a web site set up. At the very least, you need to have a MySpace page. These are the same things that a corporation has to deal with; they just call it different things. Finding your sound would be their developing a product, finding your look is their branding, making your demo is the same as their manufacturing and the MySpace and website is their marketing. If you look at how they get these things done, it will be easier for you to figure out what to do. Since corporations have big pockets, you may feel that you don’t have much in common but if you look at how they do things, you can learn a lot. For example, when the big labels release a new album, there are a whole series of things that they do before it ever sees the light of day. Yet I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a band booking their CD release party before they even have the CD printed. There should be about a 90 day grace period where you can set everything up before making the official release and having a CD release party.
...With One Big Difference
From a music point of view, I’ve heard this analogy for a long time from industry professionals and never really cared for it. Comparing my band to a soulless corporation took all the coolness out of it. It's just a good idea to keep this in mind when sitting down and making decisions. I actually think it’s better to keep the attitude that your band and music is anti-corporate. That what you’re creating is not some lame dispensable product but your voice: your art. The reason why I bring this up is because when making big decisions and trying to keep organized and get things done, it’s better to approach it with the professionalism of a corporation. If you’ve ever put a CD together or a tour for your band, you’re aware of all of the things that go into making these things a success. It’s so easy to start out without any plans and just jump right in. Ask anyone who’s been on tour though, once you do this the first time, you don't do it again. There's nothing like being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no spare tire, no transmission, etc. You can always tell a band that’s been on the road a lot. They seem to have it all down to an art form: organized, stripped to the bare essentials, and prepared for all the million things that can ( and usually) go wrong.
Lessons From The Road
They are the things in the business world called logistics. That’s all the things that are needed to get you (and your product) from one place to another. Most of the guys that I know who’ve spent a lot of time on the road, including myself, learned the hard way. The first time I went on the road I took so much stuff with me, that I spent half of the time just moving this stuff around. The band I was in was also booked for about 6 months so I left my apartment, put my stuff in storage and was going to find a new place when I got back. Bad idea. The tour ended prematurely and I ended up being homeless for a month. The point is that when you undertake any one of these things, it’s better to be prepared than to just do it tempt the Gods. If you can get material on the subject and most of all talk to bands that have been on the road and ask them about their experiences. You'll be amazed how much you learn. Guaranteed one on the first things they'll say is 'Make sure you don't...' and then go on to tell you some horror story.
Project Management 101
When it comes to project management though, there’s a whole other list of things that you should take into consideration. Right now I have about 5 different projects going on at once. This is nothing new for me and a lot of times it’s necessary. For example if I have the time, I like to have something I’ve completed sit for a day or two before I come back and make any final decisions. If you leave a piece of music for a while, you come back to it with fresh ears. If there’s anything wrong, it’ll usually jump right out at you. I try not to listen to something I’m working on too many times because you tend to fall in love with something after a while. I listen to it once or twice, then make the changes. If you’ve listened to a track too many times, you lose your objectivity. It's called demoitis, falling in love with the demo simply from listening to it over and over.
Let’s start at the beginning. You have the idea for a new demo, new song or new band. The first thing that you should consider is if this is worth pursuing in the first place. Keep in mind that you already have a couple of things on the go and your time is precious as it is. If there is money involved (I mean money now, not the prospect of some in the future) then that my take the highest priority. If you’re making the final adjustments on another project that’s really important to you, you may want to put it off or not do it at all. It may be something you’ve always wanted to do creatively (like tackling a new genre or new instrument) or work with somebody that you’ve always wanted to work with.
There are no hard and fast rules for making these decisions. For example, the two above (working in a new genre or with somebody new) sounds like a no-brainer. Anybody will tell you that it’s always a good idea to work with somebody new to make connections and hopefully make something better than you alone could create. Musicians generally hate to say no to anything, especially more music! The problem is that there is only so much time in the day. Even if you’re young, there’s only so much you can accomplish in a 24 hour period. You might be thinking that you just want just try anything that comes along and see what works out. This was always my thinking. The problem with this is you don’t have any focus and instead of having more opportunities, you end up limiting yourself because you have no real direction.
I remember the turning point for me. I always figured I would become a session musician; playing one- nighters or whatever came up. I practiced a lot and tried to become well versed in many styles. Not a bad plan, right? The problem is that I had been in a couple of projects that were terrible from the very beginning yet I spent time and money (gas mostly) in them anyway, while still pursuing anything else that came my way. I had spent valuable time in a lot of bands with people with attitudes and a lot of flakes. Keep in mind; I don’t think musicians are any more flakey than the general public, they are trying to put something together that does take a lot of personal time and effort.
One day a friend of mine who I had played with before asked me if I wanted to be in this band that a friend of his was putting together. I said sure without even meeting the other guy because my friend was a good guy and I trusted him. Well, I hated it. I didn’t get along with the guy who ran the whole thing but I stuck with it until the end anyway. The reason why I didn’t like the guy was that even though he had put together this CD which wasn’t bad, I didn’t consider him a very good musician and had trouble ‘taking orders’ from somebody who I felt had less talent than myself. Plus, it wasn’t a true band in my sense of what a band should be. The main guy had put together a CD and was looking for a band to play his material. I wanted to be part of a band that wrote together, he just wanted people to take orders. There are times when the above situation could lead to some work, even a tour with a major artist. But for me, it was a bad situation that surprisingly turned into a great learning experience. I decided that if I was ever going to do anything musical again, it was going to be on my terms. That was the last time I was ever in a band that I didn’t put together myself. I learned a lot from this guy. As far as I was concerned he had minimal talent (it was no secret among the band members that he was the least talented player), and was a bit of a jerk. But, he had put together this CD, got a lot of great players to play on it, and got a band to tour with. Not bad. It was because of two major factors; he was organized and he had focus.
Focus..With A Point
Which brings us back to the point in the very beginning; while it’s great to pursue many avenues while trying to make a living and figure out what it is you want to do, it’s vital that you have some sort of focus. If you do have that focus, you will have to turn down some ‘opportunities’ while pursing your personal vision. If you're not sure what exactly that focus is, as soon as you examine what you really want to do, ideas will pop up. If there a couple of things on your list that you'd love to get done, just pick one and get on with it. Make sure though, that whatever you pick, you stick with and see it to it's final conclusion. This guy only did the one thing; he created the CD. Once that was done, he put the band together, and shopped the CD. He was the least talented of all of the musicians yet he had the most success.
From that point on, I decided that I was going to really sit down and decide exactly what it was I wanted to do and I was going to see it through. The next band that I played in was my own. It was a funk band and it was the best band I ever played in. I got the best players that I could and this time it was me who was the ‘worst’ musician. This sounds bad but it’s really a good thing. If you’ve ever played in a band with musicians who are better than you, it can be intimidating but you learn so much and become a better musician way quicker. The bar is raised that much higher. Plus this band rocked. It lasted a couple of years and ended up disbanding because of lack of gigs. I then started a small project studio and opened my doors to songwriters and musicians who wanted to create a demo without the need for a band. I had learned to play numerous instruments along the way (not something that I planned but was well worth it; you can’t plan everything) and became a one stop shop for songwriters. Most of my clients never even played an instrument and I usually had to fill everything in, including the chords. It was another great learning experience. I stopped playing live for a while to focus wholly on this new business. Financially it kept me going for a while but on its own wasn’t enough so I had to augment this with a couple days of teaching a week. I now just work in the studio, focusing on creating the best music that I can.