Saturday, June 20, 2015

Things I learned about management by working with rock musicians.



Things I learned about management by working with rock musicians.

I believe everyone wants to be a rock musician.   We call great sales people “rock stars” for a reason.  Rock musicians ‘own’ the world.  They have immense influence, they can have a crowd of thousands eating out of their hands, and they get perks most humans can’t even dream of, including wealth (and special parking!). 

In some ways, I believe many people want to be musicians because musicians exemplify freedom of wide open expression, creativity, significant influence, autonomy, and the power of being valued.  In some ways, musicians are a special window into humanity.  They are what many people aspire to be, and so their behavior tells us things about human nature.

I have worked with many musicians (and I confess I am one myself!).  I may have learned more about management from working with musicians than from classes or business projects.  They are a unique breed but their behavior provides us with special insight into the human condition.

Here are a few of my observations after five decades of working with musicians:


You simply do not tell a musician what to do.   You need to work with their natural and deep motivations for success and recognition.

When everyone wants to do something different it takes special effort to bring them together, but they will galvanize around something that promises a future payoff, specifically if they will get to showcase their talents and it includes remuneration. 

Musicians build efficacy through failure and regrouping

Musicians take a beating on their way to the top starting with garage bands.  They have to overcome awful venues with terrible lighting, sound, bad electrical outlets, dangerous travels, snow storms and unscrupulous management.  Rock and Roll is not always pretty.

The efficacy built from facing awful crowds gains momentum over time.  Musicians have such a strong desire to gain a following and a hearing that they keep going in search of success. 

Musicians invest a lot in their craft … but expect something in return

Becoming a good musician takes a lot of self-discipline and effort, literally years of investment and pain. High levels of investment in time and energy build an expectation to be recognized. 

The lure of applause and the big crowd drives many to sacrifice family, friends and sometimes health.  Success can be its own addiction.  Big crowds lead the musician to seek even bigger crowds.  It is an endless cycle.


Musicians are heavily self-invested

Freedom in creativity is a goal of many musicians.  They want to express their deepest thoughts and feelings through their craft. But creativity can lead to being very self-focused – their creativity is both helpful and harmful when self-importance leads to narcissism.  Sometimes their talent does not match their ego and they don’t take feedback very well.  They can be easily offended. 

Truly great musicians become humble and deeply satisfied in the joy of their craft

The great ones (those who through suffering and struggle and hard work) eventually come to a place of contentment with the joy of their work, irrespective of the approval of others.  They simply play because they have mastered their craft and their confidence is off the charts (both literally and figuratively).


Working with individual musicians is a far cry from working with a band!

The dreaded band meeting is the place where all the egos converge.  It is a place where the bored don’t want to discuss the mundane details of managing logistics and getting to gigs on time. It is a place where everyone has an idea of their own about how things should be done, according to their own creative impulses and views of the universe, and their own motivational desires for achievement.

The reality?

When you stop to think about it, musicians are just the rest of us on stage.  That’s why everyone wants to be a rock star.