How Managing My Rock Band Taught Me The Power of Being Naive
Like any male in his early twenties, I joined a rock band for one reason.
To make great music, of course!
The year was 1999, and I was 22 and just finished school. My buddy from college asked, “Do you want to join a band?” I said, “Yeah, for sure!” He said, “Ok good. The only thing that’s available is drums.”
There was only one problem. I didn’t know how play drums. In fact, I didn’t play any instrument at all.
How hard could it be?
Pretend you’re playing basketball, and you dribble toward the basket to shoot a layup. If you shoot with your right hand, you jump off of your left foot, right? Drumming is like shooting a layup with your right hand, and jumping off of your right foot.
Things get a little weird.
When you try drumming, there’s a lot of stumbling at first, but eventually, you “unlearn” your coordination. After a short period of time you develop something called four-way independence, where all your limbs start doing things independently of one another. It’s very cool.
Just so you know, I can tap my head and rub my stomach like a champ.
Notice I didn’t say anything about actually knowing how to read or write music? I’ve written dozens of songs and performed hundreds of times as a drummer, yet never learned that skill.
Of the four members in our band, I was deemed the “most businesslike” dude, so I ended up doing all of our management and booking.
As a manager of a band, you’re tasked with stuff like this –
1.) Finding a practice space
2.) Ensuring that everyone in your band actually shows up to practice (surprisingly hard for most bands)
3.) Creating an environment conducive to writing music
Said another way, is was my job to find the place where we could have a creative outlet. A place where we could write those awesome songs we know we had inside of us. A place with which we could associate creating OUR art.
Are you creating YOUR art?
Do you have that place with which YOU have an positive association, to help put you in your creative mode? If not, find one. It makes all the difference.
Lesson #1 as manager of my band –
Be naive. We didn’t know if we we’re good, and in fact, it’s probably best everyone in our band grew up playing sports instead of music. We didn’t talk ourselves out of success before we achieved it. Create YOUR art and put it out to the world. You have no right to determine how talented you are. Let the marketplace decide that.
When you have a degree of success with a band, you need a proper band manager. It’s mainly because you start having really hard conversations. Contract prices, the kind of Gatorade in your green room…that sort of thing.
So, we hired a band manager. His name was James T Potat. Jimmy was overqualified by every measure. He had his law degree, he played in a whole series of bands in Britain, and he was unequivocally, without a doubt, completely made up by me.
Lesson #2 as manager of my band –
When you need to have hard conversations, hire someone to do that for you. If you can’t afford it, just make somebody up and blame him instead. It works really well! My next business idea – BlameSomebodyElse.com. Steal if you want.
Like any kid growing up Milwaukee, I dreamed of being a rock star at Summerfest. It’s officially the World’s Largest Music Festival and with 700 bands over 11 days on 11 stages, it’s an incredible event.
If our band could play at Summerfest, that would be incredible validation.
We started pursuing that goal the wrong way, though.
We tried to book our own gigs. Instead of going to venues that already had bands and asking them, “Can we play here?” we created our own shows. They looked great from a sound & light standpoint, but the audience wasn’t quite the size we hoped.
I remedied this by accident. I started checking out band posters and saw a little icon in the bottom corner with somebody’s name on it. I said, “Who is that person?” The bands advertised on the posters were really huge, and they had opening acts performing with them. I figured he’d know something about that.
I called the guy on the poster and asked, “What do you do?”
He replied, “I’m a band promoter.”
I said, “May I ask your advice? How can we be those bands that open for those bigger bands than us? How can we perform in front of the crowds they draw?”
He said, “I’ll show you.” And he did. And we followed his advice.
Fast forward to February 2002. The crowd we we’re performing for numbered 1,100, and we continued to play many shows just like that one.
Then, when James T Potat – our fearless manager – contacted Summerfest, he said, “Look at all these great shows that we played…all these great venues. We’ve been vetted by people that aren’t you, so you can feel good about booking us now, right?
The people from Summerfest said, “of course you can play here.”
Lesson #3 as manager of my band –
You don’t need to create your own scene. Create YOUR art. Go where a need already exists, and make yourself valuable.
Where can you go right now and “perform” for a crowd that already needs what you offer?