Category Archives: Music

The Dead Of Dining

I came up with today’s Foodie Friday topic this past week as I was dining out. Which of course leads to The Grateful Dead. If any of you are Deadheads, one thing you know is that when the band was on and in full flight they were magnificent. They could take you with them as they soared musically. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening on any given night were not close to 100%.

It’s the thing that frustrates most of us who listened to The Dead. You could go to a show never knowing if you were going to walk away uplifted or disappointed. The experience was inconsistent. They were the musical personification of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

OK, back to food. I took a little mini-vacation this week to an island just off the North Carolina coast. It was lovely but because it is a relatively small island, there are limited dining options. One of these options was a place that serves Mexican food. The first time I dined there I had a lovely skirt steak but what struck me was how good the accompanying rice and black beans were. The beans were perfectly textured with a little smokiness coming from a piece of smoked pork tossed in the pot. The rice was billowy. I made it a point to return on another night.

The second night I dined there, the beans were bland and tough, as was the rice. In fact, the rice had a crunch to it, not like the lovely socarrat that forms in paella but from being undercooked and raw. Everything from the drinks to the entrees seems to have been tossed together with a minimum of care and thought.

It reminded me that one thing we need in business is consistency. Whether we’re serving food or figures, customers need to know that they can count on our product meeting a high standard each and every time. Employees and our team need to know that everyone is treated fairly and using the same standards. Unlike The Dead or this restaurant, we can’t miss the mark as often as we hit it. The only times we miss the standards we set should be those occasions when we move those standards up a notch. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Music

Make Your Environment Cheezy

A little science this Foodie Friday. I swear this doesn’t come from some satire site either. A group of Swiss scientists conducted a little experiment with music and cheese. The idea was to find out if exposing cheese to round-the-clock music could give it more flavor. They took 9 wheels of Emmenthal cheese and put them in individual wooden crates. Then, for the next six months, each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels. You with me so far?

As one report had it:

The tracks include A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it From Here, Mozart’s The Magic Flute opera, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Vril’s UV, and Yello’s Monolith. Three of the other wheels were exposed to either low-, medium-, or high-frequency sound waves. One control wheel was left in silence.

Any guesses on the results? Well, amazingly, there was a noticeable difference in flavor according to the food experts who tasted them. They reported that the cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor compared to the non-musical cheese. They also found that the hip-hop cheese had a stronger aroma and stronger flavor than other samples. If you ask anyone who’s been around me whilst I’m preparing a meal, they will tell you that I often play a type of music appropriate to the cuisine being prepared: Zydeco when cooking Cajun, Salsa when cooking Mexican, etc. They think I’m crazy but now I have science to back up my thinking, right?

The business point here is that we often don’t pay enough attention to the environment we set up in our business places. While it’s become more common for people to listen to headphones while they work, there are many other factors in the environment that affect performance. Creating an environment where people are happy and motivated pays huge dividends, especially when you look at places where people are generally miserable. It’s not just good lighting and clean spaces. It’s also having an open-door policy as a manager and allowing the staff to personalize their spaces. It means bending the rules from time to time to accommodate special situations and doing a lot more listening than talking when conversing with your team.

If cheese can pick vibrations and react, you can be very sure that the people with whom you work can as well. Why not make them the kind of vibes that create the best flavor?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Music

Conducting

Did you play in your school’s band or orchestra? Maybe you sang in the chorus? I did all of those as well as in the school’s jazz band. If you did, you came face to face with a conductor. For those of you unfamiliar with how a conductor operates, I’ll spend a few words on the topic. For those of you already familiar, please keep reading because those hours spent under their baton can tell you a lot about business.

Whether you played in an ensemble or just listened, you’ve seen a conductor at work. Their right hand, usually the one holding the baton, keeps time. Their left hand, the far more expressive one, serves many purposes; among them cueing various instruments, helping the musicians understand the dynamic you want to project or the phrasing you’re after.

One of my childhood memories is of seeing Leonard Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic. He conducted the orchestra in a way that was a cross between dancing as a listener and working hard as a musician. There is no doubt, if you watch old videos of him, what he is trying the get from his musicians. That’s not true of all conductors.

What you probably never thought of is how anticipatory conducting really is. It begins in rehearsal, where the conductor will often stop and explain what he or she is after. The musicians are learning what each gesture means and they get a sense of the speed and phrasing the conductor wants. It’s assumed the musicians already know the notes and heaven help the musician who causes the conductor to stop and demand the musician play a phrase the conductor heard as wrong. It also means the conductor is a few beats ahead of his musicians so he can cue them, hopefully in a way that also tells them how he wants the upcoming music played.

What does this have to do with business? A lot. I always looked at my role as being similar to an orchestra leader. My job was to bring coherence to a large, diverse group of executives who played very different roles. I kept time with one hand, meaning that I set goals for the entire group and established how we’d get there. With the other hand, I let individual elements within the group know when to speak up. Most importantly, we rehearsed. No, I didn’t have my group do things just for the sake of doing them. I did, however, ask them a lot of questions to make sure they knew the music and that when it came time for them to be front and center they would shine. I was careful to be clear about what I wanted and about what I meant when I asked for something. I was also a few beats ahead at all times.

Watch some of the great conductors. Bernstein, Loren Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, and others. There are some great business lessons there, don’t you think?

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud

Are You Gaslighting Your Customers?

I did something dumb but in the process of rectifying my error, I also learned that some companies are still doing something equally dumb, which is treating their customers as adversaries. Let me explain.

I bought tickets to a concert. As a part of the purchase, I was given the option to download the band’s latest album. As an aside, I’m finding this offer with quite a few of the bands I go to see, and it reinforces the notion in my mind that recorded music is a tiny part of the music business equation these days. The real money is in touring, and giving away an album helps increase the value of a ticket. Who knows – maybe it even gets some folks who might not otherwise go to a show to get out for an evening. What is the incremental cost of a digital download? Next to nothing, but the value is high to a fan.

It was with that digital download that I had my issue. I received an email from Ticketmaster, through whom I had bought the tickets, telling me to click on a link to start the download. It began without issue, but my computer locked up about halfway through the process. I rebooted and tried to restart the download to no avail. The link is single use and I had already clicked on it. The page said that if I’d had a problem to reach out via online help.

I connected to online chat. after a 17 minute wait (during which time they did show me what number I was in the queue), on came “Luis”, my customer service rep. I explained the situation and he went to verify my order, which he was able to do.

I do not show that this artist is part of our Album offer, did you get that email from Ticketmaster?

I cut and pasted the email copy. He asked for the domain that sent it, which I gave him. Here is where the real problem begins.

We have verified the email you have received and unfortunately it is not the same as ours.

Uh yeah, Luis, it is. You’re Ticketmaster and it came from a Ticketmaster domain. But it gets worse.

I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately Ticketmaster does not offer the album.

OK, now I’m angry. I feel as if I’m being gaslighted. They sent me an email about the download and it was in the confirmation email for my order, they gave me a link, the download got halfway through, the artist’s website says they’re giving away a download with each ticket order, and yet the person they have “helping” me is telling me that none of that came from them and there is no offer to begin with.

Here is the end of the discussion which followed my asking him exactly those questions. The time code, by the way, is the duration of the conversation, so we’re over a half hour of my time to clear this up:

00:32:12 Luis: Someone else may have gotten hold of your email address, and sent you the made up information.

00:33:31 KeithR : So let’s see – they know I bought tickets last night and they built links into Ticketmaster for a unique download code which now won’t redeem a second time?

00:33:36 KeithR : Is that your theory?

00:34:51 Luis : I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately the email that was sent to you is not the same domain that is sent by Ticketmaster, unfortunately, since this artist is not part of the album offer shown on our end nor the artist page, we would not be able to further assist you.

Implied next sentence, don’t let the door hit you in the ass as you go away. I use Ticketmaster/Live Nation a lot. I think even they would admit that they are not a beloved entity, mostly because of the multiple and high service fees (most of which are NOT imposed by them!). Any company needs to sit on the same side of the table as its customers, helping them to resolve the problem and not sitting in the adversarial position Luis staked out for himself. By the way, I called Ticketmaster and within minutes had a customer service agent who did just that, aligning herself with my needs and sending an email to a supervisor to get my problem resolved.

I suspect I just got a badly trained or unmotivated agent the first time. I’d be curious if they’re Ticketmaster employees or an outside firm that’s paid on some basis (time on phone/chat, number of calls fielded) rather than on that aligns with customers (cases successfully resolved for the customer). Customers may not have a choice when it comes to buying tickets but they probably do when they’re interacting with your business. How are you treating them?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Music

Tribute Bands And Your Business

Over the weekend I saw the Dark Star Orchestra. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they’re one of the leading tribute bands out there and they play the music of The Grateful Dead. I’ve seen them several times and oddly enough each time I do it reminds me of a few business thoughts.

I played in several bands as I was growing up. We always felt we were a cover band. We were playing someone else’s songs but doing so in our own way. Most tribute bands go beyond that and attempt to recreate the sounds and often the appearance of the original artists. If you’re any sort of fan of The Dead you know that their performances were very hit or miss. The DSO is way more consistent and they sound just like The Dead on a great night each and every time. So what does this have to do with business?

I think imitation is more than just the sincerest form of flattery. I think in many ways it’s better than innovation despite the fact that we often hear of the “first mover advantage.” Innovation is great, but by not being first the flaws in the original product or service become way more clear. The fact that you’re building later lets you correct for those flaws and get beyond the original. That usually is something you can do much more cost-effectively too.

What do I mean? The iPod was not the first music player, just the most successful. Anyone who looks at Instagram knows both that they weren’t the first of their kind and that most of their “new” features these days come right from Snapchat. You could video chat someone long before Skype came around and Amazon was not the first retailer on the web. Each of those companies, and other such as Spotify and eBay, were not first movers. They were imitators – tribute bands if you will, who took the best of the pioneers and made it better.

Is it easier to get funding for a copycat? Probably – the business model has been proven and, therefore, investor risk is reduced. Japan, and now China, built economies on imitating successful products and making them better and/or cheaper. A tribute band has a pre-built fan base. If you’re a Beatles fan or an Oasis fan or a fan of The Band, you have no chance to see the original but you can spend a night with their music. If you’re a business, you don’t have to be the original if you can make the original better and capitalize on their fan base. The DSO do it brilliantly. Can you?

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Filed under Consulting, Music, Thinking Aloud

Can You Pass The Dylan Test?

I wasn’t going to post anything today, but with Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature (yay!), I couldn’t let the day pass without putting up this post again. Whether you love Dylan’s music or hate it (although many people love the music and hate his voice), you can’t deny Dylan’s importance in music history. Here is why and what he just might mean to your business.

Yesterday marked an anniversary that I could not let pass without comment.  On March 19, 1962, 50 years ago yesterday, Bob Dylan released his first album, or LP (to signify a long-playing record rather than a single) as they were called at the time.

Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23 1978

Bob Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23 1978 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This piece from Rolling Stone does a nice job of summing up the album and how it got made.  I’m a long-time fan of the man and his music and while I can’t say I love everything he’s ever done, it’s all really interesting and in many cases, his music went beyond popular culture to become transformative (start with “Blowin’ In The Wind“) for an entire generation and country.  I’ve heard so many people dismiss his music and yet when I give them the Dylan Test, they can’t deny his impact.  What, you ask, is the Dylan Test?  Something I think we should apply to way more stuff than Bob’s music – any business could benefit.  Let me explain.

The Dylan test is simple:  I know my grandchildren will hear the music of Bob Dylan.  They may not like it, they might not ever buy it, but they’ll hear it and they’ll know who the guy was that recorded it.  Not because I’m going to ram it down their throats:  I’d make the same statement about my great-grandchildren.  It’s because Dylan’s music is that important, just like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Springsteen and The Beatles.  And that’s the test.  Can you make that same statement about whatever music you believe to be “great?”  That ought to be our business objective.  To pass the Dylan Test.

I wrote in this piece a while back that we ought to be creating things that are built to last.  While the tools are temporary – Dylan’s first disc was pressed in vinyl – the content and the core of the business endures, or we should hope it will.  So ask yourself the Dylan Test question as you’re contemplating investing your time, effort, and money on a project.  While very few things pass, it’s not a bad standard to keep in mind.

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Winners Rethink

At one time in my life, I had aspirations to do music as a career. Even though I no longer have either the band or the hair required to be a rock star I still listen to music and follow industry developments. Because of that, an article on the music industry caught my eye this morning. It comes from MediaPost and its headline reads “Streaming Music Enjoys Revenue Uptick to $3B.” It goes on to report that:

Revenues from streaming services continued to grow strongly both in dollars and share of total revenues. During the first half of the year, streaming music revenues totaled $1.6 billion — up 57% year-over-year. This accounted for 47% of industry revenues, which compares positively with 32% in the first half of 2015.

Impressive growth and reflection on how the business has changed. Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and others have changed how people consume this product. What hasn’t changed, however, is how the music business works. In fact, a business model that was written into some laws a century ago still governs how the business operates for the most part. As a result, as Fortune reported a couple of months ago:

Based on almost every metric that matters, Spotify is the most successful streaming music service in the world, with almost 90 million subscribers and close to $2 billion in annual revenues. Yet its recently-released financial results show that despite its massive success, it is still incapable of making a profit—and because of the way the music business works, it may never make one.

You won’t have to search very hard to find many articles detailing how little money artists make from digital music either. So where are these record (pun intended) revenues going? You can probably guess. The people at the record companies wrote the business model, and there are still payments to those companies for things such as “breakage”, physical discs (fragile vinyl when the clause was written into standard agreements) that didn’t make the trip to retail intact. Recently, “New Technology Clauses” were added which charges the artist to ready an album for digital distribution and which are completely unnecessary.

The point today isn’t to rage against the record machine. It’s to point out that this industry and almost every other business has been totally disrupted over the last 20 years. Middlemen serve very little purpose other than to act as legally-protected gatekeepers. Rather than rethinking the business model with an eye toward how to provide value to the customers (the artists and consumers) they serve, the record companies dig in further. They haven’t quite figured out that if they starve the artists and bankrupt the new distribution systems, they too will die.

So ask yourself if the business model in which you operate has been rethought in the last few years. You can watch it happening (finally) in the TV business and countless others if you need inspiration. Winners are rethinking everything. Losers dig in. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Music