Tag Archives: 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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Music, Thinking Aloud

Being Your Fool

Unless you’ve been off the planet for the last few days, you’re aware that Prince passed away last week. While the word “genius” is overused, it applies in his case. I hope you’ve seen some of the examples of his art – they’ve been everywhere as the tributes pour in. It’s one of those tributes I’d like to discuss today because it is instructive when it comes to business.

English: Prince playing at Coachella 2008.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before we get to that example, let me remind you that one aspect of Prince’s genius was his foresight in seeing how the internet and digital technology would disrupt the music business. This is an excellent overview of his relationship with the Internet from the Washington Post. While Price was an early adapter, appreciating how music could now be sold directly to fans without a record label, he also recognized how that very process could wipe out a revenue stream for musicians. As he put it: “Tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?”

Prince recorded an unreleased song called “There’s Something I Like About Being Your Fool,” and that gets us to our business point today.  One of the “tributes” to Prince came from AMC Theaters.  They announced that they would play Prince’s film “Purple Rain” in their theaters this weekend to honor him.  In my mind, this is the furthest thing from a tribute: it’s greed.  There is no mention of AMC letting patrons see Prince’s work for free.  They are charging full price.  There is no mention that all of the admission proceeds will be donated to any of the numerous charities Prince quietly supported throughout his career. I might be totally off base here and AMC might be doing something honorable, but even if I am, the business point still applies.

As businesses, our motives can’t be questioned.  It gets to the issue of trust, and trust is a critical currency these days.  If we’re not believable, whether it’s with respect to our products, our customer service, or our alignment with our customers, we’re in deep trouble.  Maybe AMC is letting people in for free or donating the proceeds but they’re being awfully loud about the film and quiet about the rest. Unlike the Prince lyric, people don’t like being your fool.  Sure, show the movie, but don’t call it a way to honor anyone when you’re lining your pockets using a tragedy.  I’m not that kind of fool.  You?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Huh?, Music, Reality checks