What is the one thing that seems to rise above all other elements in music and primarily sits firmly in its own little shrine?
While there are many reasons for working in music (reasons vary from person to person), for most, it comes back to some degree of self-expression. It is because of self-expression that we have some of the wonderful music we do. So, why is it that we have so many folks in the industry that cannot grasp the fact that while self-expression is a huge part of it, the big bands/artists/performances responsible for this music don’t happen without structure and organization? It would appear that many folks love to exist in this bubble where there is an illusion of self-expression and success without the need for structure and organization. That bubble won’t survive and this is why: the further up you wish to go in music, the more dire the need for structure, organization, communication, and planning. However, many don’t learn this until it’s too late or refuse to learn it, spin their wheels, and make the same mistakes over and over again.
Now, in the title I mention the word misconception. What is the misconception here? It is this: Success in music can exist without structure and organization. This misconception is one of the big things that prevents the up-and-comers from ever getting to the upper tier.
Why does this issue exist?
The words I’ve mentioned throughout this blog are often borrowed from the corporate side of things. My background is military band and over the past 10-15 years, specifically with the Air Force, the shift to and outright poaching of corporate lingo and structure is extremely evident and more prevalent now than ever before. The military would love to believe that it has generated these ideas on it’s own but in reality, it’s all swiped from places like Harvard, Stanford, and other high-level business schools (just takes a little deeper dig into the military structural and doctrinal materials). To be honest, I have been in meetings where it feels more like being in the movie, Office Space, than in a high-performing organization. For those that have seen the movie, I’ve actually been around people that might as well be one of the “Bobs.” It would appear that many aspiring musicians are physically ill at the thought of mixing self-expression and structure. For some, it seems to become even more outlandish when they are confronted with the notion that the concoction of self-expression and structure can actually have a snow-ball’s-chance-in-hell at success. With movies like Office Space illustrating corporate structure at its worst (and accurate-that’s why it’s so damn funny), I can’t blame them. So, what is the way forward?
Structure and organization is a must if you wish to be successful in music but for some reason the message that it is required is somehow lost in the fray. I’m not sure where the idea that being professional can also be a discombobulated free-for-all but that is dead wrong. Recently, someone shared with me that another person in their music-centric organization said that the company meetings were “scary.” While corporate-style operation (scary meetings and all) has plenty of flaws, there is no questioning the efficiency of structure and everyone having a clear cut job to do. The beautiful thing in the music side of things is that we can steal the good things about robust corporate structure/execution and modify the shortcomings to fit what needs to happen for our purposes. I keep mentioning the same two words over and over . . . you’re probably sick of them by now. But, here is why they matter:
Structure: When everyone has a clear-cut job to do, and does it, there is a miracle of nature that often happens. Stuff happens! Words like efficiency and productivity come to mind as well. Obviously, there are many other factors but this is where many aspiring bands and artists go wrong. If everyone has a job to do, and they know where it starts and stops, then they can freely do it and own it. There is less chance for someone to get off-course and stray into someone else’s lane of work when everything is clear. I’ll make it simple . . . there is a reason why big artists have different people for different jobs. From MD’s to tour managers to social media gurus, these people have been hired for their specialty and to manage that corner to the best of their ability. Now, before anyone raises hell about the money aspect (i.e. we can’t afford to hire anyone!), let me just say this: While you may not be able to hire someone, you can function this way until you are able to hire someone to do it. Yes, it takes time and effort, but if you wish to be at a certain level, then you must start behaving like you want to be at that level in as many aspects as possible. You can have structure in a band of two or three, it just takes communication.
Organization: Things like sending out agendas, schedules, goals, rehearsal materials, etc. are essential for success. It is absolutely amazing to me how many aspiring musicians fail at this side of things. Want someone to do something for you/have something prepared for you? Then you have to let them know with enough lead time for them to do it! Plain and simple. This requires you to be organized and on top of whatever you’re doing. Does this take you away from the self-expression side of things? Yes, it does but it’s just part of it and if you wish to accomplish anything, then you have to accept this fact.
In closing, self-expression and the aforementioned elements can co-exist. Look at it this way . . . you have structure and organization in the music you write, yes? So, put those elements into the business that you conduct so you can continue to express yourself through music. It’s all connected folks. Want to present your music and maybe have it keep your lights on, and maybe even have some longevity? Then that requires . . . well, you know.
Aaron Kusterer is a musician, tour manager, and composer based out of Long Beach, CA. He has performed with artists such as Eddie Money, Mitch Malloy, Juanes, and Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson) to name a few. He has also performed across the globe during a 10-year stint with the United States Air Force Band, 6 years of which was spent as a music director and tour manager. In addition, he owns and operates Advantage Tour Management. For more information on him, check out: AaronKusterer.com.