Buddy, Berklee, and Big Swing Face… a Lesson in Fundamentals for Musicians.

 

Buddy Rich Big Swing Face

I have listed to a lot of music over the years…I mean a lot. One of my favorite albums is Big Swing Face, a live album recorded over two nights by The Buddy Rich Big Band in 1967. There are a number of reasons that I enjoy this record. For one, it stars the indisputable king of drumming, Buddy Rich. Second, it is a big band album and as a drummer who has driven thirteen to eighteen piece swing bands, I can attest there is perhaps no greater challenge to the craft of the instrument. Each section of a big-band pulls/pushes time differently. Trombones, due to the difficult nature of their instrument, will pull. Trumpets, with their top of the spectrum tones and quick staccato, will push. As such, the drummer must control those fluctuations, all while reading and matching hits with each section.

Buddy Rich was a master of this.

He was also one of the hardest bandleaders ever to walk this earth. He berated, threw tantrums, and regularly fired band members for the simplest of infractions. If you want to hear just how rough Buddy was on his band mates, and if a whole lot of swearing doesn’t offend you, take a listen to The Buddy Rich Bus Tapes and be mortified by his leadership style.

However, before you cast judgment on Buddy, do two things. First, remember that Buddy always gave at least 110% on the stage night after night right up until the end. Don’t believe me, watch this video from 1982 when the drummer reportedly had a heart attack during his solo on the last song and still finished the set. Second, take another listen to Big Swing Face. This album is virtually flawless in every regard from time, to phrasing, and intonation. These musicians nailed their takes live without the aid of computer software to fix their mistakes or enhance their sound in post-production. The latter is a very important lesson when it comes to making music.

Garbage in…garbage out.

I was first introduced to this phrase during a late night recording session at Berklee College of Music in the mid 90’s. At that time, we recorded to tape and ProTools was still in the early adopter phase and not available to anyone with a computer. The option to fix takes later wasn’t as simple as it is now. Luckily, all Berklee students (including those in the production and engineering program) must undergo intense fundamental courses in ear-training, harmony, and private instrument studies so they know how to make musicians sound better BEFORE they are patched into the board. They understand that the fundamentals of the craft will always trump technology.

So why am I sharing this story?

Now that I work behind the stage booking entertainers I hear a lot of excuses, especially from those of the younger generation, as to why they aren’t sounding their best. The monitors weren’t right. The room was dead. The engineer doesn’t know what he is doing. We would sound better with our equipment…with our engineer. Truth is, the excuses are sometime so relentless that it gets me thinking that it could be the outside environment and not my musicians. Then I cue up Big Swing Face and I am reminded that nearly fifty years ago sixteen musicians could perform some of the most complex music live. Record it and wind up with an almost flawless album all without today’s modern technology as a crutch. Swing Face teaches me to constantly listen beyond the front of house and focus on the musicianship happening on stage. To seek out entertainers who are good at the fundamentals of their craft. The singer who knows exactly how far her mic should be from her mouth. The DJ who can match keys and tempos as well as beats, and the drummer who can swing a group of multi-time musicians into shape. I know that if their fundamentals are on point, the rest of the show is simply enhancing those skills, which is much easier for all involved and the key ingredient to a stellar performance.

Adele…25…and the Four P’s of Marketing

 

And just like that… Adele’s 25 is already breaking records. With just three days under its belt, the Brit-singer’s highly anticipated album has sold 2,433,000 copies, surpassing the 2,416,000 of NSYNC’s No Strings Attached release in 2000. Even more impressive is just how huge this album already is in its first week when compared to some other superstars. Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 sold 968,000 copies its first week, Taylor Swift’s Red sold 1,208,000, Britney’s Oops!…I Did It Again sold 1,319,000, and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP sold 1,760,000.

So how is it that 25 will outperform some of the music world’s brightest stars, during a time when we are all constantly reminded that the industry as a whole is underperforming? Is it Adele’s musicianship and song-writing prowess? Is it the new distribution mediums available? Is it social media and a new era of viral-promotion?

In all actuality, 25’s success comes in the nearly perfect integration of the four P’s of marketing. Interestingly, her marketing mix, as complex as it may look, is made quite simple by her unique musical ability, which has driven demand in a way that has allowed her label to control a few key elements and thus boost demand in an era when record sales are hard to come by. To understand how it all plays together, let’s look at 25’s release from the perspective of these fundamental components of marketing.

Product: At the core of any marketing mix is the product. The better it is, the more opportunity it offers the other elements of the recipe on which to build. There is no doubt that Adele brings to the table a strong product in 25. This is made evident by both the overwhelming industry accolades and sales success of her previous album 2125’s predecessor won three American Music Awards and seven Grammy’s including Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Pop Solo Performance along with a host of other trophies. It climbed to number one on virtually every pop chart around the world at one time or another and has remained on many since its 2009 release selling over 11 million copies in the U.S. alone to date. While music tastes are subjective, this is pure empirical evidence that Adele has a strong product on which to build her success.

Promotion: The success of 25’s promotion lies in the consumer adoption cycle of 21. Adele’s previous album remained on many charts and continued to sell while the artist went into hiding, had a baby, and started her next release. When looked at from a product adoption cycle perspective, it could be argued that 21 had just started to enter its decline phase, thus leaving the bell curve peak of its 11 million plus consumers anticipating a new product from the artist. This would be between 90 and 95% or about 9.9 million persons chomping at the bit for a new Adele album and may help explain why her first single Hello had over 27 million views during its first day on YouTube. This was enough to prompt the conversation by the global press if Adele’s upcoming release would match its predecessor and ignite a viral outbreak on social media to help make that happen.

Place: Adele’s product quality and promotional power allowed her team to control her places of distribution, which has become a vital component in the modern recorded music marketplace. Today, more and more customers consume their music through either a digital distributer such as iTunes or an online streaming service such as Spotify with the latter providing diminished returns for the artist and their management team and requiring more movement to count as an album sale (1,500 streams = 1 album sale). However, due to decreased promotion and demand drivers, many artists must release to both channels to break through increased noise in the market. This “necessary evil” comes at a huge cost in regards to physical album sales. Luckily for Adele, the huge demand for her latest product has allowed her team to forgo releasing her tracks to streaming channels, which has ultimately doubled demand for her physical unit sales and defended another element of her marketing mix – price.

Price: When you achieve a product that is relatively price/demand inelastic, it is safe to say that the other components of your marketing mix are singing in harmony. This is exactly the case with 25. You can’t stream 25 yet and nobody seems to care…or even complain. Many will buy it because they know the product is worth the price. Others will buy in so they too can be a part of the conversation or to contribute to the success of a superstar who doesn’t really seem like a superstar. Either way, Adele’s musical ability has fueled a promotion powerhouse that could be properly manipulated by her management team, which ended in increased sales in an industry where that doesn’t really happen too much anymore.

Strategic Analysis of Live Nation Entertainment

Rock Concert and Rock Horns

 

The following paper was the final deliverable for my MBA strategic management course at Southern New Hampshire University. The purpose was to analyze the macro-level strategy of an organization of our choice.  For ten weeks, we explored how that strategy impacted virtually every aspect of the firm from their financials to their competitive position and H&R practices. I chose to put my experience as a booking agent and undergraduate degree in music business to good use and analyzed the top promoter in the world – Live Nation Entertainment.

My analysis of Live Nation Entertainment revealed an organization executing a well-crafted strategy to vertically integrate the unique value chain elements of their main concert business. As a result, the company has catapulted past their competition in the U.S. concert and event promotion market as well as the global online ticketing industry where they hold commanding market shares in each. Despite this success, there is much more opportunity for the company to grow…almost an entire planet.  I touch upon management’s future plans throughout the paper and offer my own insight as well.

Jeremy Larochelle’s Strategic Analysis of Live Nation Entertainment

Lessons from a Mexican Restaurant

Lessons from a Mexican Restaurant

 

The other day I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant for lunch.  It is a quaint little “mom and pop” shop that makes some great food, has an awesome atmosphere, and plays great Latin music.

I noticed they had a sign by the cash register that said:

Join Our Email List

Get 20% Off Your Meal

Get Great Coupons and Chances to Win Prizes

That sign made me realize that so many artists offer me nothing to join their email lists, and you know what?…It greatly reduces the chance I will.

Seems my homegrown Mexican entrepreneurs know more about marketing than most entertainers.

Musicians undervalue the power of the email list.  It is a direct connection to your consumers. It is a way to tell them about your new album, so they buy it. Inform them about upcoming shows, so they go. Showcase your newest merchandise, so they wear it. And to like, follow and join your social media networks so you can keep them informed and connected.

Most of you looking for a record deal have no idea that labels place a lot of weight on your mailing and social lists. Why? Because they know if you can get 2,000 people to follow you on your nothing budget than their $500,000 check would get exponentially more fans interested, which leads to more money.

Even those of you who want to make it on your own have no idea the power of an email list. That list is a great way to keep your fans coming to shows and buying into your brand. It is also a great selling tool to help you get money from sponsors who want to put a link on your site, a banner at your show, or a tattoo on your drummer’s forehead. And the more names you have, chances are the larger the paycheck.

Basically put, in today’s marketing world the email list is gold, so you have to work hard to get people to join it.

Remember it is a business transaction and every exchange with a consumer (even when there is no money involved) requires you to give them something for their currency, even if that currency is their email. Offer them a few free tracks, a free concert ticket, a chance to win something cool and there is a greater chance they will join your cause.

Never underestimate the power of consumer information and the email list is a great way to get it.

Do This When You Play Live to Elevate Your Music Career

Look like you care. Play your best show even if the room is empty.

 

2016-01-20-23-47-00


Part of my job is to hit up clubs and bars and check out bands. Now I am not looking to give you a record deal or finance your musical dreams. I am a booking agent, and before we book a band we always check you out live. If you pique our interests, and we have a spot, one little visit could lead to a lot of money and exposure for your group.

It happened the other night. I was at a big name show and afterwards popped my head into a local bar. I caught an amazing band who had a great product. They looked good, they played good, they had video, they were having fun. So I said to myself “I am going to book them”. Less than a week later I had another group drop out of a big gig and bada-boom that group I had found landed a show making more money than they were used to in a new market that could lead to future gigs and more fans for their tunes.

Unfortunately this is not the norm in our industry.

I watch a lot of bands… a lot. And I am surprised at how many are just up on stage for the paycheck. The singer is giving it half her range, the guitarist is half-drunk and the drummer is clearly thinking about what he is going to eat at Taco Bell later. The room is dead, because nobody is entertained by boring.

As a former touring musician myself, I understand your pain. It is tough to look like you care when you are tired, the room’s dead, and you have played the same songs a billion times. It can be tough to dig yourself out of that ditch. But you have too, because you never know who is watching and what they could do for you.

So what can you do to get that “oomph” back in your show?

Learn some new tunes: This is the quickest fix. If you feel like you are playing the same set-list night in and night out, then maybe it’s time to throw in some new songs to liven things up. Sometimes all it takes is one or two extra tunes to bring the bassist back from the dead.

Don’t play as much: This might be a tough one to swallow, but it is true, especially if you play in the same market. Ever heard the old adage “to much of a good thing”. Well, if you play the same two bars night after night, that is certainly the case for your fans and for you. Industry pro, Rick Barker, says it best in his book The $150,000 Music Degree, by doing this “you are damaging the demand for your product, which is weakening your business leverage against the venue.” Try cutting back your gigs, even if it is for a couple weeks and see if you get a better reaction from your fans and the band. If that doesn’t work, or it scares you because you need the money, it might be time to investigate new markets. Quite honestly, if your plans are to gain exposure you need to be doing that anyway. Unless you are in New York, Nashville, or LA playing in the same zip code night after night will not get you on the radar of industry gatekeepers.

Mess with your mind: Nope, not talking about smoking three joints before you hit the stage, I am talking about psychology. I used to have a trick that worked. From behind the kit I would pick out a face in the audience that I didn’t know and convince myself they were a big-shot and could help advance my career. 90% of the time it worked and I played a little bit better.

Those are just a few suggestions. I encourage you to try your own. The point is that your live performance is vital to your career, no matter what you are trying to achieve musically. I know that, 90% of the time, A&R scouts will need to see a band live before presenting a group to their label. Managers and booking agents, such as myself, need to make sure that you can hold a crowd. This is extremely important in today’s market, where live performances are needed to make up for the loss of recording sales, and this will only gain more importance as the market continues to shift towards streaming consumption.

So bottom line, you need to put on a great show every single night, no matter how many people are in the room, how they are reacting, or how you feel. This is a part of being a music professional and a vital component that will separate those who make it in this industry from those who end up asking if “you want fries with that”.

 

When Hooks Become Brands Part II

 

In my last blog I explored how rock/metal group Metallica crafted excellent hooks into their songs. Each member of the band has seemed to contribute to catchy phrases on their respective instruments that, over time, have evolved into brands that have helped elevate Metallica’s success.

The term brand came to us from cattle ranchers who would burn their mark into their livestock to help differentiate their products from hordes of others.  Over the years branding has become big business, helping merchants distinguish their products from those of their competitors. Today, proper brand execution can give the firm value beyond its wildest dreams.  According to Forbe’s 2013 Apple’s brand is worth $104.3 billion; Microsoft’s $56.7 billion; and Coke’s $54.9 billion.

Branding isn’t just the name, the logo, the colors the firm chooses, or even the slogan. It is a combination of all of these elements along with the development of a feeling the consumer gets, or is intended to get, from the product or service. Coke makes you feel refreshed, Hershey brings us sweet joy, and Apple offers unique yet simple products that are easy to use. If executed properly over time these brand feelings become imbedded in the consumers psyche, so when they are sad they look for Hershey chocolate, when they are parched they grab a Coke, and when they want to “Think Different” the fire up an Apple product.

In today’s market musicians and entertainers MUST think the same way.

They must turn their passion into a brand.

There is far too much noise in the market right now. Anyone can record an album, anyone can follow you on Twitter, anyone can start a Kickstarter campaign, and by anyone, I mean anyone around the world.  That is a lot of people all vying for listeners to give their songs a chance, to stream their tunes, to come out to a show.

Call me old fashioned, but I still feel the longest lasting, and thus more profitable musicians, are those who can craft better songs, tunes with great lyrics, a story to tell, and of course excellent “hooks”. Think about it for a bit. Metallica has remained relevant and profitable for the past 25 plus years, Jay-Z has launched an empire off of his ability to combine his tales with the perfect musical compliments, and the Beatles continue to influence generations over fifty years later.

Below is a small sample of some of the things you should think about when crafting your next tune if you want them to emerge as their own living breathing entities like Metallica has done. I remind you this is not a complete list, just a few random thoughts and suggestions.

1. The best hooks are simple:

As musicians, we tend to over think how music should be. We feel that complexity makes things better. Most of the time it does not. The people who buy your music need to be able to hum along and that is easier when you keep it simple from the get go.

 2. It takes more than one:

Part of the Beatles’ success came in the melody and counter melody parts written by John and Paul. The same can be found in the music of Led Zeppelin. The best songs meld rhythmic structures and melodies perfectly. I once read one rock critic describe it as creating a balanced sense of tension for the listener. Too far in either direction and it would sound awful, but when placed in the perfect pocket it becomes magic.

3. Producers are worth their weight in gold:

No I don’t mean your buddy who has ideas about your next song, I mean real producers such as Rick Rubin, Jerry Wexler, Glen Ballard, Jimmy Iovine, and Pharrell. A lot of artists think they can produce their own songs, but they get stuck, especially in problems arriving from point one above. The best producers know how to take away extras from the song, which allows the hook to shine through. They know how to connect your ideas with the music listener, who is usually enjoying music in a different way than you are.

4. Don’t throw in a hook just because it sounds cool:

I will return you to my analysis of Metallica and the haunting opening to Welcome Home/Sanitarium. This isn’t a complex hook, but it fits in with the overall theme and dark feel of the song. The hook needs to be thought of as an overall component to the brand you are trying to develop for that song. The Beatles’ producer George Martin was a master of this. Songs such as Yesterday are stripped down, forcing the consumer to become directly attached to the haunting lyrics, while Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band brings in a lot of noise and ruckus to make you feel as though you are surrounded by a, you guessed it, marching band.

5. Hooks can be anywhere:

A great hook doesn’t need to be played on the guitar or piano.  It can come from the bass. Dave Matthews Band bassist Stefan Lessard proved that in the tune Crush. It can come from the drums. Steve Gadd proved that with his catchy rhythm on Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. It can even come from secondary lyrics. Who doesn’t say the phrase “turn it up” when listening to Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd?  The point is that catchy hooks can come from any member of the group, so keep that and point number two above in mind.

The thing to remember is that your musical brand revolves around the tunes you create. When you take the time to craft songs that utilize all of their aspects (lyrics, tempo, genre, instrumentation, and production) to help articulate your intended feeling onto the music listener you stand a better chance of connecting with those listeners on a psychological level that will keep them returning to your brand over and over again.