How I once lost a gig to myself

The road to success or the road to failure...
The road to success or the road to failure…

As I mentioned in my previous post about the differences between Branding, Marketing, and Selling I discussed how Selling doesn’t necessarily address a customer’s needs and that if you are to work your personality into your Personal Brand, you need to make sure that your personality is appropriate for your target market because “[n]othing will turn off a potential customer faster than inappropriate behavior.”

I’ll illustrate this point with a personal anecdote.

Since I often work with a number of musical ensembles–and very different kinds of ensembles, to boot–I get to see how different types of genres and audiences and presenters work.  I also get to see what just doesn’t work, and what commonly works well for all of them.  What I also get to see is the type of culture that is built up around each and every one of these different contexts.

Some things are common-sensical.  For example, if you’re a musician in a Symphony Orchestra, you’re likely going to be dressed in a Tux for a show while in a Rock band, there’s not necessarily any kind of dress code.  You would probably be looked at oddly if you were to demand an audience be completely silent during a Country Music show while getting the “glare of death” if you speak during an Opera or Ballet.

Other things aren’t so apparent for nothing more than ignorance–see, for example, my blog post about the role of the audience at an Arab Music concert.  Other times it’s just a matter of having the ‘wrong’ type of musician for a venue, and that’s how I lost a gig to myself.

One of my groups had one of its (as well as my) longest running gigs.  For roughly five years we were playing monthly at a venue (I’m leaving the details out to protect the identity of all parties involved).  In some cases we would play the venue multiple times in a month.  We had built up a very good relationship and were good friends with the family who owned it as well as all the staff.

For the last couple of years while we were playing the venue I had this sense that we were just far to loud and lively for the venue.  The amount of amplification we had as well as the full drum set up and repertoire choices all contributed to this problem (amongst many other including a run in with one of the music licensing companies–the venue had no license).

Being the point person for PR issues and the contact person for the ensemble I usually bore the brunt of the comments and feedback.  Several times I’d been told by the employees and staff that we were just way too raucous, and many of the venue’s customers had also commented on that fact to them.  I repeatedly requested we cut back on the amplification and gear on numerous occasions to no avail and I eventually had to resort to refusing to be amplified myself in the hopes that my example might be followed, but the members of the group kept insisting on bringing the full gear.

As the family who owned the venue were from a particular ethnic group, and I happened to be working with an ensemble which played music specific to that ethnicity, I eventually talked to the owners about bringing my ethnic ensemble in to play. We eventually got a booking and we performed and were very well received.

As I had full control of the sound for this group and as I had an idea about the what sound level was appropriate for the venue (as well as having very appropriate repertoire for the venue) we were asked back.  In fact, the ethnic ensemble was asked back on a monthly basis–and my other group was politely told that we just didn’t fit in with the new direction the venue was attempting to go (the owners had just completely renovated the venue and switched the offerings from the previous ethnic fare to a more general American one).

So Ironically, given that the venue had actually moved away from its ethnic origins to a more general American one–the group, which was a more general pan-American ensemble lost the gig to the ethnic one.  In essence, I lost the gig to myself!

What exactly happened here and what does it have to do with Branding?

As I said in the previous post, Montoya talks about Branding as being something that encompasses the totality of everything you do.  That also applies to the various musical groups you may work with.  Since my non-ethnic band was unable to adapt to the needs of the venue, given an alternative (namely, my ethnic ensemble), we lost the gig.  It was never my intention to lose the gig for us–I simply wanted to bring in the ethnic ensemble as I knew it would be a good fit (repertoire-wise) for the venue.  It just happened to be the case that since I also had full control of the sound–which was the deal-breaker for my non-ethnic ensemble–the ethnic group was a much better fit for the venue despite the fact that the venue make-over completely distanced itself from its ethic origins!

And, despite the fact that the non-ethnic group had been at the venue for five years and had built up a relationship with the venue, staff, and owners–it simply was not enough to keep us there when an alternative, and more appropriate music group, was presented.

“How can something like this happen” you might ask?  Personal Branding–the one commonality between both groups was, well, me.  While my ethnic group had next to no relationship with the owners–I did–and it was five years running with the other group.  Also, I knew what the needs of the venue were and though I didn’t bring in the ethnic group specifically to address the sound level needs, I certainly did bring them in to address the repertoire needs.

Basically my Personal Brand was strong enough that the owners felt comfortable enough to address the issue of the fit of whatever ensemble I happened to be associated with and that was enough for them to drop a group they’d had monthly for five years in favor of a group they had only heard once!

It was one of those, as they say, proverbial life lessons.  Given Montoya’s definition of Personal Branding, how I’ve managed to inadvertently Brand myself has done wonders for my own ability to get gigs (as I related in the previous post) which has managed to get me operating well into the black.

Sadly, it’s still not a lesson my non-ethnic ensemble has managed to learn (here I invoke Peter Senge’s notion of a “Learning Organization“) as we’ve narrowly avoided another similar crisis with very similar circumstance at a venue we’ve been playing for a number of years.  We’re to the point where we’ve cut down our appearances after another ethnic ensemble secured one of our regular monthly dates (I only have a very secondary role with this ethnic ensemble–one which has a member who I have been actively trying to get into the venue since he’s a recent transplant from the Chicago area and very specifically used to regularly work with a very successful ethnic group that fits in perfectly well with the ethnic background of venue).  I, essentially, negotiated having my non-ethnic group perform a reduced number of shows per year in the hopes that we might garner bigger audiences for our events since we do not have the repertoire that aligns itself with the venue.

And some of you might be wondering why I just haven’t cut my losses and quit working with the non-ethnic group (I know I’ve been asked this a number of times).  Well, I almost did some time ago, and more recently within the past month after another dispute we recently had regarding a new side-project related to the ensemble.  But I still believe this group has the biggest potential for doing something of all the groups I work with, and I hope that at some point it will become a “learning organization” ala Peter Senge and that we’ll start building a Personal Brand for the group that is worth every cent I think it can be worth!

Only time will tell but until then, my Personal Brand is strong enough that I don’t have to rely on any one group for my own personal success!

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