5 Marketing Agency Tips I’ve Learned Playing in Rock & Roll Bands
I’ve been playing in rock and roll bands since I joined The Kindergarten Dropouts at age 13 (cue “What I Like About You” by The Romantics!). Over the years I’ve formed other bands, and have enjoyed playing as an original solo artist since 2000. During all my years rocking out, I’ve learned lots of things that can be applied to my day job as Executive Creative Director at Advantage.
If you don’t rehearse you’ll suck. I don’t play music as often as I’d like these days, so I get my “performance buzz” from pitching to prospective new clients. I love it! And, just like playing in a band, if you don’t rehearse enough, you’re not going to sound your best. There’s just no way around it– there’s no Autopractice version of Autotune. Practice makes perfect, and the more in-detail you get, the better. An old bandmate of mine would make us play a single difficult section of a song over and over until we nailed it. That’s what we should all be doing with our presentations and pitches: we should work out every word and visual until it feels like a fine-tuned song.
Loud is awesome, but quiet can be even more powerful. I love the sounds of a vintage tube amp cranked to 11, with big live drums! I love it loud! But some of my best and most memorable shows have been “unplugged,” with just me on a guitar in a living room with nice acoustics. Sometimes, when pitching concepts, we pull out all the stops. Fully designed decks, motion graphics, videos and props are just like that awesome-sounding, cranked-up Fender Deluxe. But….sometimes, you can get your ideas (your song!) across a lot better with black type on a white background. A hand-drawn sketch versus a 3D render. Simple talk versus industry jargon. When you really need to draw people in, try going “acoustic.”
Playing with people who are better than you will make you better. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of playing with some incredible professional musicians who can play circles around me. While this could seem intimidating or daunting, I’ve always embraced it, and notice that they elevate my playing just by shear osmosis. I find it’s the same way on a creative or account team. When you surround yourself with people who are really sharp and on their game, it makes you better. You’ll find yourself rising to the occasion, learning from them and taking your own game to the next level. Never be afraid to jam with others with more experience, talent, and know-how. They’ll make you a better player, guaranteed.
Different voices make for the best harmonies. In the studio and out of necessity, I’ve often had to record my own backing vocals and harmonies. While they sound decent, it’s always better when you have someone else do harmonies with you. Those subtle differences in timing, tone and inflection are what give good harmonies that magical, goosebump-inducing quality. The same idea holds true in our work at the agency. Sure, many of us could put a proposal together all on our own– write the concepts, design the deck, put together a rough budget, etc. But often these “one-person” proposals lack dimension, depth, and real creativity. When we have diverse teams made up of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and ideas, our work becomes richer and more powerful. And, like a beautiful three-part harmony, that kind of work can bring the house down with the feels.
Build a great set list– but don’t be afraid to mix it up if you need to. A good set list should take the audience on a journey that flows. You amp them up with some up-tempo songs, then appeal to their emotions with a well-timed ballad, before ending on a big high note that leaves them wanting more. On paper, your set list can seem perfect, but things can change big time once you hit the stage. If your set is falling flat, it’s time to read the room and make some changes pronto before people start leaving the club. Skip the torch song and count in the funk tune to keep them on the dance floor. The same goes for our marketing plans. Sometimes our plans make perfect sense on paper– but once they hit the market and real consumers, we find it just ain’t workin’. Don’t be precious or too prideful about your plan. Figure out what the issue is, and call out for a new “song.” Adjusting your approach, your tactics or even your message can make all the difference in the world…and can get your audience to nod their head to your music.
Are you a musician? What business lessons have you learned while banging the drums or singing the blues? And (shameless plug!) check out my new EP “All I Ever Wanted Was A Rock n Roll Band” available now on Spotify (“J Cabrera”).