A Few Universal Life and Business Lessons I Learned When I Was In a Band

Every experience we have provides us with the opportunity to learn something new. Sometimes the slightest experience provides the most overwhelming realization, and in other cases, elaborate, drawn out situations deliver a series of smaller, more compact lessons. The latter was the case when, over the course of 2011 and 2012, I functioned as the singer, bass player, and all-around task-monkey for a rock band.

Objects in Space (you can even check out our album!) was comprised of me along with two of my oldest friends, with whom I had played music off and on for more than a decade. Once we decided to dig in and take performing more seriously, we played nearly 250 shows on roughly 50 stages throughout the Pacific Northwest region in less than two years. We spent some time in a recording studio, met friends and enemies, and made certain that a number of tonal frequencies were erased from our range of hearing forever. There was much opportunity for trial, and an even greater chance to benefit from our errors, of which there were many.

In late 2012 I decided to quit the band, run away to Spain, and focus on my writing. Perhaps someday music will once again shift to the forefront of my consciousness, but as things stand now I’m pretty happy with my decision.

But the experiences I encountered during my Objects in Space days will rank forever among the most important in my memory, not only due to the excitement and (oftentimes) craziness, but because when I look back I realize there were a good many lessons I learned that have been beneficial to the development of my career as a writer, and as a person in general.

Running Down a Dream

Perhaps the key realization I garnered from the whole experience was the importance of following one’s dreams. Many people share the dream of being in a band, of writing and recording music, of playing shows and being on the road, but all too few go for it.

Each of us have a limited number of trips around the sun, and with every orbit we come nearer to losing the chance to fulfill our dreams. What are we waiting for? The likelihood of their fruition doesn’t tend to increase with the passage of time (although you shouldn’t let the number of years you already have under your belt stop you from going for it), so what’s the point of putting things off?

This mindset has been crucial to my development as a writer, which I’d dreamed of doing since I was of Clifford-the-Big-Red-Dog age.

Wait, did I say that following one’s dreams was the key realization? Perhaps I should have started out with…

Realizing a Dream Takes Hard Work—Really Hard Work

All too often, people view their goals as something inevitable or effortless. They imagine that they’ll be “discovered”, or that luck and circumstance will prevail due to their inborn talents and desires.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Talent is useful, but an enterprising spirit is essential.

You have to be willing to make the realization of your dream an all-day, everyday endeavor. During my time in the band, that meant writing and rehearsing songs, researching and contacting venues and bands, updating online information, making show posters, fixing equipment, maintaining a calendar, recording, re-recording, re-re-re-recording, and a million other tasks from small to large.

This all culminated when I shifted my focus onto writing and realized that I was not just a writer, and that I had not just been in a band—I am and was both a business owner and entrepreneur, and like any startup, it takes a massive amount of effort to get the ball rolling then keep it on its way.

I’ve had people question my assertion that a band is a business. Well, there’s a reason why Mick Jagger is considered one of the most successful entrepreneurs in history.

Organizing Time and Details

I used to be terrible at organizing my time. I mean, really, really bad. But as you learned above, suddenly I had ten-million tasks thrown into my lap, and that was on top of working a part-time day job and a blossoming writing career.

Suddenly keeping track of my tasks, performance (aka “appointment”) schedule, contacts, and all of the other details became essential. For the first time in my life, a calendar became indispensible. Maintaining an organized system of notes became something of an obsession. And I learned that I’d often have to make room for the essential chores to the detriment of other things I’d sometimes have preferred to be doing.

Simply put—I learned that with hard work comes attention to detail.

Networking, Cold-Calling, and the Need for Confidence

Like any business, promoting a band is all about networking, which can be difficult in the early stages when no one knows who you are.

Contacting venues and better-established bands (aka “business contacts”) requires a great deal of confidence when you know that you don’t have much to offer besides your base product, which in our case was music. But if you’re confident in your product, you know that it’s only a matter of time and effort before it begins to get noticed. Or at least that’s the sort of impression that you have to give off.

And once you get your foot in the door, you have to keep wedging it in a little further by maintaining and growing your network of contacts. In the case of a band, that means going to performances that aren’t your own, buying drinks, asking for introductions, passing out recordings (aka “business cards”), and avoiding the tendency to burn bridges.

Like any industry, the music business is rife with jackasses who no one wants to work with, but very few people who make it to the top—and stay there—get there by acting that way. Your network grows when people want to introduce you around, not when they’re busy avoiding you at all costs.

Teamwork

That old adage about a band being a marriage? It’s true, especially in my case, in which my band involved people I’d known for as long as 15 years.

When you’re part of a team that is as integrated as a band, teamwork is essential. Tasks have to be designated to each member. Ideas have to be proposed and rejected with as little acrimony as possible. Finances have to be shared. You have to be able to get along with one another during length periods of group isolation (aka “a rock tour”)(aka “sleeping in a van”)(aka “a lot of smelling one another”). And there are a million other things that have to be done if a coordinated unit is to be achieved.

Over the course of our time as a band, we succeeded in some of these realms, and faltered in others. Had we possessed a better understanding of these lessons, perhaps the proper balance of hard work and talent would have been achieved, and our flicker of momentary successes would have found a more constant flame. Regardless of how things turned out, I can still say that I chased a dream and caught up with it for at least a moment.

As I carry these lessons forward toward another dream, we’ll see how well I’ve actually learned them. And what lessons there are to come.

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