This past Memorial Day weekend marked the 45th anniversary of Twisted Sister's first year residency as the house band (a band that by virtue of the exclusivity and dependable performance times, becomes synonymous with the club where you're playing) at the Mad Hatter in the Hamptons on Long Island. In those days, most of the summer bars in the Hamptons already had a house band and it was a very coveted position for us. We beat out several other bands for that privilege in the summer of 1973, which was our first time playing on Long Island since forming in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, in January just six months prior.
This anniversary matters to me for a number of reasons, but mostly because it allows me to share the genesis of our work ethic. Among the many ingredients of any successful business, the slow evolution of the lessons one learns in the process is repetition. Every day can bring with it new challenges and hopefully new answers and small victories that can propel you toward the next day.
There we were, a bunch of 20 year-old kids, dressed in drag, playing rock 'n roll for 15 weeks in a row (Memorial Day to Labor Day), four 50-minute shows, five nights a week. Over the years I've had many, many conversations with current 20 year-old musicians who ask me for advice.
The conversations go something like this:
Musician: "Hey Jay Jay, you gotta come and see my band."
Me: "How long have you been together as a band?"
Musician: "About two years."
Me: "How many shows have you played over that two-year period?"
Musician: "A lot! About 50 shows!"
Me: "How long are your performances?"
Musician: "Twenty to forty-five minutes, depending on our time slot."
Me: "Tell me when you get to 500 shows; then I'll come down and see your band."
Musician: "Five hundred shows? That will take years!"
Me: "Well then, I probably won't be seeing your band!"
I've compiled some very interesting statistics because it illustrates what a business, or in my particular case, a band, needs to do to be good. A band, like a CEO, needs to work all the time and not just twice a month.
Twisted Sister became great. Twisted Sister became bullet proof because we were constantly working.
This is how Twisted Sister spent 1973 and 1974 (our first two years):
Total nights performing at a nightclub: 396
Total performances: 1,972 (mostly five forty-minute shows each night; with only a couple of single one-hour performances)
Total performance hours: 5,916 with an average of three hours of actual performances each night
Rehearsal days: Approximately 150
Rehearsal hours: Approximately 750
Total hours performing, plus rehearsals: Approximately 6,600
Many people think that a band makes it because of having some kind of fairy dust sprinkled upon the tops of their heads. The real truth of it is that in the first two years, with so much daily interaction among the band members, I learned everything I needed to know to build the very (solid) foundation of what it takes to really succeed in business.
We worked hard every hour of every day in an unrelenting quest to be the best. Under all the pressure, none of the guys in the first iteration of Twisted Sister could ultimately stand it except for me. I carried this discipline with me and eventually, found the right guys who could handle it--Dee, Eddie and Mark, with AJ joining us just before the record deal in 1982.
The lessons I gleaned from the discipline we practiced as a band can be applied to any genre of business. It forces you to:
1. Decide whether you want a partnership with equal equity or have sole proprietorship, i.e. individual risk with capital investment. (I chose a partnership.)
2. Survive the challenges, crisis and catastrophes that arise. (Like nearly murdering one band member. True story, but I overcame this and so much more!)
3. Face down each and every problem or allow the problems to crush you
If you believe so much in what you do, the only conclusion is to keep moving toward your goal. That's what I did, giving myself no fall-back position whatsoever.