Nita Strauss, the guitarist onstage with Alice Cooper? She's a freelancer, a hired gun. Piggy D (Matt Montgomery), the bassist onstage with Rob Zombie? Hired gun. Phil X, the guitarist who replaced Richie Sambora in Bon Jovi? Before becoming a full-fledged member of the band, he spent two years as their hired gun.

Pink's entire band? If you're one of the millions of people who are part of the gig economy, they're all just like you: Hired guns.

Which, at least by my definition, makes them -- and you -- entrepreneurs.

And that makes the documentary Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows, Into the Spotlight, available on demand and currently airing on Netflix, especially entertaining if you're a freelancer who loves music. It's a behind the scenes look at a few of the untold stories behind the artists who make music (as well as the business of music.)

Here are some great lessons from the movie about freelancing... and for good measure, about employing freelancers.

"Good people don't stay undiscovered for very long. That's what I always tell people who say the business is so vast. If you're good, you stand out quick."   Rob Zombie

Once you had to wait: To be accepted, to be promoted, to be selected... to somehow be "discovered."

Not anymore. Access is nearly unlimited. You can connect with almost anyone. You can publish your own work, release your own music, create your own products... even attract your own funding.

You can do almost anything you want, and you don't have to wait for someone else to discover your talents.

And if you do want to be discovered... if you're good enough, you will be: Successful people are always looking for great people to help them become even more successful.

"I borrowed money from all of my friends and got an early flight: $20 from that person, $10 from that, $7 from that one... whatever they could give me. Eleven days after that we (Metallica) were touring Japan, and I was the bass player. At that time I was a hired gun for $500 a week. I would have done it for a sandwich.

"The next year I joined as a full member. I was not going to pass this up or take it for granted that I was given this opportunity by these guys."  Jason Newsted (Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeth, Voivod, etc.)

Ever heard someone say, "If I got promoted, then I would work harder"? Or, "If the customer paid more, then I would do more"? Or, "If I thought there would be a bigger payoff, then I would be willing to sacrifice more"?

Those people have it backwards. Promotions are earn by those who work harder first. Businesses that earn higher revenues earn that income by delivering greater value first. Successful entrepreneurs earn bigger payoffs by working hard well before any potential return is in sight.

Jason saw a chance to join Metallica and decided he was willing to do whatever it took to seize it -- even if that meant earning a fraction of what Kirk, James, and Lars made.

He saw compensation as a potential reward for exceptional effort, not the driver. 

And so should you -- whether that reward is financial, or personal, or even just the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing something you worked incredibly hard to achieve.

"Finding the right person for your band is almost impossible because you're looking for three things. You have to find somebody who is an excellent musician. That's the easiest thing to find; there are a million excellent musicians. Then you have to find somebody who's really cool, that can stand onstage in front of 100,000 people and be amazing, and that whittles it down to a smaller group.

"Then you have to find somebody you can stand to be around 24/7... that shrinks down to about, 'Here are the three people in the music industry I can stand to be around.' That's the trick."   Rob Zombie

People with big personalities are a lot of fun ... right up to the moment when they aren't. When a challenge pops up, or a situation gets stressful, some people are so in love with their personalities that they can never dial it back.

People who build great relationships know when to have fun and when to be serious; when to be over the top and when to be invisible; when to take charge and when to follow.

Great relationships are multifaceted, and therefore require multifaceted people willing to adapt to the situation -- and to the people in that situation.

"As a 'hired gun,' I'm there to be a supportive band member: To the artist, to the other musicians, to the audience. Sometimes I look out at the audience and it doesn't look like anybody's looking at me, and I think, 'Why should they look at me? They can look at Pink.'"  Mark Schulman (Pink, Foreigner, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, etc.)

Teams become truly great when their most talented members are willing to sacrifice to make others happy. That's why the best business teams are made up of people that help each other, that know their roles, that set aside personal goals, and that value team success over everything else.

Every great leader -- and every great team player -- answers the question, "Can you make the choice that your happiness will come from the success of others?" with a resounding "Yes!" (Here's more on that.)

"In one day, I was off the (John Cougar Mellencamp) record. John tells me (the producer) wants to get this album done fast, says (I) haven't had as much experience in the studio... (I) can go home. I just went, 'Am I your drummer?' I'm not going home. If I'm your drummer, I'm going to watch these guys play my parts and I'm going to benefit from that and you're going to benefit because I'll get better, and that's good for you. You don't have to pay me. I'll sleep on the floor.'

"I did stay. I did watch. I took notes. That was the beginning of (an upswing in) my career that's still going."   Kenny Aranoff (John Cougar Mellencamp, Elton John, Bob Seger)

It's tempting to think that we're all special, that we have to do things our way... and therefore we can't learn from other people. 

But why reinvent a perfectly good wheel? 

That's why one of the chapters in my book, The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, is "Do What the Pros Do." Aranoff chose to learn from the guy hired to replace him in the studio. While that may not be applicable to you, pick someone who has achieved something you want to achieve. Deconstruct their process.

Then follow it.

Along the way you might make small corrections as you learn what works best for you -- but never start by doing only what you want to do, or what feels good, or what you think might work. Do what is proven to work.

Otherwise you'll give up because the process you create won't get you those small successes that keep you motivated -- and feeling good about yourself.

"I was making $400 a month. I had written this song called Hey Man, Nice Shot. John, who was their manager, called me up and said, 'We're not seeing you that much, and we know you want some more money... if you want to make a little bit more money, there's a pizzeria at the bottom of Ciela Drive and they're looking for drivers. Would you want to go make some money as a pizza delivery boy?' I (thought about) my little song, Hey Man, Nice Shot and how I'm in negotiation with five labels... what would you go with? The pizza?"   Richard Patrick (Filter, Nine Inch Nails)

Even though we all define success differently -- as well we should -- most of us factor wealth, at least to some degree, into our success equations.

And while it is possible to make an incredibly good living as an employee, as the data shows the only way to get really, really rich is to own your own business.

Work hard at your primary gig, but always spend time on a side hustle that can someday, if you choose, be your primary gig -- one that you control.

"When I saw Hilary Duff's show I said, 'Who's the guitar player?' Somebody said, 'That's Jason Hook,' and I said, 'Yeah, write that name down.' Because when I go to see other bands, I always make a note of who people are."  Alice Cooper

Want to stand out? Work harder than everyone else. Work longer than everyone else. Volunteer when no one else will. Ask for help. Offer to help. Do things no one else is willing to do.

Why? The people you want to work with will notice. 

Kind people associate with kind people. Hardworking people attract hardworking people. Successful people attract successful people.

But those people will only notice you through your actions.

"I had arranged to speak with Alice (about leaving the band), and he was so cool. He said, 'I always encourage my guys to swing the bat, man. Go out there. Take your best shot.' Six years later we have seven gold records, one platinum single, five number one songs, and we're embarking on the biggest tour we've ever done, headlining arenas."  Jason Hook (Five Finger Death Punch, Alice Cooper, Mandy Moore)

When you try something new, success is never guaranteed. 

But if you don't try, you're guaranteed to never know whether you would have succeeded.

You're also guaranteed to regret never having tried.

And my favorite quote from the movie:

"I love making music, and if somebody calls me up and says, 'I have $200 and I really, really would love for you to do guitars on this track,' I'm like, ' Send it to me.' And they send me the song and if the song's good and the person was really sweet, I'll do it for nothing.

"But if somebody (says), 'I have $300 and I want you to play on this because I know you'll take it to the next level,' and I listen to it and I can't stand the song... I can't do it. I feel like I'm nickel and dime-ing my soul, because when you pay me $300, you're not getting Phil X for 3 hours. You're getting what it took me my entire life to cultivate into these hands and this heart. I can't play on a piece of shit for $300."   Phil X (Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry)

You've invested significant time and money in your profession or business. You provide real value, and definitely deserve to receive equal value in return.

Still, sometimes doing things for less -- or even for free -- is valuable. Maybe you get to stretch a little. Maybe you get to be more creative. Maybe you get to flex some muscles you rarely use. 

Aside from simply doing something nice for the sake of doing something nice (which has a value all its own) while you can't help everyone, occasionally you can help a few people who really need help... the same way people went out of their way to help you.

Published on: Feb 22, 2018