While you may not think of it this way, like actors, entertainers, and other people in the business of themselves, successful musicians are also entrepreneurs -- which means they know plenty about innovation, collaboration, and building a business out of doing what you love.
That's especially true for Joe Satriani, the 15-time Grammy-nominated guitarist. Satriani is the top-selling instrumental rock guitarist of all time, has recorded and toured with Chickenfoot, founded the long-running G3 concert series, and once upon a time taught guitar legends like Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett.
Satriani is also a quintessential entrepreneur who used a credit card to found his own record label and publishing company and record his first album, and in the process maintain ownership of his own masters, the holy grail of artistic and business control. (Ask Taylor Swift.)
Satriani recently released a new album, Shapeshifting, which makes it the perfect time to talk about choosing the right partners, overcoming roadblocks, the benefits of constraints, and the (changing) business of music.
A problem many entrepreneurs face is having few options for collaborators or partners. You're you, so you would seem to have the opposite problem: With so many options, how do choose whom you wish to work with?
Sometimes the certainty is based on experience. Take Kenny Aronoff. He filled in on drums for Chad Smith on the last Chickenfoot tour. He and I did two tours with the Experience Hendrix group last year, and that was even more fun; while he's famous for being a more structured drummer, he's a huge Mitch Mitchell fan.
Add all that up and I knew he had to be on this album. He understands the things I'm drawing from in terms of influences.
Bass player Chris Chaney also played on Unstoppable Momentum. He's totally prepared, always willing to do anything, and has amazing technical facility yet is also incredibly creative in the moment.
They're both an endless fountain of ideas and can execute those ideas, two qualities that don't always go hand-in-hand. (Laughs.)
My advice? Find people who are curious, like to have fun, and are willing to adapt to whatever happens in the moment.
Because nothing ever goes to plan, and often that's a good thing.
Most musicians didn't grow up dreaming of being bosses. Do you like the leadership aspect of being a solo artist?
You're right. I didn't grow up hoping to be someone's boss. (Laughs.)
Over time I've learned what to do and when to do it. But in Chickenfoot, I had been a solo artist for so long I had forgotten how much fun it can be to just be a part of the team. Plus, Sammy (Hagar) and Chad seem like they'd be happy running their own planets. (Laughs.)
Mostly what I've learned is to say things to myself that keep me on track. Like "Variety is good." Or "In chaos there's opportunity." Or "This isn't what I think is right, but what if it does turn out to be the right thing?"
With Chickenfoot, we were in the studio trying to get a song started. I was testing a finicky guitar, playing it as gingerly as possible to try to keep it in tune, and Chad started laying a beat. So we kept playing. Then Mike (Anthony) joined in, and we kept playing.
Since we recorded a lot of that album live, you can hear on the album when Sammy runs into the music room and starts saying, "Joe, is that the new song? I like it ... " and starts improvising lyrics.
I was thinking, "We're supposed to be recording a different song, and here we are wasting time again," but I just decided to go with it. Over the next five minutes, we improvised the song, and it's one of the best things we've written -- even though we didn't "write" it.
Later, we figured out how to organize it, but 99 percent of the song came from that live improvisation.
Like I said, in chaos can be incredible opportunity. You just have to keep from thinking that a little chaos is a challenge to your authority.
Over time, I've learned to have expectations but not necessarily plans, because then you have the freedom to respond and adapt and chase those moments of magic.
Freedom is great, but eventually you do have to decide, for example, that a song is "done."
There's an old saying that songs are never finished, they're just abandoned.
That's especially true in the modern era of recording. Sometimes, you just have to stop. Or you're made to stop: band members, producers, record company, money, something.
One of the things I love about touring is that I get to keep working on songs. We still play some of my earliest songs because they're fan favorites, and I'm still working on them. The cues I missed the first time around. How I could have made a verse or chorus more powerful.
Every night is different, and in that way a song never has to be "done."
Many people feel constraints increase rather than diminish creativity.
I picked up a great tip from producer Jim Scott. I wasn't happy with a song. Couldn't articulate why. Just knew I needed to record the whole thing over again.
He said, "Pick five little things that really bother you, we'll fix them, and then you can listen to it again." I picked five that he didn't think detracted from the song but he said, "OK, maybe you're right."
So we fixed them. Some were just a half-second long, but they bothered me. And it turned out great.
That was a really good lesson. Now, when I'm working on new music, if something is bugging me that I can't articulate, I'll just try to find five things. Maybe a big thing, like a wrong chord. Or a small thing, like bending a note I didn't mean to bend.
Instead of starting over, fix a few things that bug you. Often you'll find those little fixes totally change your perception of the whole.
Say you can write a song you love, a masterpiece. Or you can write a song you like that becomes a huge hit. If you can only have one, which do you choose?
I'll preface my answer by saying when I was doing overdubs on the Extremist album, Kiss was recording in the same building. Every morning, I'd see Gene Simmons. Keep in mind Gene Simmons is always Gene Simmons. (Laughs.)
One day I ask, "Gene, what's your favorite Kiss record?" I know, a terrible question. (Laughs.)
Gene says, "My favorite one was the one that sold the most."
I say, "How do you feel about the one you're working on now?"
"If it sells well," he says, "I'll like it. If it doesn't sell well, I won't like it."
Here's this extremely successful musician who has brightened the lives of millions of people around the world. So I'm thinking, "OK, either forget what he just said or never forget what he just said."
I vacillate between the two. In this business, you never know what will touch people. You don't know what song or which evening's performance will touch someone. You can only experience your music through your own lens.
The people on the receiving end have the magical power to receive music purely for what it is: no baggage, no nothing. Which is why a song criticized by a guitar magazine or a critic will be the same song a fan tells you saved their life.
What all that illustrates is that music has no value if it's not released. (Legendary producer) Glyn Johns once told me, "Joseph, you can't tell people what to like. Your job is to make music. It's their job to like or not like it."
Of course, maintaining that attitude is something every musician -- and I'm sure every entrepreneur -- struggles with.
How do you deal with feedback? You spend countless hours creating something, it's your baby, but eventually you put it out there for people to react to.
In the first millisecond, I'm happy if someone says something positive and offended if they don't. (Laughs.)
Then all those other voices come in. Like my father telling me to not care about what other people think, and just do what I like. Or Andy Warhol, who said while others are arguing about whether your work is good or bad, just keep making more art.
In the end, all you can do is smile if a fan says, "I liked your third album better than your sixth." It's an occupational hazard. (Laughs.)
Last time we talked, you mentioned you are fairly introverted. How does that translate to a profession where performing is an integral part?
I'm completely unsuited to a life in public. (Laughs.)
We were going through some photos recently and came across one of me before my first day of kindergarten. I have a look of total dread. Up until then, my life seemed perfect: I'm the youngest of five kids, they were all in school, I had the whole day to go out and play and had my mom all to myself, and now I have to go to school? (Laughs.)
That first day there were too many kids, too much going on, too much finger painting. (Laughs.)
All morning the blinds were drawn. Suddenly, they opened them and revealed all the parents outside wanting to see what their kids were doing. Every other kid got really excited. I was horrified, because I felt like a pet in a cage.
I loved creating but not being public. And that's never really changed. I have gotten used to it. I've developed ways to get over it.
But I'm more comfortable in my studio, writing music by myself. There, I'm more open to letting all that stuff pour out. I even play differently when I'm in public.
My son made a documentary, Beyond the Supernova, about it. He recognized that his dad was someone else when he was in public on tour. Confronting that fact actually helped me learn to move forward.
So that photograph, it is really funny, but is also a true snapshot of my personality.
I'm always surprised by how many performers are introverts. Kirk Hammett (Metallica) calls it his onstage bubble; even in front of 50,000 people, as long as he's in that bubble, he's comfortable.
We're always surprised when we hear about performers who engage in that bubble concept.
I met Joan Baez at a benefit show. She's incredible. She sings and plays guitar and never screws up. Later I learned she threw up right before she went onstage.
How could this incredibly talented person who never screws up be nervous?
Or Sammy Hagar. To me, he seems born to be in front of a band. I told him that, and he said, "No, we're all the same. Do you know how embarrassing it is to grab a microphone and sing in front of people?" That's why early on he wore sunglasses onstage. It helped him get over that feeling.
Countless performers are introverts who found a way to get past their shyness or hesitations or insecurities. You don't have to be extroverted. You just have to find a way to do what you want or need to do.
Let's talk about promoting the new album. Tours are postponed, normal promotional activities don't apply, at least for now.
If I take the rosy look at the past few months, we were lucky to get the album finished when we did, to deliver it on time to Sony, and that my son visited us and did a ton of filming.
We shot a video for what everyone chose as the first single, 1980, did all the track-by-track interviews. We had all the assets for promoting the album in the can. We just had to do some editing.
Recent events may have changed the editing style a bit -- knowing we have this more of a captive audience, so to speak -- but like everything else, it's all relative. Everyone in the world is competing in the same way now.
In this particular case, it's important for someone like me to not jump on the bandwagon many people are using for promotion. I'm not a singer-songwriter. I can't do what Mariah Carey or Lady Gaga or any singer-songwriter can do. Their magic is in their voice. Instrumental rock guitar is an entirely different art form.
Rolling Stone pressed me to do live concerts from home. I said, "Unshaven guitar players with an unmade bed in the background is not my vision." (Laughs.)
I don't want to downplay the contributions of the band, the producer, of all the people involved.
Even so, we're all racking our brains trying to figure out the best things to do. I just hope the promotion we do helps someone hear my music, and that it makes a small impact on their lives.
Ultimately, that's 100 percent success.