Before my 20-year marketing career, I enjoyed a long run as a pro musician. I performed in venues from Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) halls and nightclubs to aircraft carriers and stadiums around the world. I dropped out of Berklee College of Music in Boston to hit the road with a cover band, migrating to Minneapolis while frequenting Europe in the process.

Below are four key lessons learned through that experience. Formative to my perspective as a marketer and entrepreneur, the takeaways are easily applied to most business endeavors.

1. "I believe!"

As an aspiring band, we lived the transition from playing small venues to sideman gigs with famous acts. Minneapolis was a heady place in the 80s and 90s. I earned my living making records, writing jingles, playing in bars, touring, and teaching piano. Everyone in the band truly believed we were destined for fame, against the odds.

Unshakable belief in the possibilities is essential for entrepreneurs to summon the energy to persevere.

2. Quality requires diligence to the product.

Rock star hype was great but posing worked best when there was substance behind our eyeliner, glitter and big hair. We couldn't wrap a piece of crap in a bow and expect to attract fans. For a lift in sales and retention, the product had to be great or exceptional. That goes for business as well.

Our band wasn't initially ready for fame. Sharpening skills meant adapting after creative failures, evident when people didn't show up to gigs or buy CDs (business data of the day).

At first, audiences likely checked us out because our publicity photos were 80s awesome, done by Prince's photographer. We had fierce competition from other bands -- even Prince himself.  

We learned early that posing might help us meet women, but it wasn't enough to make the band popular. We dug in and worked our tails off, rewrote songs and refined, tested with live audiences and on tape. We kept recording until we could smell sweat in recorded tracks. Finally, radio stations began playing our new single and fans bought our album at Minneapolis' famed record store, The Electric Fetus. Boom!

Hard work and ruthless self-assessment of the product is just as key in business. Assess quality based on data, facts and the reality of how customers respond. Fix the product until it's exceptional.

3. Dream big, then adapt to a larger stage.

We envisioned beyond playing at bars. Yeah, as mentioned, we believed. We more than believed. We could see it. I wrote music with the specific vision of performing it in symphony halls and stadiums.

Once our music and shows were good enough to play those big venues, the first gigs were openers for famous bands. We could use half their sound system and a quarter of the light shows. Audiences were polite at first, until we learned aerobic moves unique to huge stadium rock bands. As our band grew, so did our reputation for great music, stepped up with bigger showmanship and stage command.

In business, making it big often moves you to a new playing field. Understand and adapt to the bigger environs. Then shine.

4. Timing is everything.

Music and business are subject to a luck-and-impeccable-timing paradox. We were arguably good enough, but never grew past opening for big-time bands. We would have needed a break for that. A famous record executive who happened to catch our show, a chance encounter, a band coming off tour unexpectedly, maybe a promoter who believed. We never discovered that success.

However, we redefined and found other ways to build careers. A friend saw me play, which led to a keyboards gig as a sideman for a popular stadium headline act. I had more money, invested in my studio, crafted higher paying advertising jingles, which ultimately led to the founding of Aimclear and my current marketing career. Perfect.

The key takeaways? Business dreams are always a work in progress. Whether musician or entrepreneur, we take the ball we're pitched, rolling with the punches, trusting the outcome, bolstered by work ethic and passion.

I've been an advertising executive now for many years, never losing my musician's heart and the learnings of a fabulous career. In fact, an amazing grand piano graces Aimclear's office as a daily reminder of where the journey started for me and the company as a whole.

In music as in business, believe. Then get others to believe via the quality of your business offerings. Follow facts and fix to perfection. It's easy to tell when your business offerings work...or not, the same as if fans show up for a gig or buy the record.

Visualize past the obvious. When you see a far-off goal as real, often that's when the goal comes true.

Published on: Apr 9, 2018
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