How can we apply a business strategy to the intra-personal dynamics of a rock band? In Keith McFarland’s book, The Breakthrough Company, McFarland describes a key component in making a company truly extraordinary—the founder(s) need to “crown the company.” Crowning the company means putting the company first, rather than only following the preferences of the founders or whims of the CEO in determining the trajectory of the company’s future. Founders must make choices that benefit the company and not themselves. The same holds true for artists, regardless of who the main songwriter is or who is the frontman of the band.
The main songwriter or vocalist might feel above the rest of the bandmembers simply because he/she appears front and center in concerts, in CD reviews, or in any photograph of the band. If the frontman appears superior in any way, not only will the band resent the frontman for this but also the music will ultimately suffer. Does Axl Rose ring a bell?
Crowning the band, or putting the band first, is not just the job of the frontman. Even backup vocalists, drummers, and bassists have to check their egos at the door and do what is best for the band. Do you think the drummer for AC/DC is not able to play more complicated beats than the simple patterns he plays over and over in almost every song? My bet is that he can, but it does not serve the purpose of the band to add any complex embellishments to the straight-up rock music that makes AC/DC who they are. Even if you have the guitar chops of Yngwie Malmsteen, that does not mean it serves the purpose of the song to break out with 200BPM arpeggios every time it is your turn for a guitar solo. The best songs are made because the interplay between the bandmembers trumps the technicality of each of its individual members. Unless you are in a technical death metal band, save the blast beats for your garage and stick to the vision of your band’s music.
Although DJ’s and electronic artists are often solo acts, it is equally or maybe even more important for solo artists to think less about themselves when it comes to their music. It is even harder for them to debate what music stays and what does not if they are all alone, although this process is somewhat alleviated with the help of an outside producer. Often artists put up a defensive barrier when it comes to those criticizing their music because they are so close to their creations emotionally. If this is not the case, it still might be difficult to get the feedback one craves as an artist. Sometimes artists seek out as much constructive criticism as possible to help hone their craft, but their friends and fans only give them the positive feedback because they do not want to hurt the artist’s feelings. This is why, if it is possible, every solo artist should work with a producer to make an album or at least have a go-to person for candid music advice during the songwriting process and before outsiders hear the music.
If the feedback is coming through comments online, the comments still might not be constructive even though the potential embarrassment of direct physical contact is gone. Many artists want other artists to reciprocate with positive comments so they make sure not to come across as if they didn’t like the other artist’s music. Often times people find it easier just to say, “Your song is SOOO sick brah HOLY sh&t”, than to take the time to give honest advice on how to improve the production values or fine-tune the songwriting. For people who bash other people’s music online, the comments tend to border on trollish rather than helpful. Whether it’s from a producer or your friend, tell people up-front not to spare your feelings and to help you with your music—the music is king, not YOU!