Be of Service (in the Music Business)

by T. Perry Bowers

I always put the music business in the titles of my blogs because that’s the business that I’m in, but this can apply to any business.

Jimmy in his prime engineering days.

People often think the music business is ego-driven. I have found big egos among people who are unsuccessful. I have found big egos among people who are sad, angry and lonely. I have not, however found big (problematic) egos among people who are successful and content.

And, what’s the point of being successful if you can’t enjoy it? You might think you want to have people waiting on you hand and foot. You might think you want people kissing your ass. But all of that is empty. You really want to be of service.

If you’re an artist, you want to be of service to your audience. Always be asking yourself. What do they want?

My bands have been criticized over the years for many different reasons. People have said that they can’t understand the lyrics when we play live. People have said we are too loud. In the past when I was younger, I would ignore the criticisms. Nowadays, I listen.

I listen and I do my best to deliver to my audience what they want. Now we try to play a little quieter in certain venues. We do our best to get the vocals up over the guitars. When we do, our shows are better received and the band is happy.

My business, recording, rehearsal and video production is all service. I am constantly serving people. When I am a good server I get good tips, i.e. more business. When I am grumpy and selfish, I get squat.

My business and my income depend on me remembering to be of service. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. It’s even less fun when I forget and my business and income suffers.

I did not invent the term “be of service”. Jimmy Iovine did. I heard an interview with him one time and he kept repeating this phrase. He’s one of the most successful music producers/entrepreneurs of all time. He has worked with all of the top musicians and artists on the planet. Why? Because he is at their service.

If you are just starting out in the music field, it would serve you well to remember to serve people who are more successful in the business than you are.

It seems a lot of folks in the younger generation view menial jobs negatively. I see this a lot in young people who are educated. I’m not in their heads, so I don’t exactly know what’s going on in there, but from what I can tell they think that just because they can do something, they should have the privilege of doing that thing.

Young people apply for internships at my studio. They apply when a position is available and even when there is no position available. Because there are so few studio jobs, even working for little to no money is desirable.

When they first come to me, they are all “gung ho” about cleaning the studio and reseting my studio rooms. They tell me that they are willing to do anything to get their foot in the door. After a while, apathy sets in. Cleaning starts to suffer. Bad attitudes creep in.

Of course, cleaning the studio is not the greatest job in the world, but what is it? It’s service: the most important thing in the music business (or any industry). If you are cleaning or maintaining a studio, you are providing a good experience for the musicians to come there.

Musicians recognize that. When my studio is clean and well maintained, I get the most positive feedback. When I purchase a three thousand dollar microphone, not so much. People appreciate a tidy atmosphere.

I’ve had artists that come into my studio try to hire my people because they want people like mine. They want people that pay attention to the details. Big artists aren’t as concerned with technical prowess as people think. They understand that if you can get a cup of coffee without fucking it up, you can probably learn Pro-Tools. To a certain degree, getting a nice cup of hot coffee into an artist’s hand has created more issues in my business than applying compression to a vocal.

I’ve had engineers who turn down certain types of work because they think it’s boring. yes, serving people is boring sometimes, tedious. But, that’s the point. You are taking something that’s boring and tedious and handling it. That’s where the value is. Get it? If it were fun and easy, everyone would do it, for free!

Jimmy Iovine’s career started when he took a call from the studio for which he was interning on Easter morning. They needed an engineer that day and no one else would do it because of the holiday. He took the gig and when he arrived at the studio he discovered that he would be engineering for John Lennon.

Everyone is looking for magic in this business. Magic is a mysterious accident. Being of service makes you accident prone*.

Make someone else’s life a little easier and the benefits will astound you. Sometimes you have to be willing to do a little extra even if it doesn’t translate into money. I’m not saying work for free, I’m saying be the guy everyone can count on.

Show up five minutes early.

Make sure the coffee is hot.

Clean the bathroom so that Christina Aguilera would be happy to pee there.

Take a late night gig that no one else wants.

Improve your surroundings without being asked.

Be invisible and don’t expect or ask for accolades. (Trust me, people will notice your efforts).

Never take the shortcut, unless it’s really the best way.

Listen intently.

Take direction well.

Be humble (and at the same time respect yourself).

Put love into what you do, no matter what you do.

Never argue with the boss (make moves to someday be the boss).

*(Yes, I’ve used that phrase before. I didn’t create it. Ken Wilber did. He said, “enlightenment is an accident, meditation makes you accident prone”).

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T. Perry Bowers

I do my best to give up and coming musicians advice and strategies to help them on their journey to success.