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Business Lessons from Music


29Sep 2007

Music, and how it is performed, seems to serve as an interesting analogy to business.

A solo features a single, star performer – and in the true sense of a soloist, they perform totally by themselves (although they may sing while accompanying themselves on an instrument). Truly talented soloists are entertaining and able to maintain the audiences attention. But less than stellar soloists become rather boring and repetitive after a while.

More interesting is a soloist with some back-up musicians. The soloist is still the featured performer and the focus of the performance, but with additional support musicians (piano, guitar, bass, percussion) they become much more versatile, able to pull off different styles of music, and the sound is much more full.

Obviously, groups of musicians can range from two or three to extremely large. Although duets are pleasing and interesting with their dual harmonics, they carry many of the same limitations that soloists do.  Duets obviously have more variety than a single performer but they don’t bring much breadth to the performance.

In Western-based music (remember there are many traditions of music based on different instruments, different rhythms and even differing harmonic scales – African, Oriental, Caribbean, Hawaiian, etc.) the harmonics from a trio (and even more so, a quartet) provide a richer, fuller experience. A vocal group featuring the harmony of three voices, to a traditional soprano / alto / tenor / bass arrangement, gives the listener an amazing variety of sounds and experiences – partly because they can either perform in synchronization rhythmically (that is, they move from one note to the next at the same time) or each part can move independently across the musical piece. Usually this movement is designed to be harmonious, but sometimes there is dissonance (experienced as conflict) as one musician moves from their current note, “through” a transition note, to the note which brings resolution.

In music played by a group, different roles are required. There is the leader who sets the tempo of the music and attempts to keep the group playing together through the song. This musician may or may not be the star performer who plays the dominant instrument or who is the flashy talent that brings the sparkle to the performance (and often is not).

There are obviously secondary players who enrich the overall sound and quality of the music, and many times are “role players” – they are solid in what they do, but they are not star performers. Some support musicians add tremendous value by their versatility – being able to play a number of instruments, filling in where needed.

Another factor is that some musicians’ skill set is best suited for highly structured music (e.g. classical orchestral music) where they are given the exact notes to play, and even instructed how loud to play by the conductor. While other musicians do better with less structure and they are given the ability to improvise within the global structure of the music (e.g. jazz or bluegrass).

And in many performing groups there is a manager – someone who administers the logistics of the group – setting up performances, getting contracts signed and collecting payment, arranging for transportation and lodging – and many times, managing interpersonal conflicts among team members.

More and more, there are technical support members – primarily sound technicians and lighting technicians – who help produce the show and are critical to the success of the performance. Without them, the musicians would not be seen or heard adequately.

I will not insult your intelligence by drawing specific analogies or lessons for business from the roles described. However, I would encourage you to think through your business team. Identify what role(s) you play.  Figure out who keeps the rhythm of the group and helps everyone perform together.  It may be helpful to think about those secondary players who do not receive a lot of attention or accolades, but who really make the rest of the group sound (or look) good. Who helps manage the logistics and / or goes behind the scenes and resolves developing conflicts among team members? Are there group members that don’t perform harmoniously or in rhythm with the rest of the group (they play to their own beat or they don’t want to play the same song as the rest of the group)? If so, what needs to be done? And do you have the right type of musicians, given the type of music your group plays?

Whatever the answers are for your group, I hope you enjoy the music you are playing together and that you are able to create beautiful music together!

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