Why should you work with a musician?
You should employ musicians if only to save them from a life of unjustified penury. A friend of mine was recently filling in an on-line application form for a credit card and he input "violinist" as his profession. The automated error message came back with "Please choose a valid occupation" - in red. When I started as a trainee on Wall Street in 1987, the CV's of my colleagues almost invariably contained "wrestling" as their main out-of-work activity. Being British and therefore slightly squeamish about physical contact (it is frankly remarkable we haven't died out as a nation) this struck me as odd.
Here in the UK wrestling conjures up images of Mick MacMannus, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki theatrically flailing around the ring of a Saturday tea time in pre-rehearsed bouts of mock battle whilst we ate Shipman's fish paste sandwiches finished off with tinned fruit cocktail and evaporated milk. Wrestling wasn't the sort of thing you expected to build a crack trading team out of.
But the thing that really bothered me about the wrestling thing was why would you hire a group of people with the mentality of solipsistic individual sports people whilst simultaneously expecting them to cooperate as a team? The answer to this is "The question is wrong Stewart" - they were hired to behave as solipsistic individual sports people who would, if necessary, wrestle each other to the ground for a trade. Hell - they might just do it anyway just because they liked it.
This was a natural mistake of mine because, as a guitarist (yes those are my hands in the picture) and an orchestral musician (double bass,) my natural state is to apply a musician's sensibility to pretty much every situation I walk into. This hasn't worked out too well for me on a couple of occasions but it is a habitual mistake born out of the fact that it is my default position as I have been playing in public since I was twelve years old. I have some sadness, but no regrets, about applying the musician's sensibility to work. Here are five reasons why...
1. If the rhythm section isn't right, nothing is right I have never played in a band or an orchestra where the drum/bass combination is terrible but the band works. If the audience is dancing it's because they are listening to the rhythm section even though they may be dreaming about going home with the lead singer/lead guitarist combination. Musicians instinctively know you have to get the basics right before you put the tune on top. This is true of organisations also.
2. They play for the audience not themselves I can honestly say I have never played a note of music without an audience in mind. Even when I am practising. If you are a performer you are always "on" and you are thinking about what will sound good to give the audience the best experience whilst YOU are having the best experience. In a work environment this means musicians are continually thinking about the client or end user. This is very useful.
3. They know their part but can improvise around it Not many people at work know where their "part" begins and ends - they tend to blur boundaries and cross over into the work of others sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Musicians don't do this. The designated drummer rarely leaps from behind his kit, unrehearsed, and grabs the mic mid-performance and begins to sing. This is good because drummers are usually terrible singers. This is why they have retreated behind a kit to hit things very hard in order to work out their frustrations about not being at the front of the stage. The exception that proves the rule being Phil Collins (Roger Taylor is by-and-large a backing singer, before anyone writes to me). Having said that, musicians know how to embellish their part in order to make things better for EVERYONE. This is very useful also because it makes for a better experience for the audience (see 2.) and the other band members (see 4.).
4. They know how to listen to what other people are doing Musicians are multi-taskers. This is why they tend to be neurotic - they are aware of themselves and others and their reaction to others - simultaneously. If fate had dealt them a different hand, they would be plate spinners. It is also why they tend to have a sense of humour. You rarely come across comedians who are psychotically unaware of themselves. Think Woody Allen and compare it to Charles Manson trying to do observational comedy. But the important point is that musicians have a "different set of ears" compared to other people which allows them, in work situations, to hear stuff that others don't respond to. Musicians know when to play loud or soft, know when they have the tune and when they have the accompaniment.
5. They know the conductor is important but also know he's not actually playing Musicians know a conductor is important: they tell you when to start and stop. Musicians also know that the conductor is pretty much unimportant in-between those two points but nobody points it out to them mainly because they don't want to hurt the conductor's feelings. There are orchestras that don't even have conductors. However, some conductors, think they are important all of the time. An orchestra knows that they need a conductor (they are very useful during rehearsals) but without an orchestra a conductor is just a person, wearing full evening dress, in a concert hall, waving a stick around in front of a thousand people, in complete silence. The clue is in the name: something that "conducts" is the medium through which something passes like electricity or heat.
Some Chief Executives need to be reminded of this fact from time to time but you should get a wrestler to point it out to them. And when the day is over, musicians can "play" together. Musicians don't need the forced hilarity of "Friday drinks in the atrium between the hours of 4:30PM and 4:45PM". They will spontaneously generate the kind of bonding that most HR departments spend days plotting during Away Days in luxury countryside hotels. The reason musicians can play after work together is they have shared something: shared with their colleagues, their audience (the clients) and saved a small piece of satisfaction for themselves. So if you see a CV that includes "musician" bounce across your desk tomorrow - look upon them favourably. They could be the best hire you ever made...
© Stewart Cowley. Not for reproduction in whole or part without permission but please feel free to forward this on. If you wish to use this or a longer version for commercial use you know where to find me. Otherwise my lawyers know where to find you. The views here are expressed as a private individual and do not represent advice. You can follow me on Twitter @Stewart_Cowley