Band leaders, artists, contractors, etc: we’re small business owners. The business of music can be so informal, social, and familiar that we lose sight of that fact. But I see so many small business owners (musicians) accidentally sabotaging themselves that I want to share a few tips I learned during my year managing an ice cream shop.
Disclaimer: of course, none of this is “necessary”. I know most of y’all are out here in the wild west doing business willy nilly and somehow it works for you. I don’t understand how, but you do you! Just sharing because there’s no reason that small business owning musicians shouldn’t have the knowledge and opportunity to steal these ideas.
When I hired someone at the ice cream shop, their first three shifts were spent in training. There was a handbook. There was one-on-one teaching. There were quizzes. There was a dress code. Papers were signed.
I firmly believe that one of the most powerful things you can do in any relationship is communicate expectations. In a professional setting, those expectations should be in writing and be in a place where they can be easily accessed.
On the more formal side, you might be a church worship leader or corporate band leader. In either case, you probably have a roster of musicians who participate on a rotating schedule. In such cases, it’s a great idea to provide everyone on your team with a document that expresses your values, priorities, and expectations. This might be in the form of an e-mail, private webpage, or printed paper. Things you might include in such a document:
leadership structure: who should your team talk to if they have a question or concern? Is there a procedure for reporting sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior?
timing: does your team keep to a strict schedule and need to be 15 minutes early for everything? Or is it relaxed? Make it clear if you’re a stickler for timing.
privacy: do you have set lists or arrangements that are expected to be kept private? Do you have a policy about sharing about gigs on social media?
alcohol (probably doesn’t apply for the worship team example but hey, I don’t know your life): what is your policy on alcohol consumption during gigs? Even if you don’t have strong feelings about this one, making a statement up front will allow you to take action more easily if a band member ever behaves inappropriately as a result of alcohol consumption. You don’t have to enforce a strict alcohol policy, but communicating one could save you a lot of trouble down the line.
On the less formal side, you might just be hiring folks on a gig-by-gig basis. It still doesn’t hurt to include some expectations in an e-mail when you’re sending information. Example:
“Hey, thanks for agreeing to play on 6/23! The event will take place at (location). We will play from (start time) to (end time). We need to be set up by (time) so please arrive by (time) sharp. Charts and reference recordings are attached in a Google Drive link. Pay is ($$$) each. The theme is “roaring 20s” so please dress accordingly and feel free to ask for more specifics if you’re not sure. FYI, there is a $100 band tab. However, I ask that band members not have more than 1 drink during the performance window. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions.”
MAKE FEEDBACK PART OF YOUR ROUTINE
Giving feedback, especially “negative” feedback or constructive criticism, can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable. One thing that makes it easier to give feedback is to make it part of your routine. That way your team can expect it and not feel put on the spot.
Let’s return to the worship leader or corporate band leader example. Here are some ideas of how you might incorporate feedback into your routine:
quarterly reviews: if you have consistent band members, you could provide reviews every 3-6 months. This could be in person, in writing, or both (as was the case in my ice cream job). Include how they’re excelling and include opportunities for growth. Example: John, you’ve done a fantastic job learning a ton of music over the past few months. You’re always on top of the new music and it sets a great example for the rest of the team. Over the next 3 months, I’d ask you to focus on arriving on time more consistently. We’d like to use you on more gigs, but need to see more consistency in this area before that happens.
peer praise: consider implementing a way for band members to give each other a shout out when they see someone doing a great job. Maybe you send out monthly e-mails to your team. Include peer shout-outs at the end.
In a less formal setting, I don’t know of an easy (or even particularly appropriate) way to give constructive criticism. If someone doesn’t meet expectations on a gig, I usually just ask for something specific in the moment (if applicable) and don’t hire them again. But you can ALWAYS give positive feedback! For example, I might send an e-mail after the gig is over to tell everyone when to expect their payment, then include, “Special thanks to Rachel for showing up early and going above and beyond with setup!” or, “the client mentioned how much they loved the horn section. Thanks for making me look good!”
Special scenario: one of my favorite things I observed at Ice Cream was performance agreements. If there was a significant issue with an employee (typically a pattern of behavior, not just a one-time mistake or infraction), we would sit down and sign a performance agreement. This was a sheet of paper that included 1) what went wrong, 2) what the expectation is, and 3) what success looks like for the employee. This might sound ridiculous, but just think about the beauty of the concept: you’re going out of your comfort zone to give someone else a clear chance at success. Real example—I caught an employee playing Pokemon Go on her phone while there was a long line of people being ignored. So her performance agreement said “*Sarah (not her real name) was playing on her phone while customers were waiting to be helped on (date). The expectation is that phones are not to be used while an employee is on the clock. Going forward, success looks like Sarah demonstrating focus on customers while on the clock and not using her phone except during breaks.” Then we both sign the agreement. AGREEMENT! What a beautiful word. That means we were both on the same page. From that point forward, “Sarah” had clear instructions on how to be successful—no guessing on how to please her employer.
Now, of course this could look different on a worship team or corporate band. But the fact remains: regardless of how awkward it might feel to give someone direct, constructive feedback, it is the most respectful thing you could do if their job security is at stake.
This definitely applies more the formal side, where you have a roster of band members. There are a lot of ways to provide incentives.
give raises: remember that quarterly review thing I mentioned? You could also provide small raises for folks who have stayed with your band long term. Someone who knows your music and has been performing it consistently for 6 months deserves more pay than someone who just started. Maybe it’s just $25 more per gig for anyone who’s been with your band for more than 6 months. Maybe you agree to always cover parking for folks in that category.
give scheduling priority: make a clear policy that top performers will have their choice of gigs. If you do this, you should articulate what constitutes being a “top performer” (showing up on time, having new music learned, maintaining a positive attitude on the job, etc.) but this is totally fair in my opinion. Example: “Beth, you’ve been so consistent and professional and we appreciate you so much. Take a look at the schedule for July and have your pick of dates, then I’ll fill in the dates you’re not available for.”
give bonuses or gift cards: make room in your budget for one-off bonuses. Maybe one month there’s a clear stand out on your worship team. Give them a gift card to their favorite coffee shop. Or someone in your corporate band suffers a personal loss yet still shows up to the gig and does their job well. Give them the tip from your client to show your appreciation. Giving bonuses or gifts is a way to honor those on your team who go above and beyond, but it also shows other team members what type of behavior is rewarded in your business.
There you go. There are a few ideas for how to apply regular-job management concepts to your creative ventures. Please let me know what ideas you have for me to add!