This week, I had the privilege of listening to a CEO's retirement lecture. In it, he told the story of his last conversation with his predecessor.
Upon the changing of the guard, the CEO was given three envelopes. The instructions? Open the first envelope when you get stuck the first time. If you get stuck again, open the second. When you get stuck the third time, open the third.
In two months, the new CEO got stuck, and opened the first envelope. It read "Re-strategize..." He did so, and got over the hump. Two years later, the CEO had a problem, and consulted the second envelope. It read "Reorganize." He did so. A few months before his retirement, he found a need for the third envelope. It read "prepare three envelopes..."
Ok. Two weeks ago, my band played at a new venue. We were hired by a man who came to another gig. He sat in the corner alone the entire evening. He watched what we sung, and who heard what we sung. Following the gig, he approached me. "Well, Kelly you passed the test. My name is "Biff," I represent and book bands for the Valley's best barbecue restaurant, "Crabby's Barbecue Pit." I like the way you guys play. You don't talk too much, you play a lot of music, and where I normally only book Rockabilly, I think I'd like to try Bluegrass..."
Where I thought Biff (not his real name, btw.) was a little unusual, I gave him my contact info. He eventually booked us at Crabby's (not the real name of the bar/restaurant).
Here's the thing. Crabby's is fundamentally a biker bar in the middle of nowhere. The food is great, but the place wasn't really conducive to Bluegrass music. So, where we played very well, by our third set, the place was sparsely populated.
It's a funny thing being a bar-band... You get hired on the basis of what kind of following you have. The more people you attract to your gig, the better your chances of getting asked back. THat night at Crabby's, we counted about seventeen people in the bar who came specifically to hear us play. This is about average for us. This is also the number of people who were there (give or take) the night Biff introduced himself to us.
So why then - at the end of the night - knowing who we were, what we played, and how many people came to see us - he told us he was disappointed with our draw was beyond me. That wasn't the end of our critique. Biff then criticized our set list: "Did you see that couple who left when you sang the Prine song? They wouldn't have gone if you chose a faster song." (NOTE: That couple? They were my neighbors, Zig and Peg. Zig works the night shift. He worked Friday night. On Saturdays, he doesn't nap at all. So. By eleven PM, he'd been up for at least 31 hours. Chances are, the Prine song wasn't the reason they left... but who am I to say?)
Ok. Then Biff told us that he put our name in the paper to advertise - but the paper neglected to add "Bluegrass" to the description. Therefore, Biff expressed that we should change the name of our band because people didn't realize what we played. He then proceeded to introduce me for the remainder of the evening as "Bluegrass Kelly."
So, by the end of the evening, Biff basically told us that we had very little chance of playing at Crabby's again. He said we needed to do the things he told us, and it would help if we had merchandise and a CD. After raking me thoroughly over the coals, he made his final offer: "When you come out with a new CD, call me. We'll do your CD Release party..."
Good heavens - WHY WOULD I DO THAT?
I understand that biker bars are perhaps not the best outlet for my band. We occasionally play a venue that's not a good match for us. I'm okay with that. I understand that not everyone likes the music we play. Ninety-Five percent of our venues really like us... So we're on the right track... However, to be critiqued by a guy who books bands for one or two out-of-the-way venues is mildly infuriating.
It's not that I can't take the criticism, but really? He's not my manager, he knew what we did... Because of this, our performance should not have elicited his response... However, I'm a trooper, so I'll just take his critique - ignore some, and take the best - as I open the first envelope: Restrategize.
I will up my marketing efforts. I'll make it a priority to put up a new band website... I'll reorganize my e-mail lists. I'll do some different marketing. When Fran is back with the band full-time (he's gone about half the time in Europe for work), we'll think about some recording.
Then, I'm going to write my own little envelope and hand it to Biff. It'll say "Don't mess with the name of my band."
Some things are sacred.