17Hertz Studio Cropped

I posted a while back about leadership lessons from the performing arts.  Aside from my career in Management Consulting and training, I’ve long had a passion for music—listening, performing, recording, and so on.  About 10 years ago, I came upon and took advantage of Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp.  It’s a cliché to say something is life-changing, but my rock and roll fantasy experience truly was. It taught me new skills to use in my day job, I made some wonderful friends, developed important relationships, and ended up consulting with the camp’s founder and producer.

Last week, I went to the Rock Camp in Los Angeles, to jam with Ginger Baker (Cream, etc.) David Crosby (Crosby, Stills and Nash, etc.) and a host of top musicians from Steely Dan, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Black Sabbath, Quiet Riot, Kiss, Grand Funk Railroad, and more. In the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp program you are assigned to a band, have a genuine ‘rock star’ counselor to rehearse with, and perform at top venues (Whisky A Go Go and Lucky Strike).

In addition to all this, our band had opted for the recording package—a day (which turned out to be a 10-hour day!) in a top recording studio with the legendary producer Eddie Kramer who worked with artists such as the Beatles, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, the Kinks, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Carlos Santana.  (That’s Eddie to the right in the blue shirt.)

VM with Eddie Kramer2Working with our little band, “Strange Crew” was probably a unique challenge for Eddie, but he took on the challenge and rose to the occasion! The band members had never met before and were together for 3 days of “forming, storming, norming, and performing” under the wonderful counseling of Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper‘s lead guitarist, seen above in the sunglasses.)

Strange Crew was there to record an original song by Scott Harrington, lead guitar, vocalist and songwriter. That’s Scott to the left. I’m next to Scott in the London Rocks black tee, next to Michael Sales, vocalist and fellow former camper, Jacklyn Land, vocalist. To Kane’s right is Randal Robison, a friend, co-band member back home and drummer/vocalist.

It was an intriguing and ultimately rewarding experience. Both humbling and life affirming. And an exceptionally enjoyable way to develop new competencies and capabilities!

So, What Did I Learn?

I’ll focus on the recording experience. There were many additional lessons from all the rehearsing and from performances at Hollywood’s hallowed music clubs, but I’ll save those for another post.

  1. Emotional Intelligence trumps all else! Sometimes called EQ, Emotional Intelligence is now generally recognized as a more accurate predictor of career success than IQ, or just about any other personal characteristic. I would say that Eddie’s EQ is through the roof! I don’t know if he learned this through years of working with egomaniacs, alcoholics, druggies and what have you, or if he was born with an innate ability to work with diverse individuals and groups, but his mastery in this regard was clear throughout the day. For example:
    • Eddie handled each of us band members using very different inter-personal styles. He was able to quickly read us and relate to each of us in ways that were comfortable, appropriate and effective. As an illustration, he’s spent much of his life in the UK, where I am from, and very quickly established a rapport with me based on our shared roots. He recognized that I enjoy and use humor extensively, so he mirrored that behavior, quoting great British comics from my youth. For example, when he did not like the way I was approaching a lick, he’d stroll out of the control room, across the lengthy expanse of the main studio, and say, (mimicking British comic, Tommy Cooper), “Not like this, like that!”
    • He knew when and how to cajole, to encourage and to re-direct. He could easily have spoken his instructions through the control room microphone—a disembodied voice into the main studio. But more often than not, he walked into the studio and came right up to the band member he was coaching, made direct eye contact, and gave clear instructions in ways that resonated with each of us.
    • Eddie was always encouraging. If he had a criticism of the way one of us had played a certain part, he would usually contrast that criticism with a positive reinforcement. For example, at one point he came out of the control room to tell our drummer, “I loved the way you played the chorus section—it was brilliant! So I’m wondering why you aren’t playing the verses that way?”
    • When his frustration with a recording engineer or band member was getting to him, Eddie walked over to a grand piano and played classical music (very skillfully!) He recognized his frustration button was being pushed, knew he needed to control this, and that a few minutes behind the piano keyboard would help restore his cool.
    • Kane Roberts also demonstrated high EQ in the ways he coached us. In fact, I’ve found from previous Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp experiences that the counselors are selected not only for their musical talent and pedigree, but for their coaching abilities.
  2. Preparation is everything!  Of the grueling 10 hours in the studio, 3 hours were consumed getting the recorded sounds just right. Yes, one-third of the time was getting all the equipment set up—especially the microphones surrounding the drum set.
    • There’s an old saying, “There’s never time to do it right, but you always find time to do it over!” I know we are in a fast moving world, and that speed matters. But, depending on the context, quality sometimes matters more. To spend 7 hours recording to later find the sound was off would mean several more hours of retakes and editing, and by then we’d have all been well past our best.
    • Take time to nail the preparation, so you can give your best performance, be it an important presentation, meeting facilitation, or whatever.
    • You often only have one “take” in life—make it count!
  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of the support crew!  Eddie Kramer is a genius, and undoubtedly one of the most successful and talented producers/engineers in the business. But he also depends upon assistants, as we all do in our professional careers.
    • Pick your “support crew” carefully. Value them, nurture them, train them, help them understand their place in the “performance.”
    • Recognize them when they do something the way you want.
    • Correct them when they don’t, and explain why you are correcting them.
  4. Always be fully present!  While live performances, by definition, have all the band members playing together, this recording process used a mix of ensemble and solo performances. For any single band member, there can be a lot of sitting around, waiting. (I describe studio recording as 98% boredom and 2% sheer terror!) But when you are needed, you have to be there, mentally as well as physically, to understand exactly what has gone before and what is expected of you next.
    • You have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. So even when you aren’t “on” you have to behave as though you are.
    • It’s hard work not “tuning out” but that’s what it takes when you are part of a team.
    • Each team member takes his or her turn, but you all have to be present the whole time.
    • Staying “present” is easier to do (though not easy!) when you are physically together, less easy to do on a videoconference and very hard to do on a teleconference. How many times have you been on a conference call when a question is asked of someone and it is clear they weren’t listening? How does that make the other members of the call feel? How much rework does this create!
  5. Take the time to “shift gears” occasionally!  Performing in a band or working in a recording studio is completely different from what I do most of the time. But my hobbies feed my professional domain in powerful and often unexpected ways:
    • There are skills that transfer between my professional domain and my hobbies. Switching contexts helps me sharpen key skills and develop new competencies.
    • Take time out to play—to do things purely for the fun of it. But look for new lessons you can apply in your work.
    • Recognize and sharpen skills that transfer from your professional life to your hobbies and vice versa.