Becoming a rockstar

Back in the early 90s, I was in a rock band in Boston.

At the time, the Boston rock scene was booming. There were hundreds of bands. There were at least twenty rock clubs that hosted live music.

And not just one band per night... it was common for a club to have four or five bands a night, every night.

This means that there were at roughly five hundred potential slots per week that a band could compete for.

But not all slots were created equal. There were three factors that combined to make a given slot better or worse:

So, going on at 8pm on a Monday at a small club was a crappy slot. Going on at midnight on Saturday at a big club was a great slot.

And of course, there was a pecking order among the bands. Booking agents would give the best slots to the best bands (where “best” equated to “the ones who drew the most paying customers”).

As a band first starting out, you’d take crappy slots to build an audience. If you started drawing more people, the booking agents would notice and give you better slots.

Okay so given all that info, let’s do a thought experiment about the optimal path from crappy gig to local rockstar:

There used to be (maybe still is) a little bar on Lansdowne Street called Bill’s. Let’s say your band lands the 8pm Monday night slot at Bill’s for a month straight.

You only get five people to show up to your first gig, but by the fourth, you bring in 30. The booking agent notices you’re pulling more people and offers to promote you to a better spot.

She gives you three options:

Hm... better time, better day, or better club? Which would you choose?

Back then, I would have picked the better club. Unfortunately, that would’ve been a dumb move.

Why?

Because choosing the bigger club is a self-centered, ego-driven choice. It’s nice to tell your musician friends that you’re playing a bigger club. But that’s really the only “upside”.

Moving to the bigger club is bad for the fans. Doing something that is bad for the fans will result in fewer fans, and therefore make it harder to keep moving up the ladder from nobody to rockstar.

If faced with this choice today, I’d pick the first option:

Monday at 10pm at Bill’s.

In other words, I’d take the same bad day, the same small club, but a better time slot

By virtue of being the second band instead of the first, the room is going to be more crowded for our set than it ever has been (i.e., our fans, plus stragglers from the first band, and people coming in for the third band). There will be more energy, more fun. More people would come back.

Wash rinse repeat.

As the booking agent kept offering us better spots, I’d keep choosing “better time” over the other two factors until we were headlining Mondays at Bill’s to a small but packed room.

Once there was a line out the door, I’d start moving closer to Saturday... First move to headlining Tuesday nights. Then headlining Wednesdays, and then Thursdays so on until we were headlining Saturday nights at Bill’s with a line out the door every weekend.

Only then would I consider headlining Saturday nights at bigger and bigger clubs.

You’re probably wondering how any of this applies to your business. I promise I’ll get to that in just a sec.

But first...

There’s an important nuance to taking this approach that might not be obvious. Namely, that by the time my band started headlining Saturday nights at big clubs, we’d have been headliners for a long time.

Being a headliner is different than being an opener. It takes different skills. You do different things. You need practice to get better at it. So, the approach I just described is the path that would give you the most practice being a headliner. 

If you took either of the other paths, the bulk of your experience would be working as an opener which isn’t what you want to do. You’d be building the wrong skills.

Okay, so why am I telling you about how to become a rockstar in Boston in the 90s?

Here’s the thing...

There are certain similarities between trying to become a music rockstar and trying to become a consulting rockstar:

In the consulting world, you’ll probably start out working on low value projects, purchased by low level employees, who work at small companies.

If you want to be a rockstar consultant, start by working your way up to doing low value projects for the CEOs of small companies.

Then, work your way up to doing high value projects for the CEO of small companies.

And then, work your way up to doing high value projects for the CEO of bigger and bigger companies.

To get the highest level rockstar consulting fees, you have to work with CEOs. Working with a CEO is different than working with a manager or other lower level employees. It takes different skills. You do different things. You need practice to get better at it.

The approach I just described is the path that would give you the most practice working with CEOs.

If you take either of the other paths, the bulk of your experience would be working with managers and gatekeepers which isn’t what you want to do.

You’d be building the wrong skills.

Yours, 

—J