A Tidy Shop Saves the Show

The Show Went On

This past weekend, I was working at an outdoor concert when the rain came in…and it came in hard.  Luckily, the foresight and preparedness of the production manager and his crew literally “saved the day.”

As fans, we often equate the show with the actual performance. Many do not get to see the hours, days, weeks, and even months that go into preparing for that gig. Diving deeper, many do not see the countless hours spent on non-show days constantly preparing for what the future, and mother nature, could hold.

In this particular situation, the production manager runs a clean and organized shop. When his men in black aren’t running a console, they are cleaning gear, organizing cables, marking road cases, and testing equipment.  To many, this would seem like nothing more than busy work. However, it is anything but. Standing stage right of a colossal set-up of line array speakers, LED walls, lighting hanging from a shiny truss system reaching into the sky and connected by a sea of cables the production manager explains. “We spend all that time in the shop preparing, so we know that once everything is rigged we can just turn it on and go.”

If that wasn’t enough to justify his clean-shop initiative, this weekend’s monsoon rain would easily cement his theory.

About an hour into an opening set on a gloomy Sunday afternoon the rain came in…and it came in hard.  Luckily, our manager and his team were ready.  They had already covered the hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear with tarps, canopies, and tie-downs earlier that morning after not liking what they saw in the AM weather forecast. A sprinkle here and there didn’t bother them, but the outlook on the Doppler did, so they lay in wait, checking their situation on a constant basis. Soon, the sprinkles turned into a downpour that just wouldn’t move on and the outside show was facing a dreaded cancellation.

With lots invested in this performance, leadership asked our stage manager if they could move the show indoors into their showroom… a spot which had hosted a national comedienne the night before. Luckily, our black-clad leader’s preparedness had ensured that the stage was struck, the cables tidy, and the space ready for any situation – even an emergency pool party on a rainy Sunday. With just a team of three, he agreed to the move and instantly went to work. I was so inspired by what I was about to see, that I offered a hand and over the next few hours one phrase continued to pop in my mind.

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

After a quick delegation of what to grab from the tarp covered stage, the leader and his side-kick headed to their shop to pick-out what they required to set-up their second show in less than six hours. Thanks to their preparedness, the quickly surmised, located, and loaded the needed gear before wheeling it from one end of the property, up and elevator, and backstage into the new venue. Preparedness made sure that when they needed a 25-foot XLR cable, they knew where it was. Preparedness ensured that when one CDJ 2000 was out of commission due to the rain, they simply grabbed the back-up sitting next to it. Preparedness made sure that the act could go on with his rider requirements in place. Preparedness made sure that the show could go on.

Preparedness saved the day.

We live in an “instant” world and sometimes turn our noses at the work that goes on behind the scenes. The cook prepping at 10:00 am for the dinner shift, the flight mechanic who spends hours in pre-check before a plane takes off, the server who wraps dozens of sets of silverware before her shift. We turn our noses, because we sometimes do not see the direct impact these events have on the final outcome. In rock and roll, we often only see the show…the band under the lights. We do not see the sweaty, hungry, tired guys running like mad behind the scenes to make it all come together. And sometimes, we certainly do not see the countless hours they put in while the speakers are quiet to make sure the show will always go on.

This post, if anything, is to formally thank those “men and women in black” and their preparedness. Without them…rock and roll would cease to exist.

Spread the word:

Buddy, Berklee, and Big Swing Face… a Lesson in Fundamentals for Musicians.

Buddy Rich Big Swing Face

I have listed to a lot of music over the years…I mean a lot. One of my favorite albums is Big Swing Face, a live album recorded over two nights by The Buddy Rich Big Band in 1967. There are a number of reasons that I enjoy this record. For one, it stars the indisputable king of drumming, Buddy Rich. Second, it is a big band album and as a drummer who has driven thirteen to eighteen piece swing bands, I can attest there is perhaps no greater challenge to the craft of the instrument. Each section of a big-band pulls/pushes time differently. Trombones, due to the difficult nature of their instrument, will pull. Trumpets, with their top of the spectrum tones and quick staccato, will push. As such, the drummer must control those fluctuations, all while reading and matching hits with each section.

Buddy Rich was a master of this.

He was also one of the hardest bandleaders ever to walk this earth. He berated, threw tantrums, and regularly fired band members for the simplest of infractions. If you want to hear just how rough Buddy was on his band mates, and if a whole lot of swearing doesn’t offend you, take a listen to The Buddy Rich Bus Tapes and be mortified by his leadership style.

However, before you cast judgment on Buddy, do two things. First, remember that Buddy always gave at least 110% on the stage night after night right up until the end. Don’t believe me, watch this video from 1982 when the drummer reportedly had a heart attack during his solo on the last song and still finished the set. Second, take another listen to Big Swing Face. This album is virtually flawless in every regard from time, to phrasing, and intonation. These musicians nailed their takes live without the aid of computer software to fix their mistakes or enhance their sound in post-production. The latter is a very important lesson when it comes to making music.

Garbage in…garbage out.

I was first introduced to this phrase during a late night recording session at Berklee College of Music in the mid 90’s. At that time, we recorded to tape and ProTools was still in the early adopter phase and not available to anyone with a computer. The option to fix takes later wasn’t as simple as it is now. Luckily, all Berklee students (including those in the production and engineering program) must undergo intense fundamental courses in ear-training, harmony, and private instrument studies so they know how to make musicians sound better BEFORE they are patched into the board. They understand that the fundamentals of the craft will always trump technology.

So why am I sharing this story?

Now that I work behind the stage booking entertainers I hear a lot of excuses, especially from those of the younger generation, as to why they aren’t sounding their best. The monitors weren’t right. The room was dead. The engineer doesn’t know what he is doing. We would sound better with our equipment…with our engineer. Truth is, the excuses are sometime so relentless that it gets me thinking that it could be the outside environment and not my musicians. Then I cue up Big Swing Face and I am reminded that nearly fifty years ago sixteen musicians could perform some of the most complex music live. Record it and wind up with an almost flawless album all without today’s modern technology as a crutch. Swing Face teaches me to constantly listen beyond the front of house and focus on the musicianship happening on stage. To seek out entertainers who are good at the fundamentals of their craft. The singer who knows exactly how far her mic should be from her mouth. The DJ who can match keys and tempos as well as beats, and the drummer who can swing a group of multi-time musicians into shape. I know that if their fundamentals are on point, the rest of the show is simply enhancing those skills, which is much easier for all involved and the key ingredient to a stellar performance.

 

Spread the word:

Solving The Casino Millennial-Baby Boomer Marketing Funnel Conundrum with Entertainment

3668839418_6f1052fc58_o

What do Millennials, DJs, and funnels have in common?

The answer may surprise you. As fun as the three combined may sound, it isn’t the set-up for a new drinking game. Instead, the three components come together to help us understand the future of the gaming industry and how we can capitalize on an impending change now efficiently and cost effectively through entertainment.

The Millennial demographic was the topic of discussion at the 2015 Global Gaming Expo in Vegas, as this collection of consumers brings with them a huge opportunity and perhaps an even larger challenge. According to the PewResearch Center, Millennials are projected to surpass Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation 75.3 million to 74.9 million by the end of 2015. Normally an increase of this magnitude would be a welcome sign in any market – a fresh crop of new consumers to replace the old. However, this new charge doesn’t appear to be responding on the gaming floor in the same way as their ancestors. Research is revealing that Millennials typically find current slot products uninteresting, seek skill-based games, want a social atmosphere, and prefer night clubs over gambling – pretty much the opposite experience that has been cultivated collectively by the industry up until now. This has left many in unchartered waters as they seek out what drivers will lead this next generation to the gaming floor. According to the CEO of the American Gaming Association, Geoff Freeman, there is “going to be a lot [of] throwing things up on the wall and seeing what sticks.”

Freeman’s statement provides us with a key element regarding Millennial based marketing in the casino business. It suggests that they may not be opposed to gaming, but rather they are sitting at the top of the marketing funnel, a place where consumer behavior teaches us that prospects are still learning how the intended products and services can enhance their lives. This, in turn, tells us two things. One, it will take time before this group will take the place of the profitable consumers currently on the gaming floor. Second, because the head of the funnel is larger than the spout we will need to fill it with more prospective Millennial gamers so a reasonable amount can filter down the funnel and eventually replace their predecessors. Taken together, this creates a unique challenge as we are left with two disparate groups within the funnel. Sitting at the bottom are previous generations who are converted, loyal, and most likely advocates for a particular brand. As such, they provide the property with the majority of its revenue at this moment in time. However, the longevity of a casino’s success will eventually rely on getting enough Millennials to replace them at the bottom of the funnel.

So how does a casino’s marketing team attack this situation? With the current mix of generational consumers nearly split down the middle, you cannot simply cut the budget of one and give it to the other. Especially when you are taking away from the profitable sector in the Pre-Millennials and allocating it to the generation that is still contemplating if your services are the right offerings for them. For these same reasons, it would be unwise to dramatically re-align your entire marketing message and risk alienating those gamers that currently help you keep the lights on. What you can do now is to re-align through your entertainment offerings– especially if you are a larger entity with various programming opportunities such as lounges, clubs, showrooms, pools, and restaurants. Take Las Vegas where many prominent casino brands have adopted a tent pole design that “props up” the organization by attracting non-gaming individuals to the property through key entertainment offerings. Many big names on the strip include four elements in their portfolio: (1) a branded show such as Cirque, The Blue Man Group, or Absinthe; (2) a headliner such as Céline Dion, Carrot Top, or Britney; (3) a celebrity chef/kitchen such as Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse; and (4) a big-name DJ such as Steve Aoki, Dash Berlin, or Tiësto.

These poles achieve a lot of good for the casino. For one, they create additional income centers for the property. In 2013, an article in The New Yorker reported that half of Steve Wynn’s profits were coming from his dance clubs with the gaming floor beginning to take a back seat to bottle service and confetti cannons. The pole’s also provide powerful branded ammunition to compete in Vegas’ noisy market. Today, nearly every major casino on the strip features a high-end night club and outlandish pool parties stacked with brand-name DJs. MGM has Hakkasan with Steve Aoki and Tiësto on regular rotation; Encore has XS with the likes of Diplo, Zedd, and Manufactured Superstars; The Cosmopolitan has Marquee with Cash Cash and Dash Berlin. You can grab a Gordon Ramsay Burger at Planet Hollywood or one of his steaks at Paris before you head out to a Cirque de Soleil show at Aria, New York New York, the Bellagio, the Mirage, Mandalay Bay or Treasure Island. Any of these offerings could be destinations in and of themselves in other markets, but in Vegas they are revenue centers, marketing machines, and perhaps most importantly investments in a Millennial generation that hasn’t even been realized yet. Why? Because they continue to bring potential new prospects onto property, which places them in the mouth of the funnel where they begin their journey of learning how gaming can enhance their lives and (hopefully) move down into the spout to become brand ambassadors.

This pole design is not exclusive to Las Vegas or even properties with big brand names and even bigger budgets. Many casinos outside of Sin City have multiple bars, more than one restaurant, and spaces that can create revenue and achieve long-term branding goals if properly utilized. This makes it very plausible to craft a diversified entertainment program that appeals to your current profitable customers while luring future prospects onto the property. You can continue to appease your Pre-Millennials with showroom entertainment while hosting afternoon pool parties with regional DJs that drive those Millennials across your floors where they can hop in the funnel and begin the process of learning about your brand and how it fits in their lives. Clubs, lounges, and bars can easily be rebranded by adjusting the entertainment offerings towards one side or the other and then allowing the demographic shift to happen naturally (or with a little marketing push if needed), just as adjustments in menu selections and price points can sway the clientele in a chosen restaurant. These are all efficient and cost-effective modifications that can be done without sacrificing your budget or the overall brand of the property and they can help protect your very valuable current assets in the Pre-Millennials while positioning your property for long-term success with this next generation of prospective consumers by allowing them to investigate your offerings while your management team can learn what drives their behaviors, so your property is ready to capitalize when the time is right.

 

Lego Photo by Stefan Schindler from Flickr Creative Commons

Marketing Funnel from http://adamhcohen.com

Spread the word:

Adele…25…and the Four P’s of Marketing

 

And just like that… Adele’s 25 is already breaking records. With just three days under its belt, the Brit-singer’s highly anticipated album has sold 2,433,000 copies, surpassing the 2,416,000 of NSYNC’s No Strings Attached release in 2000. Even more impressive is just how huge this album already is in its first week when compared to some other superstars. Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 sold 968,000 copies its first week, Taylor Swift’s Red sold 1,208,000, Britney’s Oops!…I Did It Again sold 1,319,000, and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP sold 1,760,000.

So how is it that 25 will outperform some of the music world’s brightest stars, during a time when we are all constantly reminded that the industry as a whole is underperforming? Is it Adele’s musicianship and song-writing prowess? Is it the new distribution mediums available? Is it social media and a new era of viral-promotion?

In all actuality, 25’s success comes in the nearly perfect integration of the four P’s of marketing. Interestingly, her marketing mix, as complex as it may look, is made quite simple by her unique musical ability, which has driven demand in a way that has allowed her label to control a few key elements and thus boost demand in an era when record sales are hard to come by. To understand how it all plays together, let’s look at 25’s release from the perspective of these fundamental components of marketing.

Product: At the core of any marketing mix is the product. The better it is, the more opportunity it offers the other elements of the recipe on which to build. There is no doubt that Adele brings to the table a strong product in 25. This is made evident by both the overwhelming industry accolades and sales success of her previous album 21. 25’s predecessor won three American Music Awards and seven Grammy’s including Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Pop Solo Performance along with a host of other trophies. It climbed to number one on virtually every pop chart around the world at one time or another and has remained on many since its 2009 release selling over 11 million copies in the U.S. alone to date. While music tastes are subjective, this is pure empirical evidence that Adele has a strong product on which to build her success.

Promotion: The success of 25’s promotion lies in the consumer adoption cycle of 21. Adele’s previous album remained on many charts and continued to sell while the artist went into hiding, had a baby, and started her next release. When looked at from a product adoption cycle perspective, it could be argued that 21 had just started to enter its decline phase, thus leaving the bell curve peak of its 11 million plus consumers anticipating a new product from the artist. This would be between 90 and 95% or about 9.9 million persons chomping at the bit for a new Adele album and may help explain why her first single Hello had over 27 million views during its first day on YouTube. This was enough to prompt the conversation by the global press if Adele’s upcoming release would match its predecessor and ignite a viral outbreak on social media to help make that happen.

 

 

Place: Adele’s product quality and promotional power allowed her team to control her places of distribution, which has become a vital component in the modern recorded music marketplace. Today, more and more customers consume their music through either a digital distributer such as iTunes or an online streaming service such as Spotify with the latter providing diminished returns for the artist and their management team and requiring more movement to count as an album sale (1,500 streams = 1 album sale). However, due to decreased promotion and demand drivers, many artists must release to both channels to break through increased noise in the market. This “necessary evil” comes at a huge cost in regards to physical album sales. Luckily for Adele, the huge demand for her latest product has allowed her team to forgo releasing her tracks to streaming channels, which has ultimately doubled demand for her physical unit sales and defended another element of her marketing mix – price.

Price: When you achieve a product that is relatively price/demand inelastic, it is safe to say that the other components of your marketing mix are singing in harmony. This is exactly the case with 25. You can’t stream 25 yet and nobody seems to care…or even complain. Many will buy it because they know the product is worth the price. Others will buy in so they too can be a part of the conversation or to contribute to the success of a superstar who doesn’t really seem like a superstar. Either way, Adele’s musical ability has fueled a promotion powerhouse that could be properly manipulated by her management team, which ended in increased sales in an industry where that doesn’t really happen too much anymore.

Spread the word: