I am often asked which of my life experiences prepared me most to be an entrepreneur. The answer: being in a rock band.
Certainly, I have had many experiences that have shaped me. My parents and grandparents were all business owners and when your entire family is supported by small businesses, you tend to grow up expecting to make money the same way.
My father’s sudden death in my early 20s set me on the path of understanding the fragility of life, and ensured I didn’t pass up opportunities to enjoy new experiences and growth.
Stories like this help us understand why someone becomes an entrepreneur but not necessarily what it’s like to be one.
Which brings me to rock and roll.
Musicians come together as a group of previously disconnected people to share their craft. Each performer brings pre-existing expertise and viewpoints, with differing amounts of skill and commitment.
All members work as a team to play songs and performances to entertain audiences. Regardless of which instrument a member plays, there is a shared attentiveness to what audiences will like and a common goal of earning applause. Passion is what has musicians working late into the night on an energetic live show, giving it their all, and after packing up, driving all night to their next gig.
There is synchronicity within a band, with different roles of varied importance bringing certain expectations.
Usually, the lead singer is the most outgoing — after all, he/she is the primary contact with the audience. Lead singers, and even most fans tend to think of the group as “their” band, even though others might disagree.
Every group has at least one “real” musician: The songwriter who understands the theory behind the music; often it’s the lead guitarist, or the piano player. Very few of the screaming fans can discern which member of the unit is actually the keystone.
Other band members play along with a greater or lesser levels of skill and commitment — they are just happy to be performing. Imagine the laid back bass player quietly grooving on stage right, or the drummer twirling his sticks on the tour bus late at night. The group’s sound is affected by their work and skill, but on some level they know that if ever they quit the band would still survive.
The dynamics of a rock band are very much like a start-up business, with a shared vision and excitement about building something for customers and a common sense of what success looks like. A shared enterprise — making music — is very much like the experience of a team building a new product and business. The team has to stay in tune despite constant challenge of personalities, balancing expectations between lead players and the backbeat and everyone must be working in the same key to manage relationships of founders and experienced advisors.
Over the years of playing electric guitar and pairing up with some very talented people who share my love of creating music both in my home studio and on stage, I have learned that rock bands are unstable. They are fragile things, often breaking up because the audience does not like their music, or due to personality conflicts. Just like start-ups.
However, when that connection is there, and music is made out of nothing but skill and sweat, the feeling is like nothing else. Other than being in a start-up, of course.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and lead guitarist for Two Car Living Room, playing July 14th at the Arlington Tap Room in Clarendon. He also is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program.