By Steve Oppenheimer
Lately, I’ve watched several organizations experience growing pains. For starters, EM‘s Onstage and Remix magazines are clearly gaining momentum, in response to which our editorial department is growing and adjusting to the workload. In an unrelated situation, a dog-rescue group I volunteer with (San Francisco Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue, www.sfgsrescue.org) recently jumped in size and is learning to deal with growth. Rapid growth is rarely stress-free, and many of us at EM and in the dog-rescue group have had to pause, catch our breaths, and do a reality check before moving forward. Observing the two situations, I reflected on the processes at work.
Dealing with creative people can be dicey, especially in a group situation. Business and personal relationships often get mixed up with questions of art. If you are in a leadership role, how do you manage to get sustainable, consistently good results? Admittedly, nobody bats 1.000 where people are involved, and sometimes you’ll lose no matter what you do. But a combination of focus, flexibility, and patience can go a long way.
First, focus. You must keep your eyes on the prize, which is group success, however the group measures that. Unfortunately, a lot of bands fail to clearly establish goals. The objective might be commercial success, but maybe it’s playing a few local clubs, jamming in the garage, or joining forces in the studio. Your goals make all the difference. Make sure that all agree – or be prepared for future shock. Sit down and talk it over. Then, be sure to stay focused on the group’s goals. That means being patient and taking your emotional reactions into account as you make decisions. It’s tough, but try it.
For instance, our dog-rescue group has more than doubled in size in a year, and we experienced our first open personal conflicts. That’s not surprising; we suddenly have more people, and some members do not know each other well. We dealt with it by immediately reminding all concerned that our rescue mission is paramount. That resolved the problem, at least for now.
These next points should be obvious. One is to firmly establish the leadership structure. A benign dictatorship, open democracy, or limited partnership can each work well if done properly – but only if the lines of authority are clear.
The other point regards recruiting. We’ve all lost count of the bands we’ve seen ruined because people try to build serious groups with friends just because they’re friends or because they’ll drive their truck 500 miles for gigs. You want people who can play and who won’t act out, of course, but also consider whether they’ll work for group goals. If you’re serious about a band, be sure your bandmates are, too.
I’m not suggesting being a hard case or doing absolutely anything to reach your goals; just be cool and keep your eyes on the prize. The key to staying focused is motivation; in general, people make music together because they want to, not because they have to. Setting goals, establishing reasonable rules, and being flexible and patient helps keep people positive and productive and will get you far. Staying focused is not easy, but you’ll like the feeling you get when it works.