Organization, Man


By Steve Oppenheimer

(August 2001)

Creating systems that enable people to work together smoothly and productively is a kick for me. Before becoming a magazine editor, I was a political organizer, built and led bands, wrote arrangements, and managed the operations of a couple of small businesses. EM‘s steady, long-term growth has allowed me to further expand my organizational skills.

After all these years, I sometimes feel like an old dog, but recently I have learned some new tricks. I volunteer with a dog-rescue group that decided to split into two sister organizations, and I was asked to help organize the new one. A colleague of mine is a professional consultant who specializes in teaching small businesses to organize themselves. In applying her methods to the new dog-rescue group, I have discovered that the approach can also be applied to building musical groups and projects. Here are some key parts of the approach.

Visualize the future. Anticipate where you want the project to be three to five years down the road. It’s not enough to say that you want to build a studio business, make your band the hottest ticket in town, or found an independent label. Visualize and write down what your hot band would be like, including musical style, business philosophy, financial ambitions, the types of gigs you would be playing, and the type of stage show you want to have.

Tell the story. After brainstorming and then listing your ideas, write a short story about the group or project as you visualize it. For the dog-rescue group, I wrote a fictional story from the viewpoint of a new volunteer as she learns about the group five years from now. Don’t worry if you aren’t a great writer; the story is just an organizing tool.

Identify the job functions necessary to achieve your goals. Write on a separate sticky note each job that must be done if you are to reach your goals. For instance, if you are putting together a road band, people must book gigs, handle the sound and lights, sell merchandise, select the tunes, provide transportation, handle PR, and do the books. You might need session players and a graphic artist. Each job gets a sticky note.

Make an organization chart based on the functions you identified. Start placing the sticky notes on a large blank piece of paper or cardboard. Move them around until the job functions are logically grouped. You have now created a basic organization chart for job functions.

Applying that to a band, you might have Music, Marketing, Business Management, and Technical function groups, just to name some possibilities. You could break it down lots of ways as long as the organizational structure potentially provides what you need to make your vision a reality.

Set priorities and build a schedule. Start looking at the steps it will take to build the organization you outlined and achieve the goals you envision. Again, write everything down.

Fill the jobs. You now know where you want to go, how you want to organize yourself to get there, and when you expect to reach each stage. You are ready to start thinking about the types of people you need in order to make the project work. From there, you can begin recruiting and interviewing bandmates or other business partners.

In our dog-rescue group, most people wear several hats, and in your band or studio, you probably wear most of the hats. But you still need to work with outside services for some things. Having organized your ideas and needs, you are ready to determine what types of companies or individuals you should seek as partners.

This organizational work can be done surprisingly quickly, and it really pays off. Of course, being well organized doesn’t guarantee success, but your chances of success are far better than if you followed the classic “just shuffle along and hope” pattern.