A few weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure of seeing Bruce Hornsby live for the first time. I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited at first. I was only familiar with Bruce’s work that went mainstream – songs like “Mandolin Rain” were what I thought represented the bulk of Bruce’s creative stylings…and his crossover album with Ricky Skaggs.
I was absolutely floored to learn that Bruce’s music is a lot more like highly technical jam band/roots rock than the pop stuff I’ve heard on the radio for all these years.
So check out his music, particularly “Noisemakers.” Totally rad. Great grooves. The man is also a jaw-dropping technician…so much so that 2 non-musicians in our group were even overwhelmed by what the guy can do on a piano. But that’s not the point of this post. The point is to talk about what happened after the show.
Thanks to my good buddy Joe Patti, we were lucky enough to spend some time backstage with Bruce himself, where I learned a hugely important lesson that applies to music, business, and life in general!
Some background: Bruce has been touring consistently for 10, 15 years or more. He has very high retention with his band members. In fact, many of the band members have been with him for the bulk of his solo career. I knew this going into the performance because my buddy Steve is a huge Bruce Hornsby fan.
One of the things that really stood out about Bruce and his band was how happy they seem to be while playing. These are guys that have been playing together for many years, many shows, many frustrations and yet they still seem to be so happy to be playing with one another. What gives?
Once we got backstage I had the opportunity to ask Bruce that question. He said it’s really simple. He keeps things fresh by “f***ing with them” all the time. (His words, not mine.)
When asked to elaborate, he said he keeps things from getting stale by changing key signatures, time feels, grooves, bridges, jam sections, tempos, etc. on his guys. He keeps them challenged by keeping it challenging. He doesn’t let them fall into the “yet another day at the office” rut.
The music sounds fresh because it’s fresh. The band looks happy because they’re happy.
The most important portion of this lesson, though, was how he left it. At the end of the conversation, he said that in order to keep things fresh for his band, he has to take a lot of musical risks…risks that could end in the band sounding loose and sloppy. However, the risks are worth it because of what happens when he takes a risk and it works. He said that he is willing to have the band sound okay or mediocre 70% of the time if it means that the other 30% will blow his listeners out of the water.
Great business insight from a music industry monster! You can apply this to site builds, product launches, new hires, promotions…wow!
Questions: Are you okay with letting your employees/business partners/clients/children fail occasionally if it helps them achieve excellence? Have you created a culture at work or at home that teaches that it’s okay to take risks so long as those risks are calculated, and that you are not simply setting yourself up for failure?