It’s story time!
A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine, Shannon Vetter, asked if I would like to play a gig with a band from Nashville called Koriander and his own band Gideon’s Rifle. Check out Gideon’s Rifle, by the way. They are releasing their very first EP very soon. I’ve heard some of the preliminary cuts, and they sound great! They’re also a great bunch of people!
Of course when he asked me, I was excited to play! It was on a Friday night, when I have a regular gig at 10, but I said that I would be happy to go on after I was able to get there.
On the day of the gig, I arrived at Gerstles around 10:30, in time to catch most of Gideon’s Rifle’s set, which I always enjoy. I wandered around and found some of the members of Koriander. I talked to the guitar player, A.J. for a good little while about accents. He picked my Australian accent immediately, which impressed me, because most people ask if I’m from England. I found out from them that the plan was that Koriander would go on after Gideon’s Rifle and the Flex-tet would finish out the night before handing off to the DJ. I told them I was looking forward to hearing them play and they said the same to me.
During the first part of Koriander’s set, I was ushered outside by Shannon who was talking to someone, who I assumed was a Gerstle’s employee. As it turned out, he was the owner/manager and he was not happy that we were there to play. In a miscommunication, he was under the impression that we would start playing at 8PM. If I had been ‘in-the-loop’ during the booking process, I would have made it clear that playing at 8PM was not a possibility for us. Brandon and I both had earlier gigs that we were playing that night.
Before I realized what was actually happening, the owner was gone, and I had no idea what had happened.
At this point, I had three options.
Option #1 – Get pissed and berate the manager for not letting us play
Obviously, this is not my style. I don’t think I would have done this at any point in my life. I’m not the angry, berating type. (You probably know this…) If I was though, it would have probably felt good at that moment to get angry and yell at someone and basically throw a hissy fit. Although this would have the exact same outcome as the next option, but with the added bonus of losing all credibility and respect with the venue as well as the respect of the other bands playing.
Of the three options, this is most definitely the worst one.
Option #2 – Do Nothing
A year ago, this is probably what I would have done. I would have been incredibly apologetic to my friends and musicians and explained to them what had happened and that there was nothing that could be done about it. We would have all gone home disappointed that not only did we not get to play, but that we had gone through the trouble of coming out with all our gear and just packing up and going home.
This would also meaning having to explain the situation to everyone who had come out to see the group, and I did not want to have to tell that story 15 times to 15 different people.
This was actually my first instinct, but after thinking about it for about 2 minutes, I decided I couldn’t let it go and not try to do anything. This led me to…
Option #3 – Have a calm, positive discussion with the manager and see what could be done about the situation
A year ago, I would not have had the balls to do this. I have a somewhat irrational resistance to talking with complete strangers. On that night though, I put that aside, and made the decision to talk with the owner/manager, one-on-one. I caught him while he was on the way from one end of the venue to the other and asked if I could talk to him for a few minutes.
I didn’t really have much of a plan to try to convince him to let us play; mostly because I didn’t know the reasons he didn’t want us to play. My first priority was to figure out his reasons and to avoid making him feel anything negative about his decision. I avoided assigning blame at all costs. After all, it was just an issue of communication.
By being very calm and very positive (I was smiling the whole time) I figured out the reasons he didn’t want us to play. They were all very reasonable, rational reasons. He is the owner/manager of this venue. His goal is to keep his customers happy so they come back weekend after weekend. He also wants to keep the out-of-town band happy because they drove for four hours to play at his venue. It also didn’t help that in his mind we were a ‘jazz’ band – a label sure to kill any crowd of semi-inebriated and dancing 20-somethings.
Also, we were completely unknown to him. We could have been a horrible Dixieland band for all he knew. For him to let us play so late in the night was a huge risk for him. In his mind, we could have emptied his bar if the people weren’t into it. His other option, letting the DJ play is a much more tried and tested formula for him. People dance until they’re thirsty, then go get another couple of drinks, then dance even more because they have even less inhibitions! The fact is, when the DJ plays, the venue (i.e. the owner/manager) makes money. In the owner’s mind, us playing was an obstacle to him making money!
I made sure to tell him we didn’t play “old-people-music” (although I can’t remember if I used that exact phrase…)
But once I talked with him (we spoke for about 25 minutes), I found out exactly what his objections were and I did my best to allay his fears.
After I had gone through and addressed all of his fears, he agreed to talk to the guys and gals from Koriander to see if they would mind us playing a shortened set. After all, he wanted to keep them happy, since they drove from Nashville. Because I had spoken to them before they had started playing, I felt hopeful about my chances but I didn’t want to be too optimistic.
After the owner had talked to Koriander, he waved me outside, where he said that we could actually play our shortened set! I was legitimately surprised. At the start of our conversation, he didn’t see any way that it could work, but by seeing the whole situation from his perspective and addressing his needs and his fears, I was able to turn the situation around.
It was a bit more civil and a lot more effective than just yelling, “Let us play! Why won’t you let us play!?!?!” Granted, there were concessions by all. The manager agreed to letting us play, as did our new friends from Nashville, and we played an abridged set, but all in all, everybody won, which was the whole point of lobbying the owner.
Afterwards, I made sure to thank everybody multiple times. I thanked Koriander for agreeing to let us play, as well as allowing us to use their backline, which made it easy for the long-suffering sound tech. I also made it a point to seek out the owner, shake his hand and let him know how much I appreciated his flexibility and thanked him for being so accommodating. I was a little worried that he would be pissed that I had talked him into something that he had adamantly opposed. My fears were unfounded though, and we shook hands with smiles on our faces and agreed that in the future, I would be sure to be ‘in the loop’ when it comes to booking.
The whole point is this…
By getting deep inside the head of this business owner and genuinely trying to figure out his motivations, fears, and desires, I got what I want, but in a way that made everybody feel good about it. If he didn’t feel like he was winning in the situation, he wouldn’t have been as flexible and accommodating. Let everyone win! This doesn’t just apply to this situation, it can be applied across the board. The key is to truly understand the other person’s situation. When you do this, you can talk to them on their level and in their own language. Once you start engaging people in this way, they are far more receptive and likely to give you what you’re looking for, especially if they can get something out of it as well.