Systems that Really Rock
People I meet in my travels as a systems guy are generally shocked to learn I was once an arguably well-known rock ’n’ roll singer, at least regionally. It’s true! Before hanging up my microphone and doing a re-entry into earth’s orbit, I was a long-haired, glittery-vested screamer, who—along with a band I called “Naked Wilson” then “Riverboat” and later, “Philip Paul & Patrol”—drew packed houses, and spent more money than I ever made. Given the current economy, it seems some of us have come full circle!
I really am getting to the importance of having GREAT SYSTEMS—but, if you’ll indulge me, I think this walk down Memory Lane might give you a clearer picture of why I needed systems, eventually built them, and now tout them to others!
My trek to hoped stardom began in high school back in the ’70s—playing in a top-40 band for countless events and small nightclubs all over Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It was exciting times for a bunch of young guys facing the future without fear! Launching our new venture, we jumped in with big dreams of success and prosperity some day, with no clue about the BUSINESS of running a business—especially SHOW business!
REALITY soon set in, of course, and the tedium of packing, unpacking, setting up, tearing down, traveling in an old van, high gas prices, agent’s fees and cancelled dates—unpredictable events—often made our travels less than glamorous.
Everything our band did had to be voted on, even where we stopped to eat, what songs to play, who got to sing first, etc. Problem was, everyone wanted to be a “star,” but nobody wanted to do the work of the roadies we couldn’t yet afford.
You get more than four or five people in a band (or a small business?) with equal say, and you get four or five arguable opinions. As in any business, someone needed to step up and LEAD—be the “bad” guy! But, those were the days when I didn’t know a leader from a fishing lure, and there was a lot of disagreements and hurt egos—at times, we almost came to blows.
Many of our blowups happened at the end of a gig, when it was time to tear down the equipment (one homemade light tree, some well-worn speakers, and 40 miles of cable and duct tape that held it all together), and head for home.
I must admit, it was hard to pull away from the usual small group of stragglers (we called “our fans”) who flattered us with, “Great sound…sure to be ROCK STARS!” Now, that was a HIGH! The fact that we were covering other people’s music (you know, the REAL rock stars’ songs), even imitating their dress and best moves, never seemed to dim our big dreams.
Yes, I’m getting to the systems!
As I said, someone in the band had to lead—to insist we stop posing for snapshots and pack up the equipment. That “someone” turned out to be me, as I was the one who had attending school and a printing job to bring me back down to earth each day. I also owned— and generally drove—the van, so many times I was the spoiler of the band’s good times. The guys nicknamed me, “Bummer.” I suspect that’s how many employees see the boss!
Ultimately, I was elected the official band leader, since I not only booked our gigs, but also owned most of the equipment. Still, I had no real authority, other than my ONE vote. So, arguments continued to break out and someone was always threatening to quit.
Many times, I would just clam up and start loading equipment—usually, with only my big brother Billy. I didn’t want to lose any band members, and I felt responsible to those who had booked us, because I had sold them on how “great” we were—we would arrive on time and give them the best show (product) ever.
Is any of this beginning to sound vaguely familiar (Mr./Ms. Business Owner)?
Philip, what about the systems?
OK, then! One night, while driving home from one of those “glamorous” gigs (a frat house party in the un-air-conditioned basement of Mississippi State where many funsters spilled beer all over us and our equipment) as the rest of the “rock stars” snoozed in the back of the van, I did a lot of thinking!
I decided to call a meeting with the band the next Monday to resolve some of the issues we were having. A BIG one, of course, was the setting up and tearing down the equipment at each job.
Before the meeting, I made a detailed list of every piece of equipment we had, including things as small as an extension cord. After typing out my list, even down to detailing how things were packed and stored in the trailer, I made a few carbon copies on my 1970s IBM Selectric typewriter. Then I took the list and divided it up into five different lists, one for each band member. Each list included the items or equipment each member would be responsible for setting up and tearing down at our shows. I thought to add more items to my own list to prevent any arguments.
Aha, the real Philip is beginning to emerge—systems even for rock ’n’ roll!
At our meeting, I handed the lists out after a short speech on how, “If we work in a systematic fashion, we could tear down the equipment in half the time, and no one will be left pulling most of the load.”
They all agreed and, with a little tweaking, I distributed new lists at our very next show. Even I was amazed at how well it worked—we really did cut the time in half we spent handling our equipment. The band actually started getting along, and we even played better together. We had little turnover of members for the next decade, my credibility as bandleader went up, and we rock ’n’ rolled until 1988.
After creating that simple list (actually, a simple written system) worked so well, I started organizing other things to move our band forward. We expanded our territory, playing from New York to California, across Canada—even opening for BB King at Harrah’s in Nevada, at one point.
Some real organization (a.k.a. systemization) had helped us to give it our best shot, even in the MUSIC business. We were happy to have a record out in 1981 that netted us a mention in Billboard Magazine and got played by some 80 radio stations throughout the south. For us, that was big time, even if the record only DID sell a few hundred copies!
By the time I got MUSIC out of my system, I had found my REAL calling…
Did I mention? Great system work! Even for a Band from the Past!
Philip Beyer, founder/president of Ebiz Products LLC and founder of Beyer Printing Inc. in Nashville Tenn., is a chronic entrepreneur, business systems analyst and consultant. Author of "System Busters: How to Stop Them in Your Business" and recipient of an InterTech Technology Award for the design and development of System100 business process management software. Beyer speaks to business owners across the country on how to bring lean, sustainable order to their businesses. Contact him at (615) 425-2652.