Herding Cats & Horses

If you figure out how to manage an eight piece international band, please let me know. In the meantime, I’m going to be fumbling along, writing blog posts about my failures, and hoping to learn some valuable lessons along the way.

THE THING ABOUT A BIG BAND

Being a part of a big band is great. We’re actually eight players with two dancers, so really there are 10 of us on a good night. My band is my family. We spend more time together than we spend with anyone else. We’re also a democracy. My husband and I take on the role of the parents, and everyone has a voice.

Band wives are part of the deal too. When you play music with awesome human beings, chances are they come with additional awesome human beings. It’s never lost on me that my husband and I are lucky to be in the band together, where we spend so much of our time.

In our band, we love love, and we try to respect everyone else’s time with their “love lemonades.” We’re thankful for the band wives for their sacrifices and support, so we include them as much as possible. We keep a band line of communication going at all times for the boring technical stuff, and put everything else in the “Band Family” chat so that everyone can stay in the loop. We have five band wives and a band hubby. One of the band wives is also one of our dancers, so that works out well. We took them along on our last “tourcation” in Europe, and it was magical. When you think about it, everyone could use a handler, and they were our built in super fans, so it was awesome having them along.

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One of the hardest things about managing a large band is setting goals. Think of how difficult it is to agree on goals as a couple. Now think about how difficult it is to agree on roadmaps as a company. Now add both of those together, multiply by eight, and then add the factor that there’s no money in music. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

Everyone can agree on short term goals, but long term goals get a bit tricky. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that my husband and I are on a four year plan to leave the office and take the plunge into playing music full-time. It took us a long time and a lot of soul searching to reach this decision, and even though we’re determined, we’re still scared as hell.

The other guys are invested, but they have the difficult task of convincing themselves AND their significant others that this crazy music shit is ultimately the right thing to do. Some of them own homes. Others have day jobs they love. Some want babies one day. There are a lot of factors at play here.

It’s helpful that Kevin and I have decided on a plan and have shown transparency. This way, everyone knows what to work toward if they want it. Several of the significant others have really warmed up to the idea of touring, and we’re thinking of ways to employ their skills on the road.

In the meantime, we’re just going to focus on the short term goals and grow as much as we can each year as a team. We want to be ready to not only transition into full-time musicianship in four years, but be ready to jump on any opportunity that comes up before that. Whatever the future holds, we’ve got to be prepared. As many of us who can be available when that time comes, the stronger we’ll be.

THE THING ABOUT AN INTERNATIONAL BAND

Being in an international band is great. I honestly can’t imagine it any other way. The inspiration behind our music literally comes from every corner of the globe. Our family of creatives hails from Bosnia, Chicago, Baltimore, Nashville, as far west as Montana, as far south as Mexico, and as far east as China. We all humbly study the legends of Afrobeat, and we all find inspiration in the flamenco greats of Spain. We plan on traveling the world together, and we’ve already got a few stamps on the ol’ passports together.

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Being a band of immigrants is priceless. Except for it has its prices. We’re currently limited on how often we can practice or play shows due to immigration statuses and border problems. One of our bandmates must reside in Mexico until he can sort out his visa. One of our band wives couldn’t join us in Europe because it could stand in the way of her long hard fought battle for U.S. citizenship. (She got it!) Basically, our immigration laws are awful and they definitely weigh on us daily. Our band is a conglomerate of various immigration statuses, and it’s a pain in the ass, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Remember that immigrants can spend decades jumping through hoops to get their citizenship. Give them mad respect. They deserve it.

Another thing about being in a band of immigrants is that you don’t always understand each other. I’m not just talking about when someone starts free-styling in their native tongue.

There are the funny mishaps like when our Chinese violin player doesn’t get the blatant sexual innuendos in our songs. But there are also the sensitive mishaps like when you act a way that doesn’t culturally translate, and you end up offending someone. What’s funny in the U.S. may not be funny in Bosnia. Two of our band mates grew up in communist countries (yes, these dudes old AF) and see things in a slightly different light at times. The best way to deal with these situations is by recognizing patterns over time and being respectful. When your band is your family, it’s worth investing the extra effort to make sure everyone feels loved and heard.

HORSES + WIGS + TURDS + TREES

One of the best lessons I’ve learned about band management is actually from our most recent music video shoot. We were doing a spaghetti western with one of our funky new disco tunes, and so we shot the first half of the day on a horse farm.

To quote Andre 3000, “You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.”

Holy moly, was this day a doozy. We had originally scheduled the shoot for Saturday, but one band mate was in South Korea, another was in Mexico, and I’m pretty sure another was in Stockholm (this is my life, y’all), so I had to switch everything up and reschedule. I moved it to Sunday – the coldest day of the year.

They say “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait a minute.” Ain’t that the truth. Saturday was mild and calm, and Sunday was a mix of rain, sleet, and snow with 15 mph winds. This is a rare treat in Texas, since it snows about once every winter.

So the thing about planning an outdoor video shoot in Texas is that you can pretty much bank on it being warm without a cloud in the sky. You can also pretty much bank on there not being much wind to speak of. So, you spend a month planning your wardrobes around those expectations. I bought a new custom wig from a local purveyor, and selected the perfect lace dress to be paired with a thin bodysuit underneath. It was topped off with a feather hat, which was fastened to the front of the wig. The wind wreaked havoc on my entire ensemble.

Riding horses was a tricky situation for our almost entirely novice crew, and probably a poor choice considering everything we had to accomplish during our 11 hour shoot. The entire band had to take lessons in the freezing wind, and as it turns out, horses trip balls in the wind.

Nonetheless, we had a fantastic trainer who made sure we all knew the ropes. One of the important disclaimers she drilled into us was that while we could choose to not wear protective head gear, we would not be able to wear some of our costume head wear due to the wind. Turns out, when something blows off your head, the horses get spooked and go nuts. At that point, if one of your band mates gets hurt, it’s your ass on the line for wearing the dumb hat. I was bummed that some of my guys would have to sacrifice parts of their costumes, but I found consolation in the fact that my wig was fit and my headpiece was securely fastened. At least I would look great trotting across the ranch on my little horse, Apache.

The thing about Apache is that he didn’t always go where I wanted him to. In fact, he had a fondness for cutting corners, and running me into tree branches. I’d try to duck in time to avoid disaster, but at one point the wind was so bad that I didn’t see the branch in front of me, and it took my entire new wig off my head.. little feather hat and all!

My first instinct was to get Apache untangled from the branches himself. As soon as I got us to a safe place, I immediately became mortified that my beautiful new $100 wig was swinging from a tree, and my dainty feather hat was nestled in a pile of turds on the ground. That was nothing compared to the drama to come next.

Just moments later, Kai’s horse came up on the tree and started to freak out over the menacing wig, which was dancing around like a rainbow maniac on the tree branch in front of him. It looked like a strange feathered octopus… something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. The horse went wild, and Kai started yelling. This freaked him out even more. I thought “oh, fuck.. My wig is going to kill my violin player. I’m going to kill Kai. fuck… fuck.. fuck…”

Our trainer coached us through the situation and scolded Kai for yelling, as it further upset the horse. At the end of the day everyone lived.

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FROM THIS SITUATION

I learned that I cannot be a control freak. You can spend months planning the perfect music video, organizing all of your vendors and the budget, and drawing out every detail on the storyboard. You can’t control the weather. You can’t control your wig. And you sure AF can’t control a horse. Be humble, be flexible, do your best with the cards you’re dealt, and show some grace.

Kai learned not to get heated when I screw up.. When you have the whole world on your shoulders, it’s easy to make mistakes. It doesn’t help when you’re constantly scolded for them, especially when nobody is there offering to help us to avoid them.

The rest of the band learned to keep their damn calendars up to date. If we hadn’t had to reschedule for the next day at the last minute, we could have probably shot on a beautiful Austin day and avoided the near-frostbitten drama altogether. Or maybe the weather that day would have sucked too, and we would have still had to roll with some punches.

Despite all of our challenges, the video turned out great and we actually had a lot of fun. We all came down with colds, but we got hours of footage that we’re all really proud of, and we can’t wait to see edited.

AT THE END OF THE DAY

Our big ass international band plays together and stays together because of a few secrets to success we’ve learned over the years.

  1. Respect
  2. Forgiveness
  3. Understanding
  4. Compassionate leadership
  5. Mutual investment in the product
  6. Admiration for each other’s talents
  7. A calendar that’s thorough and updated AF
  8. A desire to constantly be teaching and learning from each other
  9. Communication. Communication. Communication. And more communication.

For more on our band, our wild backgrounds, and our love for each other, check out this recent interview with Rhythm and Tone. Please visit our website for news on our upcoming video and album releases.

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