OT: a lesson on customers from the restaurant business

One trick I offer up to songwriters experiencing writer’s block is to try composing on another instrument (preferably one you don’t know how to play very well); if you’re a guitar player, for example, pick up that banjo that you don’t know how to play and see if you can write a song.

There’s something about forcing yourself to approach what you do from a different perspective that seems to get the creativity flowing.

This is not limited to songwriting. I think it’s imperative that those of us who are involved in the music business look to other disciplines to see different approaches; clearly the approaches we’re currently familiar with ain’t working that well.

To wit, I really enjoyed reading this post on customer knowledge.

I’ve never really understood why most artists don’t take the time to “mingle” with their fans at shows; particularly when you know that somewhere in America at some point in the evening, Willie Nelson will invite all comers into the musky-scented confines of his tour bus and talk to them.

It’s not just about creating a bond with customers, though, of course, this is crucial. It’s also about knowing and understanding your customers. They can’t be seen as generalities – some kind of amorphous blob who you sort of understand. Rather, you need to really understand what is making this person part with her money and time to come see you play/buy your music.

The post’s author talks about his father, a restaurant manager who understood:

It turned out that my dad had the most important job in the place. His endless conversations with patrons clued him into changes he needed to make on the menu. He was quickly able to comp a round of drinks if customers received slow service, nipping their frustration in the bud. They would often tell him how they’d heard about the restaurant, and possibly mention an upcoming party they were planning and did the restaurant do banquets?

This, of course, applies to artists, but also to anyone in the music business. If you’re running a label, get out there and talk to those who are buying your records.

And, as the author points out, it doesn’t work if you’re not approaching it genuinely:

It didn’t work when somebody less engaged tried it. The restaurant had an artless manager who tried to do the rounds, but rarely got further than – How is your meal? – before moving on. My dad actually enjoyed breaking bread with his customers – they were guests in his house. And it was largely due to this deep sense of connection, the fact that customers felt listened to (and entertained), that kept the restaurant in business for sixty years.

So often when we start out in the music business, all we really have is passion (the connections and capital comes later), and so you must leverage that passion, and become an evangelist. It’s true in the restaurant business. It’s true in every business…including the music business.

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