Early in my career as a graphic designer, I worked for an Alpha Graphics copy shop in downtown Charlotte. I can’t tell you the number of logos, business cards and letterheads, I designed for various companies – new and established. It was fun at first – variation was cool – being creative with each new business was a thrill. Eventually the novelty of another logo became routine…I got excited when someone wanted a brochure or a maybe a flyer – OOOHH yeah a full page flyer…and yes soon flyers and brochures were boring…what I started to want and desire was to do it all for one company…THEN people would see my real talent! And then my boss would bring me another logo to design…meh.
In my many years of observing the music business, BANDS are like DESIGNERS. First, when a band starts playing together it’s mostly covers. Maybe someone in the band is a budding song writer and one or two original songs are written to mix in with the covers. Small engagements are booked – a coffee shop, bar or wedding and the covers and the one original become like the logos and brochures of the designer. Each hoping for, wanting and waiting for that BREAK, that one cover that is going to grab someone’s attention. That one brochure that’s going to get someone to say “Wow! You are good!”
I call this the principle of Rabbits and Elephants: “We live on rabbits to hunt elephants.”
It’s happened to me several times: Back at Alpha Graphics, I was churning through logos and letterheads as usual when a cool project crossed my desk to develop a multi-fold, odd cut brochure. It was for a company called Metasys. Their logo featured these sharp angular edges. The marketing director for the company wanted to match the angles of the logo with the brochure in someway.
So I worked with my production specialist and we developed a design, pitched it to the marketing director and by the time the brochure was printed, scored and delivered, the marketing director offered me a job. It felt like my BIG BREAK. Two weeks later I was lead designer in the marketing company for an 85 person software company. This was it! I had made it…
Yeah not so fast…I soon realized that I hadn’t “made it.” Yes, I had certainly stepped up from the copy shop and yes, I was doing some very cool things (like developing a cgi video in Macromedia Director on a WindowsNT environment…toootally cutting edge!) And I was still designing logos (product logos now) and brochures and flyers, now just for one company – wait…isn’t that what I wanted??? I began pining for that “next big break.”
Many bands do the same thing. Like designers, and even like entire companies, the desire for the next “big break” becomes this all too consuming churn. “If I could just land this huge deal, we will have made it.” Hunting the elephant becomes the focus.
After nearly 20 years as an entrepreneur (yes, I realized for me to get the next level, I wasn’t happy being a marketing designer, director…I wanted to run the whole company!), there IS NO BIG BREAK. There are only rabbits and elephants.
Think of your favorite band. What are they doing RIGHT this minute…touring? recording an album? maybe forming a new band? maybe producing? The point is they are doing something…at any given level of success there is always another level, another challenge, another “elephant” to hunt.
Over my own career and my study of “success” there is no “making it.” There is no magic Willey Wonka Golden Ticket. There is only the next level. And to achieve that next level you must “eat rabbits and hunt elephants.”
Rabbits are like the designer’s logos or brochures; the band’s covers and gigs; the small company’s first customers. These things – though mundane are what keep the lights on, pay the bills and sustain us while we are hunting the elephants. You can’t get the next level if you aren’t still hunting.
Elephants are the level ups. The project that gets you another higher level project. The brochure that leads to an advertising campaign; the song that gets you an opening act on a tour; the sales win for a company that opens a new business channel. And here’s an important point: once you land an elephant, you don’t hunt it again.
Success is not defined as landing that elephant. Success is defined by aiming for the next level and then the next and then the next ALL while sustaining for the next hunt – the next album, the next tour.
Bands that “make it” as defined by the industry are those that understand this – they keep producing…Actors, who “make it” understand this…company’s who make it understand this.
T.Boone Pickens says “When you are hunting Elephants, don’t get distracted by rabbits.”
That’s easy for a multi-millionaire to say who doesn’t want for a meal (metaphorically).
The rest of us need to eat and learning how to eat rabbits and hunt elephants with a cohesive strategy is how your band will level up and one day look back to say, “We made it.”