Since I started working 9-5 in the corporate world, one thing has resonated with me from the very beginning. In my role, I have always had multiple stakeholders that rely on me for information and they always want it immediately. At first I got bogged down trying to impress my masters by pushing myself to the limit to ensure that all their requests were fulfilled in a timely manner. As you can imagine, this approach was unsustainable and it wasn’t long before I was having to reevaluate things. I started noticing a trend after a while, people would come to me stating that they needed XYZ done or else hell would break loose, but when I delivered their requirements it always seemed as if the information wasn’t used with any urgency. This is when I learned the art of prioritisation and managing expectations. At first I would just prioritise by assessing each request received and applying an importance factor based on my understanding of the business and other determining factors. By prioritising my work, I relieved myself of a lot of stress and this in turn allowed me to improve the quality of my work. Unfortunately that didn’t eliminate the issue of my many stakeholders hassling me to no end even when it was clear that their requests were of a low priority. At this stage it became important for me to manage people’s expectations when they first raised requests for my assistance. Initially I would have to deal with a bit of push back, which would require me to remain firm in my position.
Eventually, I developed system that worked because I was able to prioritize and manage expectations in an efficient manner.
A musical perspective
As you can imagine, I have found that the art of prioritization and stakeholder management applies in the music space in many ways. Being a recording/performing artist, I interface with a variety of stakeholders that each have a unique, and mostly demanding, set of expectations. We have producers that expect a certain level of diligence once they have trusted you with their babies (beats/instrumentals). Then there’s promoters and venues that have their own expectations when it comes to gigs, they normally expect a certain level of professionalism especially in the lead up and on the day of an event. Having performed with DJs and live bands, each individual will bring their own demands and expectations of the main artist, that’s if you don’t have a music director. Being an independent artist for my entire career, I haven’t had the opportunity of working with a major label but I’m sure this also brings a certain weight of expectation along with it. All these stakeholders’ expectations pale in importance to those of the most critical stakeholder in a musicians career, the fans. Once a person dedicates their time into your brand, and invest financially and emotionally into your music, it only becomes fair that they demand the best from you. As you can see it is important to ensure that you do the most to keep all these stakeholders happy without burning yourself out in the process.
Keeping your priorities in check
A musician’s timetable is generally cyclical. When working on a project, most time is spent in studios or writing. Once a project is complete, or nearing completion, the release/promo cycle kicks in. In this phase more time is spent liaising with media outlets and various sources that help to disseminate the music. Then there’s the touring cycle, which is when the artist travels to different cities/countries performing their music to their adoring fans. As you would expect, each cycle brings about its own set of challenges and requirements and it is important for the artist, and their management to prioritise them accordingly. When working on projects, you may have multiple songs on the go with different producers, some songs having other artists featured. Without a plan of action, or list of priorities, things can get out hand and you may find yourself losing track of where the project is heading. The same is true for the release/promo cycle. It is important to have a checklist of all the outlets you intend to approach, and prioritise these in terms of important in relation to your brand. You guessed it, this remains true for a touring cycle. When preparing for a tour, and during the tour, it’s important to stay on top of everything from travel arrangements, to accomodation, right down to transport to and from venues. If you work as part of a team, as I do, it’s also important to share the responsibility around to avoid burnout for yourself or other team members. All things considered, having a plan in place and prioritising the different aspects of that plan accordingly will help eliminate a significant amount of stress regardless of the cycle you’re currently in. Sometimes these cycles intersect, so it’s also important to be able to prioritise in such situations without losing sight of the big picture.
When expectations loom large – Manage them
Regardless of the cycle a artist finds themselves in, they will undoubtedly find themselves under a huge mass of expectations. When working on a body of work with multiple producers and collaborating artists, it is always important to clearly communicate priorities to relevant parties. If a song you’re working on with “producer X” is not high on your priority list, it may be beneficial to say “Hey I have a couple of songs that are in progress at the moment, so I may not be able to work on your track until I finish the other ones…I’m really vibing to your beat though and I’m defo gonna get to it soon”. It’s always good to make sure they know that their song is important even though it may not be high up your priority list. Communication is also very important when promoting projects and setting up release runs. Media outlets, blogs, playlisters etc will often need ample notification before you need your music covered, and they will often request information from you. It is essential to be prompt in responding, and even when you don’t have the information handy, it’s important to let them know that you are in the process of sourcing this info.Remember to always give timelines when possible. The same is true when touring, communication is essential in ensuring that you the artist, the promoters, and the venues are all on the same page. When you suffer a setback, it’s important to let everyone involved know so that there are no unpleasant surprises. Finally, throughout the process the fans should always be in the know with regards to important information, and once information is in the public domain it’s critical to keep fans up to date with any changes that may arise. Doing this prevents so much heartache and disgruntled fans down the track.