Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Music as sport

I find that I often think of managing a band in sports terminology. Like, the same way a coach motivates his team, this can be used to motivate your bandmates. The same way a coach (if he's a good one) always talks about taking everything to the next level and accomplishing that ultimate goal (and furthermore, declaring everything is moot if the goal isn't achieved), I find myself thinking that way about a band's track. Which is kind of unfortunate if you think about it, because it means you never dwell on small successes and are perpetually discontented or anxious. Though that sounds it a bit overblow. Either way, I guess you could say that I'm as inspired by Avery Johnson as I am by Neil Young, albeit in different ways.

One thing about Johnson though is that when he was a freshman coach of the Dallas Mavericks (a freshman coach who inevitably took his team to the Finals for the first time -- yeah, he was a really good freshman coach), he tended to focus on what went wrong during a game's course, rather than issuing any praise for his player's efforts. Even after wins, he'd talk about botched defensive sets during the post-game interview. This is probably due to the same reasoning I have: There's always room for improvement. However, as an avid Mavericks fan and sports reader (though I don't like pretty much everything else), I've noticed that in his second season, after the humbling loss of four straight games in the Finals after holding a 2-0 lead, Johnson has loosened up in his quotes. Suddenly, he has praise where praise previously wasn't found. And his team is playing well -- really well. Best record in the NBA. So, here's my theory (and follow me here, because this relates to music eventually): In his first season, Johnson had to establish his place with the team and make a statement that he expects the very best out of them. In order to do so, he was a little harsh sometimes -- ignoring the positive and focusing solely on what could be better. A lapse in defense. A moment when the player's focus drifted from the game. In order to win a championship, he drilled it into his team that they needed to all be on the same page, and he did so with brute force. But now, his team knows. They're playing with a chip on their shoulder after losing their grip on the Finals last year, so he hardly needs to motivate them anymore. And now he can now give them hell occasionally, but also reinforce the positive. See what I mean?

Well, being in a band, this analogy doesn't stretch all the way across the spectrum but it does relate in a lot of ways. For one, if you're going to be the primary motivator of a group of people, you need to make sure everyone has the same goal. More importantly, you need them to believe that that goal is rational, even if outsiders doubt it. When Avery Johnson took over the Mavericks with 16 games to go in the season two years ago, he immediately declared the Mavericks could win a championship -- not next year, but now. Everyone ridiculed him. But guess what? They almost did. The next year, they got even closer. And this year, they are nearly every sportswriter's pick for the title. But belief has to come from within before it can be reasonable to those outside. This is something I tried to establish very early on in the band.

I recall having a conversation with Matt during the recording of "Whitewash The Blues" and he told me that he thought our songs were good, the musicianship and chemistry was good, but that he couldn't really foresee any real commercial success. All I asked for was faith. And depending on your definition of commercial success, I doubt anyone would say we've achieved that goal on a large scale yet, but most people who know us probably don't think it sounds totally ridiculous anymore. But that belief came from within first. Today, I believe Matt has a totally different perspective on the band where he not only believes we can accomplish great things, but expects it. That's exactly the way it should be. And it's a testament to Matt's personality and character that he was able to perceive the change and welcome it. In fact, not to go off on a Matt-love-fest too much, but one of my favorite things about the chap is his ability to adapt. By all reasonable standards, Matt could have given up many times by now or just said we aren't his style. But alas, he remains, and we're a much better band because of him.

Another thing coaches preach is knowing your betters. The Mavericks archrival is, has been, and will be, the San Antonio Spurs. Johnson made it clear last year that the Mavericks would not be an "elite" team until they conquered an elite team. Which they did in the 2006 Western Conference semifinals, in epic fashion. What I'm saying here is that you have to have confidence, but more importantly, you must have humility, too. You have to know deep down that everyone around you is all competing for resources (an NBA title, an audience). In music, we can help each other sometimes (and should), but much of the time, it feels as though it's every band for itself. And when the majority of your time in a band is spent telling people how great you are, writing bios that make you out to be the best thing since sliced bread, and building your own myth -- for instance, Oasis says that "if you tell enough people you're the greatest band in the world, eventually some people are going to believe it" -- deep down, no matter how far you go and how great people say you are, you must also know that you're not the best. Cassavettes won't be the Beatles. We're lucky if we ever come close to being 1/100 of the band the Beatles were. That fraction may even be a bit too generous. So, while it's good to advance your career by advertising yourself as the next big thing (everyone does it, just as they should, and if they don't, they're a fool), you can't get too caught up in believing it. In short, don't believe your own myth. Otherwise, you're nothing more than an asshole. And no one wants to be an asshole, right? So, know your betters, know your competition, but also know who you really are (cheesy as it sounds) and, unlike basketball, be helpful to other groups. Remember what people have done for you, and keep your head on straight. If your ego inflates just because your band's reputation has, then pretty soon both your ego and your band are due to pop like a balloon. Having steady confidence, but more humility is the best route in my mind.

Now, obviously Cassavettes' accomplishments are pretty modest in the grand scheme of things so you may perceive those preceding lines of advice as total balogna. That's fine. But through adherence to these principles pulled from sports, we have exceeded even my own lofty expecations. And that's not only due to this structure -- that's due to the fellas in the band knowing what they want and going after it. We're all working for the same goal. All pushing for that next tier. And not to be an asshole about this, but honestly, it's only a matter of time before we get there. I think we have the right confidence and belief.


Anonymous scott jones said...

DUDE this is crazy; i often think about the band in terms of the dallas mavericks, too. only privately in my own brain. crazed.

11 January, 2007 22:45  

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