Giving It “The Austin Effort” – Part 3

THE JUGGLING ACT (We’re Overextended)

What’s one more ball?

So far in this mini-series of entries, I’ve rambled about our seeming city-wide disconnect from the concept of getting-out-of-it-what-you-put-into-it and at length about the price of Austin’s unending stream of fun things to do.It’s easy to overextend ourselves with all that activity.   In 2000, an acquaintance I’d known for some time told me that he never said no to any opportunity.  I found that inspiring and admirable at the time.  I didn’t realize that he was just one of many students in the Austin School of Juggling Too Many Things.

How often have you over committed and under delivered – or even dropped the ball?  I’ve done both more than I’d like to admit.

Physics dictates that we can’t be in more than one place at a time.  Nonetheless, we try to defy that principle here in Austin.  We’re overbooked.   Here’s how The Juggling Act affects the The Ass Equation from two posts back:

Time + Skills + Willingness – Life  =  Your Ass / # of commitments

The Juggling Act is just another factor diminishing Your Ass – the ability, willingness and skill to do any given thing well.

We think we can juggle all these commitments indefinitely.  But with so many commitments up in the air,  there’s no time to focus on any one of them and do a good job – no way to give a full-assed effort.  Like a real juggling act, we only touch each ball for a second before its back up in the air.  Eventually, we have to drop a ball and when we do, we drop the ball for everyone committed to that activity.

Here’s the best example I’ve lived with regard to individual The Juggling Acts:

Years ago, The Invincible Czars were offered a decent paying silent movie gig for special event in DFW – I’d worked hard with our booking agent at the time to make it happen.  Unfortunately, my other band booked a high paying party for the same night in Austin.   Both were good gigs.  I had to say no to one – but which one?   Throw away my work on the Czars gig or prevent the other band from earning money?

I wasn’t the only Invincible Czar juggling – in addition to my conflict, another Czar also received a separate gig offer from one his other bands (yes, that’s plural).  The silent movie also landed on an important birthday for yet another one of our members (he wasn’t juggling, it was just bad timing).

Sounds like we should’ve just bailed on the silent movie, doesn’t it?

Well, we’d been working on breaking our silent film shows out of Austin and Houston and this opportunity wasn’t going to cost us anything – it was going to pay us and it wasn’t going to happen again.  Turning it down seemed incongruent with our goals.  Plus at least 2 people in the band didn’t have conflicts and were ready to take this step toward our goal.  Their Juggling Acts were in check.

My band with the party gig was not happy when I dropped the ball on them.  Lucky for me, the birthday Czar chose to do the movie.  He was in hot water for weeks, though.   I hope we and he have sufficiently made up for it.  The guy with the other gig offer wound up taking that other gig.  He was (is) one of the best jugglers I know – but even he couldn’t be in two places on the same night and we had to get a stand-in to learn that whole silent film.  Tall order.

Mismatched, unidentified, uncommunicated and especially suddenly-realized priorities cause scheduling crises like this ALL THE TIME IN AUSTIN because every waking hour is booked with various activities in a competition to be the renaissance (wo)man of renaissance (wo)men!  I think everyone in this town wants to be Max Fischer.

Not only does The Juggling Act affect our own experience, it affects those around us!

I’d like to delve deeper into this DFW story but I want to state that I’m not mad, nor was I mad at the guy who took his other band’s gig.  We are still friends and brothers in rock.

He was constantly juggling multiple bands that were always on each others’ heels with regard to booking.  As Invincible Czars shows got more complex, they took longer to confirm and this made his Juggling Act tougher.

(Clubs can be easy and quick to book once you know the standard deal and the talent buyer.   “4 bands on the bill, start at 10, no one gets paid jack-shit” is pretty easy.  I was in new territory:  having to UNDERSTAND some complex written agreements, learning to identify/communicate our needs effectively and knowing the right questions to ask.  I’m still learning.)

Three weeks prior to the date, the silent movie venue still hadn’t confirmed 100% and his other band was pressuring him.  After another week, I told him to just take their gig.  He did and, of course, 2 days later, we confirmed in DFW.  I wasn’t mad – after all, I told him to take it.

However, I wish I could say that it was no big deal.   In retrospect, I think even he will agree.  The silent movie gig was an effort to move the Czars toward our goal of playing better venues and more unique shows.  Sure, that one show didn’t move us from playing to furniture at Room 710 to playing a sold out Alamo Drafthouse in one night but it was a significant step in the right direction. Those steps add up.  Not to mention that it paid each of the Czars nearly double what his whole other band made that night.  To mix metaphors, when it came time for the Czars to get out and push, his Juggling Act prevented him from taking that step with us.

My other band felt the same way about me.  They just cancelled their gig altogether.  I wasn’t in that band much longer and he wasn’t in the Czars much longer.   When you drop a ball, they know it and you know it.  Unless you do something BIG to regain their faith, there’s no reason to pick the ball back up.

In Austin, we want the luxury of being able to choose from a million  opportunities at any given moment – but like Max Fischer, there’s no time to do any of them particularly well.  By doing this, we prioritize variety over excellence – quantity over quality.

Some will argue that it’s good to be well rounded by all that variety.  Sure — but this isn’t an ability thing, it’s a time thing.  Even the most well rounded or most specialized performers can only be in one place at a time.

If excellence is your goal, why juggle the duties of another band?  We all know why – because it’s more fun to play gigs with band #2 than to hang flyers for band #1 – and it FEELS like we’re making progress when we perform, doesn’t it?  But it’s a game of diminishing returns — all we’re doing is adding a ball to our Juggling Act — and probably one that’s just going to be dropped or cause another to be dropped.

I’m not saying I think people should stop playing in multiple bands.  I am saying that sometimes I see good bands operating at the mercy of the individual members’ mediocre side projects.  It seems like this problem could be solved if we’d just clarify what our commitment level really is to ourselves and each other before we add a ball to our Juggling Act.

Usually that doesn’t happen, though, until there’s a gig conflict.

I’m also saying that overextension wastes individual time, money and resources.  I knew a guy who played in multiple bands and they all practiced on Sundays.  He spent more time on Sundays loading/unloading his gear and driving around Austin than actually playing music.  He was going the extra mile (literally!) only to find himself a mile from where he wanted to be – loading his gear more than he played it!

 

In conclusion, I personally believe that The Juggling Act is the biggest cause of rampant Austin Effort (half assedness) because I’ve lived it. My own Juggling Act was pretty amazing for years, but all it did was make me and everything I did mediocre – hardly worth experiencing.  I still kick myself at least weekly over this.

I’ve been working to reduce the number of balls I juggle and make sure that the ones I am juggling REALLY matter to me.   As cold as it may seem to some, it also helps to me know the order in which I will drop them when/if it becomes necessary (and it always does).  I also endeavor to clearly communicate that sort of thing to other people involved.

 
 

Giving it “The Austin Effort” – Part 2

acl shot

How can your event or show compete with this? Think hard.

AUSTIN’S JAM PACKED EVENTS CALENDAR

Last time I wrote about Small Asses – or not having enough time/energy/skills/willingness to dedicate to your creative pursuits and how that leads to half-assed efforts.

This time I’m going to ruminate on something that’s not in any individual’s control – Austin’s ever growing event calendar.   Even if you’re making full-assed attempts, we are all operating at the mercy of Austin’s relentless schedule of activities.

As a citizen, it’s fun to be in a town where there’s always something happening!   It’s not just music. Outdoor activities, parties, art and film festivals, athletic events, mixers, educational seminars, conferences, etc.  Some of them are huge and if you’re trying to promote your own event, competing with the established stuff is nigh impossible – like SxSW or ACL.

I don’t want all that fun stuff to go away… but no one can possibly attend even half of what Austin offers.  To say Austin is saturated with fun events is an understatement – we’re overflowing!  It’s really easy to justify giving a half assed effort when you realize you’re competing with something bigger and that your BEST full assed effort won’t help.

So what to do?  Plan ahead?  Sure!  Looking at a calendar of the entire year, it seems easy enough to work around these events if you just plan ahead – you’ve got 365 whole days afterall.  No sweat.  All you have to do is choose a weekend date that’s not

  • during or right after the holidays (late Nov – early/mid Jan)
  • right before, during or right after SxSW (most of March)
  • during Texas Relays (April)
  • during the ROT Rally (June)
  • during Pecan Street (May and Sept)
  • during Fusebox (mid-May)
  • during finals/graduation (end of May)
  • on the night of a UT football game (various nights Sept – Nov)
  • on an outdoor holiday weekend where everyone’s too worn out from being at the lake (Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. )
  • during ACL or any other nearby music festival (Oct)
  • on Halloween when every single band in Austin is playing a show (late Oct)
  • on any important birthdays, vacations, anniversaries, etc.  for you or your band mates
  • on the same night as a band that will draw your audience  (road act or another local act)

:S

A closer look at the calendar reveals that everyone is competing for the best of the relatively few dates not already taken up by other events.  It seems like no matter what date you choose, SOMETHING good that you’re not aware of will already be scheduled on that date.

Add to that the fact that so much is going on, no one can remember when any of it is actually happening.  The most recently mentioned/promoted event usually wins.  It’s fresher on people’s mind because they’ve already been bombarded with promotion for all the other events also happening that weekend.   This happens to me all the time – oh yeah… I was gonna go to that but I wound up at that other thing.  Drat!

(Additionally, the more in-the-moment the person, the more likely they are to go to whatever is the most exciting thing they’ve JUST heard about — that really cool show they heard about last week is already old news.)

I guess this is good for attendees… lots of options!  That is until we (the event makers) all drop our quality because we adopt a “why bother?” mentality.  (This applies to venues, too.  Why bother to make our venue sound good when no one else does?  Let’s just do the bare minimum to get people to come in and drink so we can recoup the inheritance money we’re losing from opening the club in the first place.)

Sometimes I think all those options are actually overwhelming for attendees, too.  This coming weekend Invincible Czars are playing a silent movie at 8:00 at Bob Bullock, Bee Vs. Moth is playing a show from 10:00-1:00 at Carousel Lounge, Opposite Day is at Hole in the Wall with other good bands from at 10:00-2:00, Churchwood is playing a big benefit with Horsies at from 10:00-2:00 at the ND.  All these bands share a big crossover of audients.  Which in the hell one should anyone go to?

PLUS – everyone gets worn out.  Half the time I think people want and even plan to go to stuff but they fall ill (probably from the non-stop partying and lack of sleep) or are just worn out and need a night off.

As I said, it’s easy to give a half-assed effort in these situations and I’m as guilty as anyone of losing steam in the face of overwhelming competition.   Why waste time and energy promoting or even preparing for a gig you feel certain won’t be well attended anyway?

The answer is that all this competition drives us all to be better (musically and otherwise) and to operate smarter.  (I’ll write more about operating smarter another time but it doesn’t take hiring a think tank to come up with a few ideas to try to get people to show up or to try to cooperate with other acts.  Some stupidly easy stuff works – “free beer!”   Sadly, some difficult and meaningful stuff usually doesn’t  – “debuting a new song tonight!”)

Once I stopped worrying (though I haven’t stopped complaining) about all the overlapping shows, I started making our shows better and bigger than they had been – more memorable and special.   Part of that has simply been playing less in Austin.  Many of my peers decry this as a step backwards and I’ll admit that I haven’t seen much of a change here in Austin – we still draw about the same number of people.   BUT, our shows have been bigger in scope and I have noticed growth and recognition outside of town.   Plus my own experience has been enhanced – I enjoyed playing at/dealing with the Scottish Rite Theater more than any club.

Back to the point, scheduling around Austin activities is tough and it’s easy the see why half assed efforts abound when we feel overwhelmed.  However, Austin’s glut of fun activities and opportunities leads to an even bigger and more annoying issue –  over extension/over commitment which I’ll write about in Part 3.

Giving it “The Austin Effort” – PART 1

(Half The Ass Isn’t Enough)

Even with an ass this big, I still have to give it all just keep up…

There was (is?) a sign out by Austin Bergstrom Int’l Airport that read(s) something like “Welcome to Austin: City of Ideas”.  Austin really is a city of ideas and that’s what makes it so appealing to creative people.  We’re a town full of big ideas!  I love it!

The problem is that we don’t seem to be as much a town of doers.  Of the multitude of great ideas generated, very few are executed very well (or at all in some cases).   I call this poor execution “The Austin Effort”.

When I say that someone is giving it the Austin Effort, I mean it’s half assed – or less.  I don’t mean it’s good enough, I mean it’s barely passable.  This problem is so rampant that even the go-getters have had to learn to accept it — Graham Reynolds has joked before that the better the player, the later they show up.   (I was an exception for Graham – both tardy and mediocre.)

Graham Reynolds – Giving It the Connecticut Effort!

Of course, since the end result of the Austin Effort is less than remarkable, our half-assed idea goes unnoticed and it’s back to the drawing board to drum up some new ideas to flush down the toilet.  It’s a never ending cycle until someone makes a conscious effort to break out of it.

We have great ideas but it’s almost as if only the easy-to-latch-onto, fun ones actually go much of anywhere in Austin.

Why?  Mostly I think it’s a misalignment of our actions with our priorities – or a failure to prioritize in the first place.  Some of it is just that Austin attracts slackers.   In the next few posts I’ll describe what I mean.  For now, I’ll start with…

 

SMALL ASSES – (“Half Assed” is worse when “Full Ass” isn’t much)

When I talk about Your Ass in this post, I mean someone’s ability to realize ideas – to do or finish something.  We only have so much ass to give because we all have to eat, sleep and breathe.    Check out The Ass Equation:

Time + Skills + Willingness – Life =  Your Ass

If my equation is correct, you have to either increase Time, Skills and Willingness and/or get less of a life if you want Your Ass (your ability to do something) to grow.

Austin’s full of people with big lives and small asses.  Our time, skills, willingness (this is so important) are often not great enough to overcome the realities of our day to day lives.

A friend recently asked me about finding time to practice since most Austin musicians only “rehearse with the band” (another maddening phenomenon).  I found an article that basically advised prioritizing your practicing DAILY.   Set aside time, keep your stuff set up, set goals, etc.  The response was – but I have all these other things I’m doing in my life, how can I possibly do that?

Well…  if you prioritize those things over your practicing, what do you expect?  If you have a great day job in profession you love, are working on a degree in an unrelated field, have a marriage, kids…  Your Ass is already theirs!   If all that’s happening, you’d be lucky to even give a Quarter Assed effort!

If you want to give more than a half-assed effort toward your music, realign your actions with that priority.  I want to write more about priorities but I want to address something else before going further with that.

NEXT TIME – Scheduling is Tough In Austin (because there’re a million cool things happening all the time, all at once!)