7 ways being in a cover band helped me to become more enterprising

Enterprise Club’s Johnny Dixon interviews Patrick, a current student at The University of Manchester and ex-member of ‘Nine Mile River’ about how the band gained some success in playing events and the enterprise knowledge he has taken from it.

Enterprise is not just about starting a business, it’s about developing skills whilst doing something you love.

Patrick is a second year law student at The University of Manchester, having previously studied Enterprise at St Francis Xavier University in Canada. Whilst having a wealth of theoretical business knowledge centred around small business management, finance and marketing, it wasn’t until he came to Manchester that he really reflected on how his time in covers band ‘Nine Mile River’ developed his enterprise skills.

Johnny from Enterprise Club sat down with Patrick to learn more about his experiences as a musician and how it helped him to develop his enterprise skills.

Do your research

Whilst studying in Canada, Patrick, alongside his two brothers and a family friend, started performing with their covers band at open mic nights and in pubs around campus. Although payments for this only really covered bus fares, the band were able to have a good time on stage playing the songs they liked.

Nine Mile River wanted to secure more regular shows (and more money!) so they looked at what other bands were doing and conducted some market research. Not only did they see what other people were doing well, they also saw what they were getting wrong. This led to them adopting a new professional appearance and attitude that helped them to get booked at corporate events and weddings.

Pat explained that market research can sound scary because “people look at how huge companies like Apple conduct their market research but don’t realise that, as a student, that isn’t where you should be looking. If you look at your peers and people doing the same thing as you, you can see what’s working for them and what isn’t and you can adapt your venture in line with this. Just go and talk to people and find out what they do and what works for them.”

Take it seriously

A lot of people don’t realise that their hobbies can become a nice source of income, Patrick told us that “by simply taking some time to think about how to monetise a hobby or expand a small revenue stream, you can really set yourself up nicely! You just need to take it seriously. Put some time in.”

Find your audience and tailor to them

Patrick and the band knew that their music taste isn’t for everyone and that some crowds just won’t be into what you’re playing. By identifying this potential obstacle to growth, they were able to adapt and overcome it by expanding their potential set-lists and choosing what to play next based on audience reactions. This is what enterprise is all about: being self-motivated and resilient enough to be faced by problems and to find simple, innovative ways to overcome them.

“We had four set-lists: country, top-40, rock and crowd-pleasers, and we’d see what was working on the night. We learnt to change what we were playing depending on how the crowd were reacting and who was watching us perform. This really helped us to stop having many tough nights.”

Assess risks, reap rewards

Patrick’s business mind-set was engaged when trying to grow the reach of the band. He explained this in simple terms as a risk vs. reward assessment. “We started in the university scene, expanding into small towns that had an older demographic could be quite risky. Although we’d try to share the risk (covering costs) of a dead night with the bar as much as possible, there was a lot of risk of us going down and either a) people didn’t like it or b) people didn’t even show up. Sometimes we’d go to places where we knew there was a cover band scene but the pub didn’t want to risk a bad night. For nights like these we wouldn’t have any guarantees and simply take what the door made. When you’ve got 3/4 hours of driving worth of gas costs plus equipment rentals and hotels, the risk can be quite high.

Expanding could be stressful at times but we knew we could either stay comfortable and work the markets that we knew well or we could try to expand and push for more money and more shows but also maybe fail and lose money straight from our pockets. “

Make the most of the University environment

The perfect time to start an enterprise of any form is whilst studying at university. Patrick told us how talking to business minded academics helped them to identify potential for growth of the band, and how the university ecosystem helps provides a willing audience and a chance to take risks and make mistakes. He told us that “being around people with business mind-sets helps you to shape your own understanding of how businesses work, and this helped us to grow the band without us really realising. I think this is important because people might not realise that something like joining a society can really help you to develop your ideas with like-minded people whilst you’re having fun.

When you’re out of uni and no longer have a maintenance loan, or your parents have cut you off, you’ve got bills to cover. That makes it much more difficult to put time into a venture that may take some time to grow.”

Find a mentor

Whilst networking at gigs, the band ended up getting in touch with a recently retired performer with tons of experience in the industry. This resulted in a 6 month partnership with someone that knew how the industry worked and was willing to pass on a range of contacts and experiences that were essential to the band getting opportunities to perform at bigger occasions such as weddings and corporate events.

Good marketing is important, but good relationships are essential

The band had found some success using alternative marketing by providing local social influencers with free access and a bar-tab at their gig. “It didn’t cost much for us to waive the cost of a ticket and to buy a few drinks, but by inviting popular people, we knew that they’d bring people with them and post about us online, so it was really worthwhile.”

However, Pat makes it clear that good marketing isn’t everything:

“Obviously we had to build our marketing strategy towards our fan base and we had to make sure our show was tailored to the crowd. However, the person usually footing the bill and taking on most of the risk was the pubs and businesses themselves. So it was very important when trying to get contracts to be able to articulate clearly what we were able to offer these businesses. We had to let people know what we’re about, why we would be a good fit for the event, how we are gonna make sure that we pull a big crowd or make sure that the attendees at the event will enjoy our performance… If you’re not able to communicate that properly to your potential clients, regardless of how good your promotional content is, they probably won’t hire you.”

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