When I was a kid, I fronted a rock band called Bad Reputation (how we got the name is a story for another day). The band went through a few different versions, but in this version, the guitarist and the bass player joined after their Death Metal band broke up.
We decided that we wanted to make money playing, and that meant learning a bunch of cover songs. Over the course of the summer, we learned literally hundreds of cover songs. We learned so many songs that we could play four one-hour sets on a Friday night and four completely different one-hour sets on Saturday night, never repeating a song. We were a machine, and we had something for everyone (as luck would have it).
In something like 1987, we played a gig in a town called Coshocton, Ohio. It’s a very small town, and another band that played classic rock was kind enough to book us there where they had good relationships. Like true professionals, we showed up, we set up, and we prepared to play. But because the guitar player and the bass player were new, they wrote the set list. This was the first time I ever recall not having written the set list for a show. As the singer, I wrote the set list based on the songs that I sounded best singing, doing the stuff that took chops early, and working my way to Brian Johnson when my voice was shot.
I don’t recall the set list exactly, but I do remember that we opened with Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. As we played, I watched the four people at table one get up and leave the bar. I believe we went from that into Megadeth’s Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying? As we rolled into our second number, two more tables got up and left. The bar owner came out from behind the bar, and he literally turned off the lights and pulled down the levels on our too-loud PA system. The show was over.
The bass player rushed up to me and said: “You’re the singer, do something!” I countered, “What do you want me to do?” Desperate, he said: “Make people come back! Get them to turn the sound back up!” I said, “You want people to come back? Then play Rocky Mountain Way (the great Joe Walsh) and follow it up with Tush (the inimitable Texas trio that is ZZ Top).” The bass player said: “You’re kidding, right?” I wasn’t kidding.
Rocky Mountain Way was played. Tush was played (twice, I think). So were a lot of other old classic rock songs. People came back into the bar. The sound and lights came back on. And the bar owner sold a lot of alcohol (and not just to the band). Had we not known so many songs, we’d have never brought people back in or had the levels turned back up. We might not have even been allowed to continue playing.
There is a message in people running away from what you sell. You may be passionate about what you do, but that doesn’t mean there is a market for it. You need to know your customer and, sometimes, making a deal means giving them what they want. They may not yet be ready for what you are selling.
Are you selling what your customers want to buy?
Why do they want something different?
Are you ahead of them? How do you make changes to lead them to where you are going with you?
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