As probably many of you already know, I am a big music fan and an amateur self-taught guitarist myself.
In a lot of ways, I find that playing music is like many other things in life: the aspects and dynamics of playing with other musicians are very much comparable to the interactions involved in professional life and even personal relationships.
The Rush album I chose for this post is “Hemispheres“, for the title’s concept of complementarity – two halves forming a sphere, the “perfect” shape. More about that in a minute.
“Musical space” (“Hemispheres”)
I’ve been playing music for many years now (despite the fact that if you ever hear me play, you might think I picked up guitar only a few months ago…) and I have developed in my mind this concept I call “musical space“.
It is very simple: good musicians are always aware of what the other musicians are playing, and they support them, rather than obscure them, giving them the “space” they need.
Being a guitarist, probably the #1 challenge for me is – you guessed right – writing and playing solos. Lots of tough choices!
Should I go for a long or a short one? Should I try to make it technically complex for bonus “awe points”, but risking epic fails if I screw up? Or should I try to make it simple, but risking meh reactions if it doesn’t “click” with the audience?
But perhaps more importantly – what are the others playing? Will the solo blend in nicely or just be the equivalent of a punch in the face?
“Solo” – not really…
If you think about it, the word “solo” (meaning “alone” in Italian) is not really right here. You’re not technically playing alone… and it makes all the difference.
As an example, let’s pick a couple of iconic rock guitar solos: “Hotel California” by The Eagles and “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits.
Listen to the isolated guitar tracks below (left) and compare them with the regular mixed versions (right).
Of course, the players are amazing and the solos are really good. They are technically and musically great. There’s nothing “wrong” in the isolated tracks… except they’re missing the rest of the band backing the solo!
The other musicians don’t just disappear during a solo. They all do their part, supporting the song and making their best to make the solo really shine.
For example, in the music I play with my band there are several keyboard/synth solos, and a few bass solos (I’m a big fan of those and my long time friend who plays bass is really good). When it’s time for their solos, I really enjoy stepping back, lowering my volume and do plain rhytm playing, or even use palm muting, to leave sufficient musical space to them.
“Soloing” in IT pre-sales
As I have already written before, I found that sales in IT (just like in almost any other field, I guess) have their dynamics and each team member/musician must dutifully do their part to make the deal/song successful.
In IT pre-sales, your “solo” can be that killer demo or presentation that really drives the point home. But do sales and pre-sales always work together as in a band?
Just like in a song, musicians cannot play solos all the time – it would be a total, inaudible mess. And when someone else is playing a solo, they don’t just stop playing and go for a walk.
This also applies to sales meetings: if one is constantly talking over the others, not listening to their colleagues or (even worse) customers, that meeting is pretty much doomed.
In the same way, if there are several people but only one talks, the “listeners” will notice. And if while one person is talking their colleagues are playing Farmville on their phone, they will notice.
In a song that “works” the listener can hear everybody playing. Different sounds and styles contributing to the same goal – interaction and chemistry are key.
Call and Response
How cool is it when musicians play so well together that they complete each other’s phrasings? I guess one of the main reasons trading solos and call and response are so popular is the emotion you can feel witnessing the synergy between talented professionals.
As an example, listen to this brilliant instrumental passage from Toto’s “Bottom of your soul”:
Phillinganes’ piano and Lukather’s guitar interweave in an amazing way. In the first section, it’s almost as if they are “chasing” each other, one instrument picking up where the other left. The second section builds up to a powerful unison that leads right back to the chorus. Awesomeness.
I’ve had the pleasure of feeling this kind of synergy with some of the sales professionals I’ve worked with. I can remember “magic” meetings where everything worked so well and so naturally, without even having to “rehearse” anything in advance. Everybody just did their job the best they could, involving the other colleague from time to time to reinforce the message, giving the necessary space, much like “trading solos”.
I can tell our customer could feel what was going on. This led to a more fruitful and active participation on their part – interaction between presenters also helps with keeping up the attention level and the flow of discussion.
The bottom line (?)
If there is one thing I learned from playing in a band, is that in music – just like in pre-sales – it is not only a matter of skills (or “how good you are”). Interaction and self-awareness play a major role.
Great musicians know when to play and when to pause, when to “show off” with a scorching solo and when to “step back” playing as simple as possible. And they know teamwork is essential.
I have to say that in my professional life I’ve encountered quite a few examples (often with people from big vendors…) of “solos” gone wrong or simply not so effective. I always try to keep that in mind and learn from those examples, hopefully avoiding the same mistakes!
“Music is the space between the notes”