Project Management in the Music Industry

So taking a different path for my blog this time around, I wanted to write a bit about one of my favorite bands, Guns and Roses. It may seem like a stretch to bring an 80s heavy metal band into an article about project management, but this time, I’m thinking about teams and the role they play in the success of a project.

The Team

First, let’s look at Chinese Democracy. From a staffing standpoint, it was a disaster. It had four producers and went through at least three studios. There are 22 assistant engineers listed on the album. The credited staff list is more than 80 people. There are artists credited on this album that recorded and released multiple albums during the time it took to release this one. The final album had two producers (project managers) who were Axel Rose, the lead singer and key stakeholder who had never produced an album before, and Caram Costanzo, a sound engineer.

Inexperience and staff changes played a key role even on what is considered a successful project team in the past. The lesson learned here is to go with what you know.

This saying goes for everyone, even the project manager. Everybody has a role, and it should be one they are well suited for to drive the project to success. Your key stakeholder should not be the one driving the project. They need to be agnostic to the outcome and cognizant of the deliverables. When the key stakeholder is the project manager, they focus on the outcome, and this creates an environment where change is evident, increasing the possibility of the project running long and getting out of control.

Key staff turnover will kill the project. As mentioned earlier the project had 80 people credited. This is most likely a small scale compared to who was actually on the project. In any team, there are five stages of team-building. The five stages include: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. I’ve written about these in the past, but the key point here is that as new members enter, the stages reset. This is also the case as existing team members leave. If this happens frequently enough, a project team may not make it to the performing stage, and the project can suffer. I am also not including other different key turnover issues within the band itself, another challenge to project staffing.

Lesson Learned: Bring in the right people for the role within the project and work to keep them there.

Project Expertise

Let’s explore the roles of the producers on this album. Again, my reference is that the producers are the project managers. Axl Rose was at the time the lead singer of the band. His expertise surrounded the performance and result of the project, much like software that is used in conjunction with work. His reputation and financial growth relied on the result of this product. This clearly identifies him as a key stakeholder; he has a high risk on the success of the project.

The challenge is obvious to an experienced project manager: Axl as a singer was an expert performer, Axl as a producer had little to no domain experience. He had never produced an album in the past, even though he had been part of several successful projects. Being involved in the project in another role does not necessarily equate to being able to fill elsewhere.

On their debut album, the producer was Mike Clink. Clink is known in the heavy metal category for the albums he has produced. He was also an expert sound engineer and mixer. His work included Eye of the Tiger. (Who hasn’t been a little pumped up by that?) As a project manager, he brought to the table a level of expertise that enabled the team to bring in successful projects. He had also produced every one of their previous albums, so he had expertise in this product, the band.

Lesson Learned: Relying on people with domain-specific knowledge will help on projects with new or different focus. Also, keep strong team members to help the organization remain focused on its actual goal.

Measuring Success

At the end of most projects, you can either immediately measure success such as in the case of Guns and Roses debut album. Appetite for Destruction took approximately 2 months to record and produce. It cost $370,000 to make. In 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified it 18 times platinum (approximately 18 million albums) and was the 11th bestselling album of all time in the United States. Those statistics are hard to follow. Now let’s look at Chinese Democracy.

Chinese Democracy, on the other hand, took 10 years to produce, cost a whopping $13 million dollars, and sold only 2,600,000 albums worldwide. I will note, though, that this was in large part due to a controversial deal struck with Best Buy to purchase 1,300,000 upfront, with a no return policy making actual album sales are a bit hazy on this one.

The measurement of success here is apparent, $370,000 cost to sell 18 million albums is $.02 an album vs. $13,000,000 to sell 2.6 million albums is $5.00. Without getting into time value of money on units sold, you can clearly see that the debut album made more money.

Lesson Learned: A project’s success is measured in more than just the output. The traditional project managers three-legged stool has always used, cost, quality, and schedule.

These are just a few lessons learned of the many great comparisons where Project Management can and is used outside of corporate America. I’d like to hear any other examples you have –

JEFF L. CHAMBERLAIN, PMP | Project Manager

Jeff comes to KTL Solutions with an extensive background in healthcare IT, technical consulting, and telecommunications. He has been a project manager for almost 20 years, holding certifications from the Project Management Institute as a Project Management Professional, from the Management and Strategy Institute as a Six Sigma Lean Professional, and he holds a Scrum Master Certification from the Scrum Alliance. He has managed both hardware and software implementations for both the government and private sectors, in industries such as healthcare, insurance, telecommunications, staff augmentation, supply chain and shipping.

Jeff has provided training for clients globally, working in Europe, Russia, North and South America on various topics from system optimization to wireless theory and design. He possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in Technical Writing from the University of Baltimore.

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