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Yes, My Degree in Bass Performance Really Does Apply to My Job in Advertising

And a one … and a two … and a one, two, three, go!

I guess by now I shouldn’t be surprised at how many musicians there are in advertising — hell, I’m one of them. Everywhere I’ve worked, there have been guitarists, drummers, singers, pianists … and, perhaps most importantly, bassists. (Can you guess what I play?)

My degree is in Popular Music Performance. It’s an unusual degree, I’ll grant you, and it never fails to come up in job interviews. So, after 11 years as a writer, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how experience in music relates to what goes on at an agency. And the more I think about it, the more I realize how apt that experience is.

When my team presents new concepts to the client, is it really much different than playing a gig with a band? We’ve come up with something unique and original, and now we’re in front of the audience, together, putting on the best show we can. I need to perform just as hard whether it’s for five people in a conference room or 50 people in a bar (though, let’s be honest, I usually can’t get 50 people out to a bar).

If I spend time checking out a competitor’s material or learning about different approaches to writing, it has the same effect as practicing new songs or challenging techniques. By expanding my range of tricks and licks, it’s easier to come up with interesting ideas on the fly, either at a late-night jam session or an early-morning kick-off meeting.

As I write, I think about the rhythm of the words just as I would the rhythm of a song. An extra syllable here or there might throw off the flow and make an otherwise wonderful sentence choppy and difficult to read. A fellow bassist once told me, “You can dance to a wrong note, but you can’t dance to bad rhythm.”

But above all, I think the real benefit of a musical background comes from the ability to listen to the other players and work as a group toward a unified goal.

More than most art forms, music is a collaborative process. One person in the band may come up with the lyrics or the chords or that killer riff that gets stuck in your head, but it takes an entire band to bring a song to life. As each player adds their part, you’re constantly listening and adjusting your own playing to match, and every new voice can take you somewhere you may never have imagined you could go. Everyone has something valuable to contribute — no one can do it on their own.

The same is true at an agency. As a writer, I may come up with a nifty brochure or a cool campaign concept, but for an idea to turn out well, I need to listen to the rest of my team. I need help from an art director to make it look good, an editor to make it error-free, an account exec to make sure it’s what the client is looking for and a project manager to set the tempo and keep us tapping along. I need to hear their input and recognize that their contributions will make the idea better, stronger and more rockin’ than I ever could by myself.

I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with some exceptional talents over my career as a writer. And whether they play a mean guitar or can’t hum a tune to save their life, they’ve all had that vital ability to listen to the people around them and work as a team — as a band — to make some truly beautiful music together.

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