The Rules of Give and Take

We all have a sort of radar about people. Some of us are astute judges of character. Even so, sometimes we get burned by people we thought were on our side. We get cheated or ripped off by people who we had hoped were going to help us. Sometimes getting backstabbed by these sorts of people destroys our motivations and we veer off the course we had chosen.

We get angry that these people who we trusted could have betrayed us. They become lowlife scum… We obsess about them. We begin to get angry, resentful and maybe filled with hate.

Not a healthy situation.

Remember, also though, that it always takes two to tango so if you feel cheated or abused, part of it is your fault. People cannot take advantage of you unless you allow them to. I sound all high and mighty when I say this, but I speak from experience. I’ve felt betrayed before too and, unfortunately, done my fair share of betrayal back.

For that I will always regret what I did until the day I die. I can never make the betrayal I committed “right” or fix things. Past is past. But my regret lives on forever.

I’ve had two people who recently told me about these sorts of experiences. Both of them work in the music business. Both of them felt betrayed. The music business is famous for betrayal and broken promises. The music business and show business in general is the land of broken dreams.

But the sort of betrayal that I am talking about today is not limited to music or show business. This sort of trickery and betrayal is a part and parcel of human nature and can been witnessed anywhere and everywhere in any human endeavor. Being backstabbed and hurt by those your trusted happen in any business and in any personal relationship. We have to be careful.

A friend of mine recently quit Facebook. Her leaving Facebook is a loss for the world of music. She is instrumental in getting many rock bands the world over a chance at the big time. Of course, once these bands and artists use her to get what they want and they get their big chance (or what they perceive as their big break) they dump her and the people that helped them get to where they wanted to go. It’s an old story.

It reminds me of a time long ago when my band often played at a club in Los Angeles called Club 88. The owner was a guy named Wayne (super nice man) and he gave us our first big break and let us play at his club. Wayne was married to a Japanese woman so perhaps he felt affinity for me as his kids were half-Japanese too (there weren’t that many of us half-Japanese kids back in those days). Wayne was the only one who would let us play at a club in Los Angeles. We began playing at Club 88 once a month.

One day, after some piddling success on the FM radio in LA, my band arranged to play at another, bigger and more famous club across town. We decided that we would stop playing regularly at Club 88 (it wasn’t as cool as this new club) and told Wayne that we weren’t going to play at Club 88 anymore. As we loaded up our equipment into the van in the back parking lot behind his club, Wayne came out, looked me straight into the eyes and said, “Nice to know you guys are moving up in the world. Don’t forget who helped you when you needed help and see you on the way down.”

His words shot through my heart like a silver bullet. I was stunned, speechless.

Later on, on the way down, I was too ashamed to go see him to ask if we could play his club again. We never played their nor met Wayne again.

I was a selfish jerk. I’m sure that when he agreed to let us play his club, we said things like, “Yeah! We’ll always play your club even if we get really famous. Sure!” He’d probably heard that one a million times.

What a big lie.

It’s like this in any business. When people want something from you, they will promise you the world. But they don’t mean it.

The music business, like 99% of all businesses, ultimately is a business of trust. It takes a long time to build trust, but it takes just one action to destroy that trust. In the case, of the music business, most people come and go every 3 ~ 6 years. I think it is because the ones who can’t make either just don’t have “it” or, if they do, they are dishonest. I have met many talented people in the music industry who had talent but they didn’t make the big time or floundered because they were untrustworthy. There are so many of those, I couldn’t name them all.

In Japan, there are only a handful of people (just 5 or 6 foreigners) who have been in the music business for over 25 years and we all know each other. We may not be friends but we know each other, are respectful and can meet and have a laugh when the occassion arises.

Like I said, there have been innumberable people who came and went. I like to think most of those disappeared because they weren’t honest. They were the type of people who would use you and promise you anything in order to get you to help them and, once you did help them, they’d dump you faster than a half-eaten Big Mac that’s been sitting in the back of the car for the last week.

In the case of the music business, be wary of people who talk smooth and nice and say “Yeah! Let’s work together! You and me.” Then when it comes to what you get paid, it is little or free because they say, “There’s no money, but let’s do it for the music!”

Sure. You do the music for free. They do it for the money using your music.

Now the point of this post… In my current new business, I often talk to music people and musicians, club owners and artists. I have learned my lesson, I never promise the world. I want to share with you a tidbit about how you can protect yourself in your business, any business, and get what you want whenever a “salesman” comes to you and asks for your help in his project. It’s simple. Make every proposition a 50/50 proposition.

I don’t mean 50/50 for money necessarily. I mean, you hear them out. Listen to what they want you to do for them (ignore the part about, “Let’s work together! Let’s do it for the music!”) and then you make your requests about what it is that you want them to do for you. If they can’t do your request or are unable to politically help you out, then there’s no point in dealing with this person unless you are talking 50/50 on money. It’s that simple.

Here’s how I do it. I run a new company that helps artists promote their events and sell tickets. My company gets a commission for every ticket sold. The artists do not need to use our service. They can keep doing things the old way they always have: allow people to pay at the door. It’s worked that way pretty well for decades.

My service allows them to sell advanced sale tickets and to promote on Social media so it is a powerful marketing and advertising tool. Some artists (and events and charities) have used our service and sold over 700 advanced sale tickets. Some events were sold out in two days! Now that is promotional power! But still, like I said, the old way has worked pretty well for a long time so many are not eager to change, don’t want to think about change, and are suspicious of new things (of course).

Whenever I make a deal with someone, this is what I say,

“Here’s the deal. I help you. You help me. This is what I want. Now, what do you want in return?” (I can give them airplay or promote them other ways too).  Doing this keeps everything professional and platonic. There’s none of this slimy “do it for the music” or some other lofty ideal not based in the real world.

I help you. You help me. I know where you stand. You know where I stand. None of this, “You help me out now and I help you out later” nonsense. It works out best that way. This is the professional way of handling business and the only good way to do so. If you do not handle your business this way, people will not respect you and they will think they can take advantage of you.

Also remember that trust is so important so if you do promise to do something then you had better damned well do what you said you were going to do. The only excuse for not keeping a promise would be a ‘death in the family’ and that ‘death’ had better be yours. Promises are made to be kept.

Remember, you have something they want. That means they must at least deal with you on equal terms.

There is nothing wrong with being professional and asking for remuneration (of some sort) for something that someone wants you to do for them. If, after a long time, you become friends and build trust with that person, you can begin to accept what they say at face value. Because, like I said, if they are running around doing sneaky stuff, they usually don’t last more than a few years.

Handling your business this way and knowing these things is how you can build true friendship, a true business partner or even to find your true soul mate in life.

It is give and take… If you are the one doing all the giving and the deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

You are important and what you have and can do is valuable. Protect it like a professional would.

Like Shakespeare wrote: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” Exactly! So manage your stage appearance in life as any professional manager or agent would do: Professionally. Always understand the rules of give and take.

For Allison Sane. Luv!