Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lessons from Kitchen Nightmares

I don't watch a lot of television and shockingly, I don't have cable at home. I see what I need to with a Netflix subscription and a digital converter box at home. However, I do see snippets of programming in passing at the studio where we have 200+ channels of DirecTV. One show that has captured my attention is Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (the UK version) that is shown on the BBC America channel. The appeal of the show to me is how Gordon Ramsay, a successful restaurateur and chef, forcefully points out some of the basic principles of business management that is critically lacking in failing restaurants he visits.

Watching how restaurants are run, even as small as a two-person operation, you can see a microcosm of all the things a business has to deal with and do well. The show offers insights on leadership, teamwork, delegation, communications, streamlined operations, quality control, customer service, market research, product mix, differentiation, marketing, promotion, entrepreneurial spirit, change management...etc. The resistance to change that Gordon encounters, even when the restaurant is on the brink of bankruptcy, is fascinating to watch. If a small, handful of people dig their heels in and refuse to change their ways even when they are about to lose their livelihood, imagine what a large corporation has deal with when management wants to enact change in strategy, organization, mind set, ...etc., especially if the employees are too comfortable. I can attest to how difficult that can be having personally witnessed it working at Sony for many years.

There are plenty of lessons here that are valuable and should spur you to take a closer look at how you are running your own studio. Making changes against status quo is always a challenge, especially if you have been doing things a certain way for a while. If this economy does not force you to review everything about your business, the large scale changes occurring in the music industry will certainly test your business acumen, adaptability and resolve in running any kind of recording studio today. The small tweaks suggested in Ramsay's show may not be enough to weather large tidal changes. It makes you wish for a show called "Studio Nightmares" except I think we are operating under conditions much tougher than what restaurants are facing. It might be time to think outside the box of the box.


Unknown said...

Your blogs are very interesting. Could you share what you see as some of the changes which need to take place? I interviewed with Tino Passante last week for working (interning) at Avatar, and we discussed this a bit.


Avatar of Avatar said...

Changes that need to happen in this economy involve both short and long term items. For the short term, you have to review all your expenses and start cutting back without sacrificing too much of your quality. For example, you can reduce overtime, hours or even some headcount. If you don't have a lot of staff to begin with, there won't be a lot you can cut, but small things do add up. This is only a stopgap measure. When bookings are dropping fast, you might not be able to cut fast enough.

The the more important task involves asking yourself why clients are not booking your studio. Unfortunately, the action items generated in this step will not yield results right away. This is why you want to constantly be asking this question.

The immediate action item is drumming up business. The first step is going through your Rollodex and calling every one of your past clients. You start by leveraging your existing or established relationships, no matter how old. This is an excellent time to get feedback on their experience and ask what changes would induce them to come back. It is important to ask for referrals as well.

Next step is to reach out to your local community, i.e. music schools, local AES & NARAS chapters, rental companies, music stores, pro audio dealers, publishing companies, ...etc., to ask for referrals and see if you can work with local bands and musicians with introductory deals. Again, this might not immediately pay all the bills, but might be a quick way to establish new relationships.

To establish longer term relationships (e.g. with record labels, established engineers & producers) require networking (starting with referrals, getting introductions and going to lots of meetings), legwork and some patience.

When Gordon Ramsay goes into a restaurant, he reviews the restaurant's overall concept, menu, food quality, ingredients used, chef, staff & personnel, operations (communications, chain of command, division of labor, reservation system), reputation, decor & presentation, ...etc. One can come up with comparable equivalents in the studio business.

More specifically, changes may have to be made to your operations (how you book, invoice, collect money, even the tone of your voice when you talk to clients on the phone), your positioning (are you known for tracking, mixing, overdubs; are your clients labels, ad agencies, video gaming companies and/or indie bands; are you charging too much / can you charge more), your marketing (how do clients find out about you), your assets (gear too old, need targeted maintenance, need better/different gear, need better assistants) just for starters.