Lady sings the blues

Introducing Alex Watson.  By day, Alex works as a senior manager for Lloyds Register in London – A high pressure / high performance job.  She manages to combine this with being lead singer and writer for suburban soul group Bastedo.  Check out their work:

Alex had some kind words to say on “The Music of Business“:

The Music of Business is a really enjoyable read. Great insights in how to approach 21st century business challenges, using lessons from the world of rock music. It’s funny and thought provoking whilst absolutely hammering home the messages of strategy, collaboration, and project execution.

I wanted to find out her own story about mixing the two disciplines in perfect harmony:

On authenticity

Peter : I know that you have walked away from record deals with Sony BMG and so on.   What has guided your decisions to keep to your authentic self?

Alex:  I’d always wanted to be a singer from a very early age since from around the age of five or six.  When I left school, I actually started to think about how I would do it.  As I sought out and became involved in a few opportunities, I began to see that there were choices about what I expected from music and what others expected from me. The way others saw me and what musical contribution I could make, was at odds with my vision.  I have always relied on my intuition rather than manuals and books, or even the advice of others, to decide on what I would do with my music. I have never had any formal training, and cannot (yet) play an instrument to any practical level. However, I had my voice and the ability to write songs. I’ve tried to expand on these talents and to evolve and grow them. It is these gut feelings married with the ongoing experiences that I picked up, that guided my decisions about staying true to my authentic voice.

The parallel with leadership is very clear.  You can have good and bad leadership. Leadership by consensus, or by command and control. Those in positions of leadership need to be able to make sound decisions based on lots of information streams. Trusting yourself and standing by your decisions when they affect many others takes a lot of courage, but also a strong sense of purpose.  When the relationship between you and those you work for is consonant then you have an agenda for doing your best to mutual advantage.  It’s about deciding what trade offs are ones that you can cope with in order to reach your dreams.

Peter : So, what’s the difference between good and bad leadership in music and business?

Alex :  In terms of leadership. Good leaders are those that allow you to become your best, to harness your potential and leverage it in ways that are mutually beneficial for the business and you as  the individual. Bad leaders can stifle progress, assist in the creation of toxic atmospheres and act based on purely selfish motives.

I’ve had some tremendous opportunities to work with record companies, publishing companies and individuals who I have had deals and dealings with.  For example, when I was at still at University, I also  had a retainer with a major record company which allowed me to have the financial leverage to work on my music and not worry about how I would survive from month to month. It allowed me to work with top songwriters and producers. However, there are always trade offs that come with such freedoms.  As a songwriter, that meant I didn’t have any control over the agenda, or who I would work with. Working in some of those circumstances, I became fully aware I was part of a machine, and it often made me feel disconnected from music itself! Once I started to work with kindred spirits, I felt much happier, and less concerned with the commercial outcomes.  It was always important to me that I worked with the right people as I am not necessarily that commercial with my music.  That’s pretty much transferable to the business.  Of course business is focussed on the bottom line, but ultimately, sustainable businesses add true value.

Urban Soul Sister

Peter : How do you create?

Alex :  Creativity can happen in different ways and at different times. There is often a modus operandi for me. A natural flow and way of figuring out melodies and building a song. Often I’ll come up with an interesting melody or concept…and I try to capture it somewhere. On my phone, on paper etc. These ‘nuggets’ will often form the basis of new songs or work their way into ideas at some future juncture. For example, I have a song called “Let Me Be”.  This was created over a long time period.  The lyrics and the melody were written a long time (10 years) ago and had been stored in my memory bank until an opportunity to record the piece. I then shaped up the lyrics whilst working with my then guitarist Vinz, who provided accompaniement. The song finally had the opportunity to see light. It’s not a manic obsession with pleasing an audience but I have one eye on that.

However, the beauty of collaboration is that there is always a sharing of process. From these experiences you learn new ways to create. Every artist has the tension between art and commerce. Creativity is borne out of art.  Vangelis pointed out that “Chariots of Fire” was perhaps not the most important piece of music he has composed, but it was THIS piece of music that captured a large audience. What he views as his most important works are ones we’ve likely not even heard of!!

Peter : How has music helped you do your job?

Alex : I find that being a musician gives me an empathy and a sympathy, that enables me to bring humanity to business. It allows me to bring more creativity when solving workplace issues. The fact that I am a musician also gives me a strong identity and sense of self, regardless of the current political tide, latest business fad, change program or initiative

Peter : Do you find that skills such as presenting your ideas and so on are enhanced by being a musician and a performer?  If so, please say how.

Alex :  Being a performer definitely helps with your confidence when presenting to people or putting your ideas across. As a Learning Professional, being able to present your ideas is key. Preparing training programs, working with subject matter experts, developing content, preparing for performance. There are a lot of parallels. Its that whole Preparation, preparation, preparation thing isn’t it? Know your subject. Prepare and plan well…then off you go. Monitor your performance. Take away key learning points and fold these back into future performances. I do this in both Music and Business. I also very mindfully reflect on what I am learning in both business and music, and use any lessons to improve performance in either arena.

Alex with Richard Strange at  our interview meeting

Alex with Richard Strange at our interview meeting

Peter : Have there been any setbacks for you professionally from being a musician?

Alex : Hmmm. That’s a difficult one. I’ve definitely had setbacks. Many setbacks. The musicians road is not a straightforward one. It’s often difficult to make a decent living. So yes, there has been setback…and sacrifice. All for the love of music.

Peter : What’s transferable?

Alex : For me, the act of creating music is a pleasurable one that  can often put me in my state of ‘flow.’ However, depending on what you are trying to achieve, you do need to put some mental elbow grease into the creative process. For example, if I am asked to write a top line for another artist, that’s a different mindset to writing for myself. Different brain muscles. In business, I try to look at each project, challenge or issue within its own context. The days of one size fits all solutions seem to have gone. So being able to use my creativity to solve problems is very useful.

Humility is also transferable skill from being a musician to being a leader. When I have written songs, rehearsed them, then finally bring them to an appreciative audience…its not only satisfying…it’s humbling. I try to bring that gratitude to the workplace. To appreciate the people that are there doing their bit. To pay attention to small kindnesses. The time someone takes to explain something to you, or show you how to do something. Those little favours people do for you at work that nudge things along for you. They don’t have to. I don’t take it for granted.  When we provide solutions for our clients and do a good job..we should feel proud of our achievements.

Alex offered three tips from music to help you be your best

  • Mentors are essential to success.  Unless you are in a hothouse like Motown or PWL, you can find yourself in a vacuum.
  • Get out and perform rather than keep rehearsing – you learn faster and better
  • A polished performance is the result of a lot of background practice and preparation.   This is a direct analogy for meetings at work.  It’s prepared spontaneity.

Alex performs with Bastedo at Cabaret Futura in London on Monday May 20th.

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Check his online programme The Music of Business out.  Grab discounted copies of his books by mailing him at peter@humdyn.co.uk

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