In September, 2014, Jay Jay French began writing a bi-weekly column for Inc. Magazine’s web site. This is an idea that nearly took root on an early version of TwistedSister.com, but due to the band’s reunion and subsequent performance schedule, it never came about. But every good idea eventually sees the light of day, and the inc. column is the result. Here are all of the columns from 2015.
It’s High Season for Office Holiday Parties (and Secret Struggles)
What you can do to help people in your circle coping with substance abuse as the celebrations rev up.
Originally posted on December 10, 2015
Before the holiday celebrations really start to take off, I want to remind my fellow entrepreneurs about the responsibility of recognizing who in your company may be facing the challenge of alcoholism. It is important to remain sensitive about any individual’s struggles during this time.
In business, water-cooler conversation about how wrecked you got the other night at a party has a certain romantic appeal. In my business, being in a famous rock band, you can magnify those experiences and stories to near mythic proportions. Afterall, aren’t photos of Keith Richards or Sid Vicious passed out drunk in a chair in the dressing room after a show one of the most iconic in all of rock?
I happen to be in one of the few businesses where appearing seemingly annihilated, is actually a sign of success, where stunted emotional behavior is not only expected but encouraged.
Well…I hate to burst your bubble, but very early on in our history I came to the realization that any partner (or employee) who can’t bring his “A” game everyday has the potential of pushing back, if not totally destroying, your goals.
It’s hard enough to succeed but it’s even harder when your chances of success are being dictated by people whose abilities are being compromised by substance abuse.
Over the years, it has been a sad reminder, through either early death or flat out loss of motor skills, how many of my heroes have fallen.
In the very early days, before I understood exactly how a person should be handled who was either working for me or was a partner, my reaction was to give a couple of warnings and then fire them. Looking back, it was not exactly a caring or therapeutic approach. It was fairly easy because most of them weren’t “good people” in my mind. Most became nasty drunks who you couldn’t wait to walk away from.
Then, out of the blue, one of my closest friends in the band called to tell me that he was an alcoholic. I had no idea. He was a great guy and apparently, a very quiet drunk who still played at the top of his game. In this conversation, he told me that he was an alcoholic, had joined AA several months earlier, found God and was told by his newly found church buddies that the devil spoke through my mouth in the band. This was particularly strange as I was not the one with a substance abuse issue–which he did acknowledge. He also told me that he was going to leave the band. I really thought that the two of us were going all the way to the “top,” and I convinced him to stay.
Looking back at this now, this wasn’t the best advice. The last place an alcoholic should be working is in nightclubs surrounded by alcohol.
I convinced him to stay and then hired bodyguards to stand around him the whole night. I really thought this was a great idea but, as we played 5 nights week, this proved to not only be financially debilitating but far too uncontrollable an atmosphere for one with such a problem. Finally, we both realized that it was in both of our best interests to part ways professionally.
We remain friends today because we were both sensitive to each other’s situation and we both cared enough about each other to want only the best outcome.
Over the years, our growing sensitivity about alcoholism made it abundantly clear to us that, given the environment we were working in, the proper screening of personnel concerning all substance abuses became just as important as the talent that one brought to the band.
If you have a drinking problem or have a partner or employee who you suspect has a problem this holiday season, be aware, get help, be supportive of others and try to avoid the kind of atmosphere that would make indulging almost impossible to resist.
Ask yourself if those water-cooler conversation days are over. If not, then it’s probably about time, for the sake of your company and those whose lives you cherish, to make them a distant memory.
Read the original article at Inc.com.
13 Travel Tips for the Real World
Surviving a killer travel schedule with style
Originally posted on November 16, 2015
As the guitarist and manager of an international touring band that has played in over 36 countries, I have learned a few things about surviving a relentless travel schedule. Roger Daltry, the lead singer of The Who famously said “I don’t get paid to perform, I get paid to travel!”
During the first 10 years that the band began headlining major summer rock festivals in Europe, it was pretty standard that I would leave NYC on a Thursday night flight to the country we were performing in, arrive Friday morning, stay up all day, sleep for 10 hours, get up around noon on Saturday, go to the venue at 4pm, go onstage at 11pm play for 2 hours, go back to the hotel (this ride could take up to 2 hours each way depending on the location of the concert) get to sleep by 3 am, get up at 6am for the drive to the airport and get back home by 6pm on that Sunday.
Friends would ask me where I was over the weekend. I would say things like “I think we played in Greece on Saturday, or England, or Norway or Sweden or Germany or France.” It was a crazy, unpleasant and inefficient way to travel.
The average business traveler probably hasn’t encountered the extremes that my band and I have –nor do I wish them on anybody — but what I’ve learned along the way applies to all sorts of travel, and I hope they’ll make your travel a lot more comfortable.I’ve refined how I do it using the following travel rules:
- Get to the airport 2 hours early all the time. Avoid the anxiety of possibly missing a flight. I can never afford that mistake and I don’t think any business traveler can either. I don’t love airports but I would rather be there waiting than freaking out in a car in the middle of an epic traffic jam.
- Always check in with your airline the day before. Besides making your airport experience less time consuming by waiting on a line that you don’t need to be on, you will find out if there are any changes to your flights.
- Identify alternate flight arrangements, in advance, if your flight gets canceled at the last minute. Trying to make these decisions under stress can be difficult.
- Never check your bags! EVER! Learn to travel as lightly as possible so you have the most flexibility to get in and out of an airport, change flights, and avoid all those costly bag check fees, which seem to go up by the day.
- Join every security pre-screened organization that will have you i.e. Global Entry, TSA Pre, and Registered traveler (UK) for those American citizens who have relatives in the UK or travel frequently on business. You must apply for each although members of Global Entry are automatically enlisted for TSA Pre checking, an expedited security screening that allows you to keep all your carry-on compliant liquids and computer stowed away in your luggage, and lets you keep your shoes on. Just like olden days! (TSA Pre isn’t available at all airports.) Having any of these will make your life at airports much easier. When I return from Europe to JFK, Global Entry kiosks takes no more then 1 minuet to clear immigration. With Registered Traveler in the UK, an American can go stand on the always-shorter immigration UK line.
- When flying overseas to the east, fly the day flight whenever possible. It’s more expensive, but it helps you get on local time faster, and you’re not run down from missing a night of sleep on a plane. The morning flights to the UK from the east coast of the US are very popular for this reason, so book as early as you can. When I have west coast business, I try to leave a day early to acclimate.
- I use my trips to re-connect with friends or relatives where possible, not just business associates. This makes the journey something more to look forward to.
- Upgrade for more legroom whenever you can. I’m tall (6’2″). I need leg room. No matter how I fly (meaning coach at times, it pays to pay for that upgrade with cash or points.
- Even if you are getting food on the flight, always pack a snack for the flight. I always carry cashew nuts as they fill you up quickly, metabolize slowly and don’t weigh much.
- Always remember to carry extra batteries for your various devices.
- Check that you have everything with you BEFORE you get up to leave the plane, train, taxi, etc. Pack in such a manner that you can get to items that you need easily (e-readers, i pods, phones, books magazines, headphones, pain relievers, prescription meds) and that you have a checklist on what goes back where. I have left many items behind before I really got organized. (I got most of them back, luckily.)
- When you check in to your hotel, ask for a business card and keep it with you at all times in case you forget where you are staying. It also aides in explaining to cab drivers where to take you when you don’t speak the language.
- Always passport, credit cards and cash WITH YOU. Do not assume that the hotel room safe is safe! If you really need to leave valuables behind, ask the hotel if they have a master safe in their offices.
Read the original article on Inc.com
40 Years of Twisted: How the Twisted Sister Brand Survived and Thrives
After nearly five decades, Twisted Sister is still a valuable brand. Here’s how we did it.
Originally posted Sept. 2, 2015
Since 1973, Twisted Sister has performed over 9,000 shows in 37 countries and our music and merchandise is sold in over 100 countries. Our songs are among the most licensed in the world for movies, TV shows, and commercials.
We started out only two years after the Beatles broke up, when nobody and no band ever thought that there was a life outside the time frame of one’s immediate success. Here I am 42 years later and Twisted Sister is a worldwide brand. How did we do it?
Lots of hard work, a little luck, and foresight.
But first, it’s important to point out that I’m no longer in the music business. I’m in the Twisted Sister business. Believe it or not, those are, today, two very different animals, although they used to be joined at the hip. It used to matter that I read Billboard magazine to check the music charts to follow our record sales. Now it doesn’t. It used to matter that I check contemporary radio play to find out how much we get played on terrestrial radio. Now it doesn’t. It used to matter how much my tour grosses are. Now it doesn’t, because we don’t tour; we are headliners on big festivals sharing the bill with dozens of bands. This has grown into a huge performing market and has changed the face of touring for bands of a “certain age.”
We operate in a very different world now than we did when we started. The name Twisted Sister itself was created to reflect a specific time in rock music, when the music scene was led by David Bowie, Lou Reed, T Rex, and Sweet. It was a time of androgynous imagery and sexual confusion. This was in 1973, when the band became pretty popular in the club circuit. However, after two years of playing, band disputes led to the first breakup. Over the next two years, several lineup changes occurred and the original glam band style was rapidly changing during a less sexually confusing time in the business, and the name started to date the band. My agent suggested a name change.
At this point we looked like the Velvet Underground. I was singing lead at the time but had limited vocal range. I hired Dee Snider because he could sing Led Zeppelin songs. Dee was a huge Alice Cooper fan and convinced me to double down on the glam image at the same time as The Rocky Horror Picture Show became very successful. We started to become very popular again on the circuit on the strength of our live shows, which were becoming famous for things other than music. We became a performance art band, by mistake and trial and error, leading the Death to Disco movement. Our stage antics became legendary.
As the word of mouth started to make us the most popular band in the history of the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut club circuit (we hold the attendance records for every major club in the tri-state area), we had a much greater dilemma. Record companies couldn’t get past our image and passed on us time and time again.
So we had to be smarter and more determined. We believed we could outlast the industry disinterest in the band. The best way to do that was to become so big that we couldn’t be ignored.
Eventually we were signed to a U.K.-based record label that “got us.” They understood the music, image, and humor. The U.S.-based companies never got it but they eventually succumbed because we became an underground phenomenon.
We developed, to my knowledge, the first computer-based fan club so we could track and mail flyers to our fans. We also started a 24-hour hot line you could call to find out where we were playing (we were playing five days a week, every week, all within a 50-mile radius of Manhattan). But the real “first” was that we used FM radio advertisements in a way that no one ever had before. We bought hundreds of one-minute commercials on all the major FM rock stations every week and tagged the first and last 10 seconds of each ad with information regarding our next live show. For the remaining 40 seconds, we featured original songs that we wrote and recorded. Casual listeners thought that we were being played in regular rotation on several of the biggest FM stations. This gave us a huge image imprint and larger-than-life media presence.
The MTV image that we created and exploited and that brought us to the peak of worldwide popularity in 1984 led to a burnout. Dee quit and went solo in 1988. I didn’t. My bass player, Mark Mendoza, and I kept the band’s name alive by producing various CDs of live shows over the next 12 years.
I owned the Twisted Sister trademark, and I started to notice the words Twisted Sister were being used in the media, in headlines, usually to describe violent crimes involving crazy women. I also started seeing companies using the name on products. I retained a lawyer and went after many companies trying to exploit the name, among them: Six Flags amusement parks, Urban Decay makeup, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and dozens of small mom-and-pop stores and restaurants. If you own a trademark, you better be ready to protect it or risk losing it.
First, I usually called someone involved with the company and told them who I was. I explained that I own the trademark and that they should stop using it ASAP. Many stopped at that point. If they didn’t, our lawyer wrote a cease-and-desist letter. If that didn’t work, then we began court proceedings. It can and has cost me a lot of money, and I rarely ever get any money in return. But what you do get is that the trademark infringement is stopped.
We also license our music very aggressively. This is for two reasons: We derive a huge income stream from this exploitation, and our music reaches listeners in new ways, building more fans.
Our ability to license songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” two of the most recognizable stadium anthems of the ’80s, was inconceivable 30 years ago, when they were released. It didn’t occur to me that it was possible until I was in England in 1988 and found out that the Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me,” from 1961, had just hit number one on the charts again, thanks to its use in a popular TV commercial.
At that moment, I realized a whole new use for our music. In 1998, Comtrex Nasal Spray licensed one of our songs and it changed our lives.
Song licensing begins to take on a life of its own after multiple uses over several years. The more any song appears in movies, TV shows, and commercials, the more producers and advertisers consider the value of its familiarity (a very big comfort zone for advertisers) and the song winds up on a short list of “must haves.” “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” have reached that exalted status. Every year, like clockwork, these songs are licensed for multiple uses and will probably continue to be for years to come.
I’ve also found other ways to extract value from the brand. Between the years of 1998 and 2001, when the band reunited, I did several record deals with unreleased masters. This kept the press always interested in case we ever regrouped. The one thing of which I was sure: We would come back only if we could regroup with the original lineup. I knew that that had enormous value. We stayed away for 13 years and created a pent-up market.
So many of our fellow bands fell apart when the hair-band era crashed in 1988 with the emergence of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The scene seemed to disappear like the dinosaurs after the meteor strike. Luckily, we had stopped performing about a year before that Big Bang, and I felt that if we could reemerge one day, it would be kind of like returning from a state of suspended animation.
Two things happened over the past 15 years which, taken together, are responsible for our continued viability.
The good fortune of having songs that reflect an era and a message that companies want to be associated with. You can’t predict these things but you can, once you see a trend, encourage those companies that control your music (usually the publishing company that owns the songs) that there is lots of money to be made in the exploitation of the music.
A great live product. We always get the best live reviews and audience response, and, until last March, had a rare, fully intact band with the original album lineup, a band that could perform the music live as well as or better than in its heyday. This created huge demand by promoters and the fans.
Such is the demand for great ’80s music, both live and in movie soundtracks, TV shows, and commercials, that those who can deliver the goods can really benefit financially.
Read the original article at Inc.com
The Ugly Truth About Never Retiring
Here’s a message for every entrepreneur who has ever said “I’m never going to retire” – it’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds when you’re young
Originally posted on August 21, 2015
You, young entrepreneur, may believe that the company(ies) you create and you position as President/CEO will last until you draw your last breath. Such is your energy, motivation and (dare I say) ego, that you believe that the company will last as long as you do (and vice versa). While it’s true that some create solely with the intention to sell at a huge profit, the really smart among you know that you have to have a great product and create a real, solid business model and your passion makes you want to see it through as long as you can. Once that model is created and appears successful the real entrepreneurs feed on this success. Soon, the drive is what rules your lives.
Success really is addictive and once your personality is consumed by your value of ‘what you do’, instead of ‘who you are’, you are most likely to continue to follow that intoxication and believe that you are invincible.
In your youth, you can never picture how your health will limit whether and how you meet all the challenges in front of you. You can never imagine a time when you’ll be getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, every night. Or that in the morning your body will hurt no matter what drugs you take. You will start forgetting dates, times, places and people not just because you are getting older but because, like a hard drive, there is so much more information that your brain stores and processes everyday. You’ll start to repeat many stories to new and old acquaintances to the point where your spouse (and kids) may just want to (at best) leave the room.
This reality was never in my playbook!
In my business (a true “young man’s game”) an artist was generally about 25 years old, got a record deal, became famous and then watched the career go away in an arc that would last maybe 5-7 at best. Not because the artist lost his way, but because the fans were so fickle and always looking for the “next big thing”. This is what separated the business model of my world and the business model of a non-entertainment based business.
?Most companies don’t put a time limit on their dreams. But there’s a time limit in rock and roll. The Who famously sang “I ?hope I die before I get old.” The rallying cry of the Woodstock Generation became “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” But for me, rock and roll has had a lifespan I didn’t expect.
Twisted Sister, as you know, recently lost our drummer AJ Pero to a heart attack. Not a young man’s illness. His death had me thinking about a conversation that happened in a dressing room a couple of years ago with several members of Quiet Riot and Dio, and a couple of other bands. The conversation at the time made me chuckle (almost to the point of wanting VH-1 to film it as “The Real Behind the scenes Conversations at a Classic Rock Concert Dressing Room”)
The conversation sounded like this: “so and so died of prostate cancer,” “so and so had a heart attack,” “my thyroid count is really low,” ” my PSA is too high,” “I’m taking a beta blocker,” “I need Viagra,”….on and on…
It sounded like I was in a doctor’s waiting room in Boca with my aunt and uncle.
So this is how it all winds up?
This wasn’t how the dream was supposed to end. We are all going to make millions of dollars and retire before reaching 30 and just dabble in our own luxurious pursuits while traveling the world in our yachts.
Rock bands were only supposed to last around 5 years. The Beatles, as far as Americans knew them, were only around for 7 years and that seemed like an eternity to the millions of musicians that they inspired, many of which became famous rock stars themselves.
Yes, we lost many great ones early on to “Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll” -Jimi, Brian, Janis, Jim- to name a few-all young and beautiful. I don’t think any of the baby boomer generation thought that bands could or would last more then 7 years at the most and yet………here we are….Twisted Sister will celebrate our 40th anniversary next year joining KISS, Judas Priest and AC/DC.
Nearing 50 is Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Scorpions,
The Grateful Dead & the Who are all celebrating 50 years.
And then there is that wonder of wonder “The Rolling Stones”.
If one band wasn’t supposed to make it, it was The Rolling Stones. In fact the Rolling Stones fans are so old, they don’t clap after the band finishes a song. They’re afraid that the lights will go on in the arena.
Keith Richards, to point out the obvious, is the poster boy for “Early Exit of a Rock Star.” Yet there is, still playing and touring at 70!
I recently met Keith Richards gastroenterologist at a party. I admit that the three words that I thought I would never hear in one sentence were: Keith, Richards, gastroenterologist. This doctor never approached me with his resume. A follow doctor pointed him out to me and I went over and said hello. I said that I had a couple of questions about Keith that didn’t violate Dr/patient confidentiality. The doctor looked at me and said that he doubted he could respond under any conditions. I said “Fair enough, but I’ll give it a try.”
Question 1 was “Are even you amazed?”
The doctor thought about that for a minute and then replied, “Yes.”
Question 2 was “Is it fair to say that as long as Keith is still breathing, there is medical hope for the rest of mankind?”
He started to laugh and nodded his head. I walked away with hope in my heart.
To all my fellow entrepreneurs who vowed to “work til I drop,” get ready for that scenario to be far less glamorous than you imagined when you launched your company. Make arrangements to enjoy your old age now – or your motto, like mine, will be “Sex, Prescription Drugs, and Rock and Roll.”
Read the original column at Inc.com.
There’s More Than One Path to Startup Success
Whether you go it alone, or want collaboration, it’s crucial to learn to manage your team for maximum creativity and success.
Originally published June 16, 2015
I’m currently mentoring two young, aspiring artists. It became clear to me, very quickly, that their vision of the pathway of success was incredibly clear. They’re also very different.
They are both female and both leaders. They want to risk it all in a predominantly male-dominated world. I think this is fantastic. But what makes them truly stand out to me is that one wants to “go it alone.” She wants to write everything herself and wants to control all aspects of her sound and direction without any interference from other members. The other musician wants a whole unified band experience where everyone is an equal partner and all decisions are shared.
I have never seen young people grasp exactly what these decisions will mean for them in terms of creative and economic impact. And I’ve never had the opportunity to observe two artists with such clear and different paths at the same time.
Often, when building a company from scratch, personality differences in the founders will dictate which path – which leadership style – they’ll take. That’s not to say that one is right and one is wrong. Both ways can lead to success (or failure) and it’s not a given that, just because you have a vision and a loud mouth, you will crash due to a narcissistic and self-absorbed approach to other humans. Nor is it a guarantee that, because one sees a more communal convergence of spirit, it will make your path easier.
One must, however, realize early on that either approach needs just a bit of modification. For lack of a better word, one must be a politically minded thinker. You can think “I am in it alone for all the glory” but the practical application has to be tempered with the understanding that, in the beginning, you must make sure that people you bring in are compensated fully for the work that they do so that they feel, even if they leave tomorrow, that they have received proper compensation for delivering their talent, while at the same time, standing aside to let you take the credit.
The “communal minded leader” has his or her own unique leadership challenges. The most important thing to understand early on, is that no creative process is ever totally democratic. The individual skills brought into the business can vary and, over time, the strength and weaknesses of the partners will begin to show. This can lead to resentments by those who feel that their contribution is more meaningful to the success of the company. A true leader will see this all unfold before their eyes and will hopefully have conversations, alone or in a group, in which adjustments can be made that will allow you to move forward using the best parts of every partner.
There are many examples of success and failure of both of these pathways. You have to choose the one that best fits you.
Read the original article at Inc.com.
The Power of 10,000 Hours
I had a million things on my mind when we stepped onstage for the first time since the band lost A.J. Pero, our longtime drummer. The power of practice, and lots of it, helped us perform at our peak. That’s why, no matter how good you think you are at something, you will always benefit from more practice.
Originally published June 23, 2015
People often ask me how Twisted Sister can put out such a consistently excellent live show, regardless of what’s going on with us. The answer is simple. Practice and lots of it.
But I never appreciated what all that practice means until our first show after our drummer, A.J. Pero, died.
Since our very first show as a band, in March 1973, I have kept a running log of our performances and rehearsals. I recently added them up. They come to almost 10,000 hours. That means we have more than 10,000 hours of muscle memory–or in our case, performance memory. Malcolm Gladwell was absolutely correct. That practice has made us pretty bulletproof. The live show has always been our bread and butter (the core product of our business). We have had to perform many times in the face of really depressing business news, but we have learned to shrug it off, put on the game face, get into a zone–a zone created by all that practice and performance time–and carry the f*ck on.
That practice, and the muscle and performance memory it created, was never more evident than in the months after A.J. died.
We played our first show with a new drummer, Mike Portnoy (a legend, and we couldn’t have asked for a better replacement), at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, in June. It was, of course, a bittersweet experience and very emotional for everyone. But our longtime fans told us we played with more passion than they had ever seen. Like we were totally in control.
That’s not how I felt. Not at all.
The truth is, these days, we only play about a dozen shows a year, almost always between May and August. It means that we are off doing other things the other nine months of the year. We usually only run over the songs once at a rehearsal. I am always feeling just a little queasy and unsure. That’s why, before we go into our first rehearsals, sometime in April, I’m gripped with anxiety. But this time, I was also anxious about a new drummer who had only three rehearsals to learn not just the music but also the pacing of the show; the fact that we were doing a live recording for DVD; multiple bands being on the same bill with us (their equipment changes can always cause problems); and special effects, flames, sparklers, and explosions that will possibly light you on fire if you stand in the wrong place. Plus, I’m not just a guitar player–I’m the manager of the band, with a long mental checklist. More important, I was really sad that A.J. wasn’t up there with us.
Here is my confession. There were just too many unknowns this time. Too many potential areas of disruption. Too much emotion. Because it was the first show of the year, I just couldn’t get lost in the performance. My mind was overwhelmed by the confluence of information. And I was still dealing with my own emotions about this first show without A.J.
So what did I do? I consciously let go. I set my brain on autopilot and let the songs flow out. I kept in the back of my mind an idea of what I would need to do if something really went out of control. But I tried not to think about it, and instead, I relied on my ability to do something I’d done for more than 10,000 hours.
And … nothing bad happened. The show went on about as smoothly as I could have hoped.
This is what separates the big boys from the also-rans. The confidence–in our case, forged in the fires of the live club circuit — that we could always deliver, no matter what was thrown at us, is burned into our DNA. As long as we want to do it, it will be done at the highest levels.
The same is true for companies and entrepreneurs. For you or your company to be great, nothing can ever present an obstacle to excellence. You need to practice until you’ve got muscle memory. You can’t stop Twisted Sister. And you can’t stop a great company when you have a great foundation.
Read the original article at Inc.com
Why I Don’t Believe in Magic
Some people attribute their success to luck, magic or fate, but without preparation, success won’t happen.
Originally published May 13, 2015
Do you believe in magic? I don’t but I do believe that fate plays a part in success. There are the old cliches, like: “It’s better to be lucky then good,” “timing is everything” and “be at the right place at the right time.” I can tell you with100% certitude that, whether you want to call it fate, luck or timing, none of them will make you successful unless you add in a key ingredient: preparedness.
Twisted Sister toiled for years refining and re-defining our music and image. We had to because every time we attempted to present a new, improved version of the band in order to finally get a record deal, the record labels rejected us. It didn’t matter, it seemed, how popular we were. Nobody who controlled the music business thought we were any good. We were incredibly popular. We wondered if the “Gods” were against us. It didn’t seem to make any sense to us that we couldn’t get a record deal.
Then, we finally got a deal with a small, UK-based record label after nearly 10 years of rejections. The day after our first album was released, the label went bankrupt. The pain of this was almost to much to take. It appeared that maybe, after all the shows, the retooling and the reapplication of new ideas, we had hit a brick wall and exhausted all our options.
It felt like the band was on an iceberg that was melting out from underneath us, leaving us to drown without a trace in an ocean of anonymity. All our hard work and dues were going to be erased from the face of the earth, having nothing more to show for it then eventual hearing loss.
But then, just as things seemed bleakest, after all the band member changes, being told that we were too loud, too soft, to glam, not shocking enough, too cliche, that we had no memorable musical hooks, that our pants were to tight, too loose, too pink, too green, too blue, our heels too high, low and on and on….. an opportunity came along. It all came down to one day, one hour, one place at the right time with the right person. In seemingly one incredible combination of luck, timing, and preparation, we appeared on a live TV show in the UK. We had nothing left to lose.
On that show was a British record executive who knew our manager. He was with Mick Jones from Foreigner who was getting an award that night on the program. When the record executive saw our manager and asked why he was at a TV station in Newcastle, our manger said that he was with Twisted Sister. Mick Jones was English but lived in NYC and told his manager that he had always heard our radio commercials and independently released music played on the very stations that played Foreigner. That confirmed to the record executive that we were legit. He couldn’t stay to see the show but taped it on something new called a VCR (this was 1982, remember) at home.
That night. while we played live on the TV show, Dee, in order to get the audience to react to us, threw make up remover on his face, grabbed a towel and rubbed it off while singing a song exhorting the audience to like us for the musical band we were not the glam image that was putting some people in the studio off.
The audience went crazy and, with the addition of Lemmy and Robbo from Motorhead who joined us onstage, we brought the house down. The next day we received record offers from every major label in the UK. We knew how to take advantage of an audience through years of performance training in the bars. We were, in short, PREPARED!
The record executive who taped the show went home and saw the performance. He came down to see us perform live the next night in London and offered us a deal on the spot.
That is how we got signed. That is why we got signed. Finally, all the missed opportunities and bad timing flipped in one exhilarating moment. One moment of luck, paired with preparedness……….and the rest is history.
Read the original article at Inc.com.
Dealing With a Death in the Company
When our drummer AJ Pero died suddenly, we were on the eve of summer concert tour. Here’s what dealing with that catastrophe has taught me about running an organization.
Originally published May 13, 2015
A challenge in business is like light turbulence on an airplane – you have to buckle your seatbelt. It’s an annoyance but you get through after a few tense moments. A crisis in business is more like dropping 3,000 feet and having to reach for the oxygen mask. It’s very scary but recoverable. Terrifying, for sure, but, statistically, nearly always survivable.
And then there is catastrophe. The impending feeling of doom. On planes, they’re frequently fatal, unless the pilot and crew are highly skilled and practiced at responding properly when disaster strikes. For companies, catastrophes can mean the potential end of your company, usually due to circumstances that seemingly come out of nowhere, expose your company’s weaknesses, and could relegate it to the dustbin of history.
My company and I recently faced just such a scenario. Twisted Sister has a summer tour on the schedule, and contracts are signed for various projects all over the world. Then our drummer and friend, AJ Pero, died in March from undiagnosed and untreated heart disease. Suddenly, we faced just such a catastrophe.
Twisted Sister as a company has been in business for nearly 40 years, and we have gone through our fair share of catastrophic moments. But nothing could have prepared us for this.
The best managers of catastrophes have an ability to calmly process effective responses through the haze of confusion sooner rather then later. But, they give themselves some moments of breathing room to collect their thoughts before they act.
The first thing we did was have our agent contact the promoters of the festivals that we are headlining this summer and tell them about AJ’s death before it hit the social media hurricane. The reason for this is to protect them from being blindsided by press and the fans and so they have some kind of response when asked how the show will go on.
We also needed to established how much time we had to decide what we were going to do. When a member of a world famous band dies suddenly, there is a grace period that is generally extended out of courtesy from the promoters so that the band can get its affairs in order. We knew that we needed time to think and regroup but we had to do it quickly — there were several huge festivals that we were already set to headline this summer and the promoters needed to calm down the ticket buyers.
Furthermore, we also decided to formally announce that 2016 (the 40th anniversary of me, Dee and Eddie as the core members of Twisted sister) would mark the end of our touring lives. Not a small decision but one that ironically had been decided just days before AJ’s death. My last conversation with AJ, 12 hours before he died, was partly to inform him of the band vote to make 2016 the final year.
Now, despite that eerie coincidence, the worst thing you can do after a catastrophic event is to interpret the event as a “sign.” Everything happens for a reason — but that reason is not preordained. With a strong enough grasp on reality and an unwavering will to survive, one can take the catastrophe, extract its lessons and put the resulting coincidences, signs and omens in their place.
We decided within hours of AJ’s death, over conference call, that we would play all the shows booked this year. The next major challenge, of course, was finding AJ’s replacement. We received calls almost immediately from some of the greatest rock drummers in the world, many of whom were friends of AJ. Most of them called to express their condolences and many offered their services. As it happened, the legendary drummer Mike Portnoy (coincidentally, AJ was filling in for him when he died) and I were both asked to perform a tribute song for AJ at a show at the Starland Ballroom in Sayerville, NJ. Mike looked at me and said, “Hey, if you want me, I can play all the Twisted Sister shows”. Once I related that news to the rest of TS, we knew that that issue was put to bed.
We are now in rehearsals and Mike is truly amazing. Our fans trust us to make the right decisions and commitments. The shows will go on with renewed energy as AJ would have wanted it to. Our work will be dedicated to the memory of our friend, partner and great drummer AJ Pero.
I am confident that the decisions we made will turn out to be the correct ones and that we will take this experience, survive this potential business catastrophe, and learn from it to make us a better band and better people.
Read the original article at Inc.com.
Saying Goodbye to AJ Pero
When you work with someone for 33 years, they become part of who you are.
Originally published March 31, 2015
My drummer and dear friend AJ Pero died suddenly of a heart attack a little over a week ago. Because this column has given me a voice and, most importantly, a focus to share my business as well as life experiences and lessons, I will use this now to give you (and me, in a strange way) some insight into how I have been dealing with this terrible news.
A quick recap:
Twisted Sister began 42 years ago. As you may know, the band has had the same members for nearly 33 of those 42 years. The core of the group (Dee Snider, my high school buddy Eddie Ojeda, and I) have been together 39 years. This constitutes, in any business context, a very long relationship. We have struggled from the days of being a bar band, made the leap into international stardom, crashed and burned and walked away from each other for over a decade. Then, we reestablished the band and attained (after discovering that many parts of the world actually cared that we broke up and demanded that we come back) renewed worldwide success over the past 12 years through legendary live shows and aggressively licensing of our music for TV shows, movie soundtracks, and commercials. This has helped keep some of our songs, and as an extension of that, our band, current in the quickly evolving world of social media.
Every year, for the past 12 years, at about this time, we have scheduled yet another summer of massive festival performances. This has become so predictable that we take it for granted. Kind of like “Groundhog Day,” except that the shows get bigger every year.
Till Death Do Us Part
The last conversation I had with my drummer AJ Pero was less than 24 hours before he was pronounced dead of a heart attack at the age of 55 on the morning of March 20th. As the president of our various companies, I called AJ, who was currently playing drums and touring with another band named Adrenaline Mob, on March 19th to bring him up to speed on our touring schedule. I also gave him the latest information about a number of upcoming events this year: The about-to-released documentary “Twisted F*ckin’ Sister”, a three CD package of live concerts recorded between 1979 and 1983, the brand new live concert recording for DVD and TV broadcast of our only show in the US this year taking place in Las Vegas on May 30th. I also let him know that we were using an all European road crew for our summer shows (instead of bringing crew from the U.S., including his son AJ Jr., who was his roadie).
And finally, and reflecting on this last part brings tears to my eyes, we talked about how much longer we, as a band, could continue performing at the current level, since physical limitations were starting to take their toll on certain band members. (How deeply ironic but not surprising when you read interviews with many of our peers who have had members who either survived or died of cancer or other diseases as well as many of whom have had various joint replacements.) “Mr. French,” AJ said (he often addressed me as Mr. French, maybe because he was the youngest–and newest–band member and I was the oldest), “I’m leaving the Adrenaline Mob tour early to come home and have my shoulder rehabbed for our summer shows”. Because of social media, he wanted to assure me that, if I heard that he left the tour prematurely, everything was fine. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m good for all the shows this summer.”
And with that, we agreed to meet in New York City on the following Monday and said what would be our final goodbyes. The next morning I was having breakfast with Andy Horn, the producer/director of our soon to be released documentary. Andy was excited that he just gotten a distributer. My cell rang, and it was my agent/tour manager Danny Stanton. He told me that he just got a call from a member of Adrenaline Mob and was told that they couldn’t wake AJ up and had called an ambulance. He said AJ had an apparent heart attack. As he was saying this to me, I just nodded my head, as I didn’t want to alarm the movie director. I learned years ago that bad news may not really be as bad as you think it is, so I just waited for all the facts to be reported. After we finished breakfast, I started to take my daily walk and kept telling myself to be positive. AJ probably just had indigestion.
Danny called again.
This time he confirmed my worst fear. AJ had died of a massive heart attack.
Time stood still. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. You can never prepare yourself for news of this magnitude no matter how tough you think you are. No matter how pragmatic you think you are.
I didn’t have much time to process it. My management skills completely took over at that point. I had to then make some of the most difficult phone calls in my life. The one to AJ’s son, AJ Jr., was the most wrenching. I said the words to him that I was just told. I heard his gasp of disbelief. So many thoughts were running through my mind. I knew one thing for sure, the next week would be one of the toughest to get through in my life. I had just lost a business partner, a brother, and a dear, sweet friend who always made me laugh and who I really tried to look after through the years.
I walked back to my office, sat at my desk staring at the computer screen, started to cry, and waited for the tsunami to come.
While I knew that this was going to be a shock to many, I/we had no idea that AJ’s death was going to send such shock waves through the Heavy Metal community and the regular news outlets. AJ was by far the most sociable of all the band members, and his roots connecting him to our fans became known to us in wave upon wave of social media comments. He was also regarded as one of the greatest technical drummers in the world. The outpouring of respect among his peers was incredible as well. AJ was also a family man, with four children and a grandchild.
We were about to celebrate AJ’s 33rd year as a member. (His first show was on April 1st, 1982.) He was always affectionately known as the “new guy.” He was also the first to agree with anything. He was the partner who just wanted everyone to be happy, and he never had an agenda. So talented, so dependable, so…AJ. So here I am, after a week of mourning, crying, talking, crying, the wake, the funeral mass, the band discussions about our future, and reflecting on AJ, my life, the band’s fans…
I realize that our collective history is so long, so deep, so intertwined that AJ’s death has shaken us to the core. It made me realize the fundamental connection that we as a band and as a company share as friends with a nearly 40 year history.
This company employs a lot of people and has created a business model that is the envy of many of our fellow bands. We will honor AJ during our shows this year. A professional drummer who is a friend will be filling in shortly. This will allow us to fulfill our touring obligations and, most importantly, give us some space to make some very hard decisions about our future.
We are surely not the same kids who had a dream 40 years ago to become “rock stars.”
We carry the scars to prove it.
We are adults who run a business, and businesses must go on, even through a curtain of tears.
Read the original article at Inc.com.
Beware of the Brian Williams Effect
Originally published March 16, 2015
Let me set the record straight: Brian Williams was never a member of Twisted Sister!
I had a feeling that would get your attention. Truth be told, I am a fan of Brian Williams, and he, of course, never said he was a member of Twisted Sister. However, the subject of this column centers on the problem that Brian is now facing and, to a larger extent, the problem that anyone in a position of influence can run into:
In Brian’s case, he was not just a newsreader. He is a journalist, and that is where he really got into trouble. His fish tales grew ever larger as time went by and the expectations of his profession don’t allow much wiggle room when relating personal stories of near death experiences.
This tends to be a problem with great storytellers. I should know. I am one.
As a motivational speaker, I have told many stories over the years about the rise, fall, and rise of my band Twisted Sister. I have turned a lot of the band’s history into very funny anecdotes. (Although most of them, at the time they occurred, were not only not funny but were, in many cases, near disasters.) I did keep a diary at the time–so I can verify times and places. But the prism of time does tend to bend it all into, in my case, interesting, entertaining, and compelling stories– and hopefully some takeaways and larger lessons to help you get through challenging times in life or business.
One story I’ve told frequently concerns the incident that lead to the break up of the first version of Twisted Sister in December 1974. (In my next column, I’ll discuss the specifics of what happened and what I learned from the situation. But it basically started with a drunken disagreement between a roadie and the bass guitarist and escalated to the drummer being held at gunpoint by the lead singer.) What was always the most important aspect of my storytelling was that I had the facts straight. Why now am I so concerned? Because I write this column and I feel a responsibility to my readers that my experiences, interpretations, and advice are grounded in truth.
I started thinking about this recently after a former roadie for the band contacted me on Facebook. He was the very person whose actions triggered the fight that led to the firing of the two founding members. The incident happened over 40 year ago, and I have been telling a version of it for just as long. This week, however, I had the chance to, for the first time in 40 years, go over what happened, step by step, with the person whose actions directly led to the end of the first version of the band.
That conversation led me to contact the club owner, in whose living quarters the incident occurred, as well as the original former bass player who was also at the center of the break up.
After all the conversations, I am happy to report that, besides some minor details revealed in my conversations concerning issues that don’t directly change how this incident affected me, my story remains intact. It seems that I remembered many more details than others did, because I was not drunk during this episode. So my memories of the event will stand as the official record of it, and my confidence concerning the value of the lessons learned stand ever stronger today. As an entertainer, I realize that the bar for credibility is set very low, maybe a rung or two above lawyers and politicians.
But it matters to me, and it should matter to you, too.
Maybe one day it will also matter to Brian Williams.
Read the original article at Inc.com.
The Simple Business Tool That Changed My Life
Originally published March 2, 2015
Through all the stories and business advice that I have written about, this was possibly one of the most important tools that helped me along the way: keeping a diary.
Remember, I was a high school dropout, but I had a lot of street smarts, which always seemed to kick in just when I needed them most. There was no template that I followed, and I really didn’t have someone who gave me Yoda-like advice when it appeared that I was hitting a brick wall.
I started keeping a diary in December 1974, because I needed a way to express the enormous emotional and physical pain that I was dealing with following my mother’s sudden death, my girlfriend breaking up with me, and the break up of the first version of our band, Twisted Sister. All of these events happened over a 10-day period that December.
I was 22 years old.
Because I had been a heavy drug user between the ages of 15 to 20 (I stopped cold turkey six months prior to the beginning of the band), I swore to myself that I wouldn’t take the easy way out by returning to my drug-riddled past. Starting a diary and putting my thoughts on paper was part of my salvation. The diary became a narrative of my will to survive.
Maybe I will, at some other time, write about the depression that I experienced due to the confluence of these extraordinary experiences. Suffice to say, once my depression lifted, I continued the diary for 15 years as a historical document on my ongoing march to rock ‘n’ roll stardom.
Over the years, the diary revealed many patterns to me. I documented the band’s ability to stay current and draw crowds during the huge economic swings that affected the U.S. and the world. It also showed how we adapted to the Son of Sam murder spree in 1976 to 1977, which had the effect of either keeping girls at home or prompting them to wear brunette wigs to our shows (he seemed to only shoot blond women). There was also disco music’s rise, and the resulting closing of rock clubs for a period of time; the gas crisis in the summer of 1979; and, most importantly, the drinking age rising from 18 to 21, taking away potentially thousands of new fans.
Perhaps the most important detail that began to emerge was the pattern of behavior exhibited by the band: our fierce desire to make it no matter what was thrown at us. Time after time, rejection after rejection, and no matter what disasters would befall us, we seemed to follow the same pattern as I would recount in my diary: Take the hit, briefly mourn, reinvent ourselves, and re-apply that reinvention. This pattern (almost like the instructions on a shampoo bottle: wet hair, apply shampoo, rinse, repeat) was becoming an unconscious habit that I now understand all successful business models possess.
And, of course, the diary provided stats that I could always refer to, including the names of the venues we played, the frequency of appearances, the songs we played, the reactions of the fans, the money earned, the merchandise sales, etc.
Keeping a diary also gave me a window into my soul, by exposing my deepest fears. By doing so, it also showed that with each challenge and emotional setback, I could take the hit and move forward. Confidence builds on itself over time and becomes one of the greatest tools you could ever possess.
But the diary’s greatest gift, I recognized years later, was the understanding it gave me of not only my character, but of the kind of commitment that my band and I made to each other as partners in a business that demanded one thing: a ferocious desire to succeed.
Read the original article on Inc.com.
Here’s To The Risk-Takers
Originally published February 17, 2015
For fans of my columns, you may notice that they are a little different than most. I try to distill universal truths into 500-word sound bites. As a motivational speaker, I tend to think in absolutes. I develop a theory based on my experiences, which I convince myself that I can turn into a teachable moment. And then I bend the narrative to make my case. Who knew that I even had the talent to do this? This is about as far away from my dream of being a rock star as you can get.
Recently, on a very cold Friday afternoon in February, I found myself pondering something that many entrepreneurs may wonder about: Why was I not afraid to take risks? Why was I not afraid to fail?
I began thinking about this after recent conversations with two people I have known for years. The first was with my brother Jeff who is 10 years older than I am, and the other was with a very old friend I had the great fortune of re-establishing a relationship with recently. Both of them knew me years before I had any success, and both gave me insights into their choices as well as my own decisions.
In both examples, while the appearance of their respective choices seem “safe,” I must add that they both went on to have stellar careers in their chosen fields, both loved their jobs, and–just as easily as any entrepreneur–could have failed. The difference, as I see it, is that their risks were much closer to the ground, allowing a safer fall and easier pivot. In other words, and without taking away anything from their respective accomplishments, the decision to go “all in” was less dangerous.
My brother Jeff knew exactly what he wanted to do after college. He became a New York City school teacher, a decision he made in part because he felt that a job like that would give him the certainty of an economically secure future. In essence, this was a very smart and fairly risk-averse choice. He is now retired after a 40 teaching history, and by all accounts everything financially worked out as advertised.
My old friend Victor was a drummer who was following his dream of rock stardom and found himself at the age of 22 picking up extra cash in a peripheral job in the theater world by chauffeuring Joseph Papp around while working for Shakespeare in the Park in New York City. This opportunity led to a stagehand job. When Victor decided to walk away from his rock ‘n’ roll dream, he also realized that he loved the backstage theater world, and this is where he established a great career. In Victor’s words: “While working in the theater world, days became weeks, weeks became years, and you realize one day that you have a career that you didn’t know that you had.”
So Victor did take a risk at one point, knew when to get off the high risk merry-go-round, and again, like my brother, landed just where he wanted to be.
Then there is me.
I love rock and R&B music. It totally consumed me. I went to see every performer I could seemingly every night of the week from the age of 15 to 20 (1967-1972). As a teenager, the obsession to be in the rock ‘n’ roll business in any way drove me to make my career choice. I carried a guitar around with me everywhere I went and told people that I was going to be a rock star. I practiced my guitar, playing for hours on end and imagined myself playing guitar for the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones etc. I also knew one thing for certain: I didn’t need a high school or college diploma, which is why I became a high school dropout. I had a crazy dream, which I had absolutely no idea how to accomplish and took risk after risk without any safety net. I had no choice. I had to have this so bad that nothing could stop me.
I was 20 when we started Twisted Sister, and, after 10 years of the band struggling in the club scene, and failure after failure, we made the big leap in 1983. And for five years, we grabbed the brass ring of worldwide fame–only to watch it crash and burn in 1988, leaving me broke and divorced. Undaunted, I remarried, had a child, and reinvented myself as a producer and manager of the band Sevendust. When I walked away from managing Sevendust, I went though yet another divorce and put Twisted Sister back together again, only to find the band’s world wide popularity as well as the licensing of our classic songs, made us more financially successful then we ever were. In short: I took a very big risk, suffered a number of very big crashes…and in the end netted a very big reward. How did I know that things were going to work out?
You never know, but looking back, it seems that the fear I had still didn’t succeed in stopping me. I love this business and still do.
Were there sleepless nights? Of course. Were there times that I felt that I was staring down the abyss? Absolutely. Did I walk away from the music business after the birth of my daughter and assume that I was no longer able to withstand that risk again? Yes, I did.
What the hell happened then? Why did I return yet again, to the scene of such victory and defeat? Cynics would say that it’s because it’s the only world I know. Wrong.
So why was I not afraid to take risks? Or to fail?
It all comes down to passion. My passion was (and still is) so great that the sheer nature of the intoxicating effects of changing the world through music keeps giving me the faith that I will succeed.
Read the original column on Inc.com.
The One Simple Exercise That Will Help You Make Better Decisions
Originally published February 2, 2015
You might be saying to yourself, “Really? Your first column for the new year has to be an exercise resolution?”
Stay with me now. This exercise isn’t hard at all, but I guarantee you that its benefits are real and tangible. You probably already do it every day (and some of you may even do it in your sleep). But you may not have ever harnessed its transformative powers.
It is called walking.
OK, not just walking, but walking with a purpose. I have been doing this for years and have made some of the biggest decisions in my life after long walks. Decisions like, how can I make my live performance better? How much longer do I continue doing this project? How do I keep the Twisted Sister brand evolving and remaining relevant? Is my marriage really over? Should I file for bankruptcy?
These questions were not small and trite. They were life changing.
Long, deliberative walks can be the source of soul searching and contemplative analysis. Walking is not only a great form of exercise, but it also stimulates the mind. When friends ask me where I get inspiration, I tell them that I get up every morning and go for a walk. I aim for at least 20 minutes a day, but sometimes it’s as much as two hours, because I incorporate walking into many of my meetings. During these daily walks, I come up with ideas and structure for my projects–and ways to solve challenges.
I used to run. A lot. I ran for six years and finished two New York City marathons. Running was a great source of exercise, but took too much of a toll on my body. Walking, however, is something you can do every day.
When you are sitting at your desk at work and beating yourself up because you seem to have hit a wall, get up, go outside, and walk, but keep thinking about the problem. Maybe go out with a co-worker. Walk and talk. Go over the challenge. As your blood gets flowing, your body releases endorphins, which help ease your stress–and allow you to think more clearly about how to solve the problem.
I love this passage from the book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit:
“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in a conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts … Moving on foot seems to make it easier to move in time, the mind wanders from plans to recollections to observations.”
See you in the park.
Read the original article on Inc.com.