What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Rock Guitarist Steve Vai

written by Sara Arey

I recently had the great pleasure of being at Steve Vai’s “Story of Light” show and I have a couple of confessions to make.

Confession #1 — I’d never really heard any of his music before.  In fact, I went because my friend Deborah Henson-Conant, who plays the electric harp, is a member of his band for this tour.  Happily, Deborah had told me to wear earplugs because the music was extremely loud.

Confession #2 — I’m not a musician.  I enjoy music and took piano lessons as a child, but I don’t understand all the intricacies of what Steve’s able to do with the guitar.  I was stunned at the sounds he was able to produce, but I could tell that I wasn’t appreciating it on the level that most of the rest of the audience was.

So here’s what I did — I watched the show from my own perspective as someone who deeply appreciates a person’s energy and is constantly attuned to what helps entrepreneurs.  And this is what I saw:

  1. Steve Vai is passionate about what he does.
  2. He is wonderfully connected to his audience, interacting with them during the entire show.  He was visibly conveying his passion to his audience, and they loved it.  They were right there with him.
  3. He knows his audience.  The people I saw that night were mostly men (about 90% of the audience), guitar aficionados (based on the knowing smiles and cheers for particular sections of the performance) lovers of hard rock music (based on the t-shirts and laughter when Steve said something about Bruce Springsteen).  Steve geared everything — the music, the volume, the stage, the lights – toward his audience.  While there were a couple of softer songs, they weren’t sentimental ballads thrown in to appeal to “a wider audience”.
  4. He is incredibly good at what he does.  Even as a complete amateur, I could tell that no one I’ve ever heard before has had his level of skill at playing the electric guitar.
  5. He is confident in his abilities.  He didn’t seem arrogant, but he definitely knows how good he is at his craft and lets his confidence show.  There is nothing apologetic or wishy-washy about him.
  6. He demands that the people he works with have the same level of excellence that he does.  He hires people who are already tops in their field and then insists that they perform consistently at that level.
  7. He has kept his connection with his passion through all the mundane parts of his job.  Because I’ve had the inside scoop from Deborah, I know that even though all those riffs he plays sound spontaneous and improvised, in reality every note is scripted, rehearsed, memorized and perfected. Rehearsed over and over and over.

So what does this mean for the rest of us?

  1. As entrepreneurs, our businesses are our passion.  That’s why we got into the work in the first place.  However, the process of creating a business around our passion can be very draining.  Some times we forget why we even got into it in the first place.  Staying passionate feeds us.
  2. Staying passionate also allows us to truly communicate with our audience – whoever they are.  If you’re passionate about what you do, you have an energy and “aliveness” that enrolls other people in what you’re doing.
  3. We need to be very good at what we do.  If we’re not, we need to become good.  You don’t do well in business by being mediocre.  We need to continue to sharpen our skills, push against our boundaries, continue to learn and explore.
  4. We need to know who our audience is and create the experience we know will serve them.  Our products, our marketing, our team should be designed to meet the needs of and appeal to those people we connect with best.  Otherwise, everything is watered-down and won’t be as appealing.
  5. We need to KNOW we’re good.  Sometimes we, especially women, have the belief that we need to be modest and let someone else tell people how good we are.  But this belief doesn’t serve us.  Being confident, being able to tell people exactly what we offer and what results they can expect from working with us is key to creating a successful business.
  6. If you’re great at what you do, but you create a team that is mediocre, the end result will be mediocre.  Unless you continue to redo what members of your team have done – or don’t delegate to them at all.  In which case, what’s the point?  Be your best and create a team that reflects and supports that.
  7. The better we know our trade, the more effortless we make it appear.  We can rehearse, practice, improve and still be genuine in our performance.

If you have a chance, go to YouTube and watch some of Steve’s performances.  Oh, and you might want to turn the volume down first. Then search Deborah Henson-Conant and see why Steve wanted to add her excellence to the band.

Leave a Reply