Business Lessons From Hell (phones)

The Hellphones Benoni
Photo by Liam Lynch

Ten years ago I broke a promise to myself and went back to doing something I swore I would never do again. I saw The Hellphones play their 3rd ever live show at the emerging Sounds competition in Johannesburg, South Africa and a week later I approached them to ask if I could manage them.

On Friday the 5th of August they take to the main stage of the Oppikoppi Festival again as part of their ten year reunion.

I had sworn off managing bands after the last band, Scabby Annie, pretty much imploded when it emerged that the understanding of commitment levels between band members was not entirely shared.

As it turns out, this was to be one of the challenges I encountered with the Hellphones, but this time that challenge had its roots and source in me and my behaviour.

My conditions to the band were pretty simple: If I said jump, they asked ‘How high?’ My aim, as stated to them, was to make them one of the biggest rock n roll bands in South Africa. And from the get go it went well and fast. That part was easy. The band was good, tight, had an incredible live show, great songs and an infectious energy.

hellphones this is howSo how did it all go wrong? With the benefit of hindsight I realise that the chief cause of the many things that did go wrong, was that I was imposing a vision on the band from the outside. It was not their personal, handcrafted vision. Rather it was one that I brought along and they thought was pretty cool and hey, why not?

Not everyone in the band was emotionally committed to my programme, my methods, my approach or my style. And yet it was me telling them what to do. This was a big mistake on my part. Over time, this lack of emotional commitment and buy-in to the process began to put emotional pressure on the internal relationships and the relationship between myself and the band. In short, I think it stopped to feel like fun for most of the guys.

This is the key thing I learned: we should have been more of a team. I should have spent more time with them exploring a vision for what their success would look like, how they wanted it to form. I would have contributed and together we could have built something that everyone was invested in.

Another trick I missed was securing their intellectual capital. In the modern music industry, the most important thing is to have your own songs. Good ones. Songs that get played on radio, that you can play live a lot, that other people want to record and that can get synched to adverts, movies and TV shows. I just didn’t pay enough attention to the songs themselves. I was more of a booking shows, touring and doing the media manager, and I wasn’t looking after the bigger, longer-term business as well as I should have been.

Bottom line is, in many ways, how I chose to run that band was really all about me, my past experiences and how I saw things. It didn’t serve the band well and it did lead directly to our working relationship falling apart.

My learning: when you’re working with others in a creative business environment, you need to have more hands on the wheel. When leading at any stage, you also need to understand what’s really important. In this case it was the band chemistry. It was the music, the intellectual property. I managed to only do a half job on both of these elements.
It won’t happen again.


9 Responses

  1. Fred

    Nonetheless Dave, there were many stellar experiences we had together, and we did plenty of great things together, and you did many things for us that we were unable to do for ourselves. I still remember it all, and you, fondly.
    Much respect brother

  2. David Chislett

    Thanks Fred! Yeah, I still think the band coulda taken over the whole world but that was beyond my abilities!

  3. Peter Cook

    Great reflections David

  4. David Chislett

    Thanks Peter! Hopefully lesson learned too

  5. Eddie

    Dave if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did. You did a stellar job as our manager. Thanks for the write up and keep the rock n roll alive. Cheers✌

  6. David Chislett

    Shot Eddie! Very kind of you to say!

  7. Jonathan

    Hi Dave. I must say I share he same views as my band mates. I look back on those early Hellphones days as being one of the best times of my life. Right from the beginning the promise was there to do great things, and together, we really did. I obviously wasn’t there to see it right to the end but for my part at least, you were a great mentor and a good friend.I’ve been out of the music scene for the better part of 8 years and Fred pulled me back in jamming for Shotgun tori a few months ago and it’s been absolutely awesome. It made me remember why I did this in the first place. The friendship and respect that you share with the people you rock out on stage with while creating music that you love to play! What could be better. Being on stage again brought back many fond memories, especially the touring we did. It was always great fun, unruly at times, but we were a kick ass rock band and with you at the helm no one could touch us! Lastly I want to say, the fact that the Hellphones are playing main stage at Oppikoppi 22, 10 years after the release of This Is How, is a testimont to the Rock machine we once were and to the name you gave us in the industry. That being said, we also owe a lot to Steve and the guys at Rockford Media for making this possible. Much respect bro. Live long and prosper.

  8. David Chislett

    Hey Jon, nice to hear from you mate! And thanks for the kind words! Nonetheless, I do still strongly feel we could have done more and gone further with a different style of engagement.

  9. Paul

    Look forward to hearing them and seeing you in Cape Town. Appreciate your frankness, Dave

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