Book review: Project Management for Musicians

(This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.)

Project Management for Musicians

Yes, you read that right. It’s a whole book about project management aimed specifically at people in the music business.

And it’s very good.

“What we can claim to have accomplished is based on what we finish, not on what we start,” writes Jonathan Feist, author of Project Management for Musicians. “Setting projects in motion is relatively easy. Completing them is far more difficult. It is our history of completed projects that defines us professionally, though, not our history of started projects… we don’t get partial credit for works in progress.”

It’s all written in that pragmatic, conversational tone. The book covers everything you’d ever want to know about project management in a very practical way, but all the case studies and examples used are relevant to the music world. When Feist is setting projects in context he uses the example of setting up a teaching studio or making an album.

The specifics of the industry come out in other sections as well. In Chapter3 Feist writes about the processes for developing working documents and the use of checklists. He also talks about how to come up with items for the work breakdown structure using use cases and modelling. There are items on there than many project managers won’t have to consider such as income and getting funding for tours or CDs. The worked example used in many of the chapters is Emily producing her EP.

There’s also a detailed chapter on copyright, accounting, tax and intellectual property – all things that musicians have to take into account when managing their own work, probably more so than project managers in other industries.

It’s not a lightweight book (in either sense of the word – it’s a massive 400 pages long). It covers PERT, Delphi, network diagrams, trend analysis and there is lots about monitoring and controlling projects.

A new take on old topics

Much of what he writes is appropriate to any project manager, but there are a few quirks specific to music that I found interesting. For example, in the section about team roles, he includes a role called ‘content visionary’. This is the creative genius behind the song or the studio tour. I’ve not worked on a project with a content visionary before – the closest I’ve come is working with subject matter experts, which doesn’t sound quite so passionate.

There’s also a new take on RACI resource allocation charts, as Feist introduces the ‘Supporting’ role: someone who helps the person who is Responsible to do the work. This could be used for project co-ordinators or other admin and support staff, regardless of the industry you work in.

The section on risk management is comprehensive and also includes music-specific risks such as how to deal with performance quality problems, performers, contracts and so on. One of the stories relating to risk management stuck with me. Feist writes about a film orchestrator who hired 3 former students to help him turn his notes into proper copy on a tight deadline. He had 5 days to complete the work so he gave them 3 days to complete their sections which gave him enough time to review their work and send it to the client. So far, so good.

On the morning of day 3, two delivered, and the third one (sounding a little tired) said he was almost done but needed a couple more hours. Five, six, seven hours passed with no delivery. The exasperated orchestrator finally called him that night, but there was no answer. He called again the next day. The copyist’s distraught mother answered the phone and reported that her son had suffered a brain aneurism the day before and suddenly died.

The orchestrator didn’t ask to go over and get the files that the student had been working on. This is what happened next.

He and the other two copyists recreated the missing parts themselves, working into the wee hours of the night, while they mourned the loss of their friend. I’m not making this up. Life happens, and we have to deal with it.

I hope that you never have to deal with that sort of risk or issue management on your project.

The extra bits

There’s also a chapter on creativity and problem solving – not what you’d expect in a traditional project management book but relevant here and it helps round out the book with some additional techniques.

Feist doesn’t overlook post-implementation reviews. He calls this ‘maintaining institutional memory’ and writes about how FAQ documents, checklists, rules and procedure guidelines can be used to prevent wheel reinvention and to make things easier next time, even if you are a small group.

Many of the chapters end with ‘little’ and ‘big’ practice exercises so if you do want to have a go at preparing something like a checklist for your project there is really no excuse.

Overall I wasn’t expecting to get much from this book, given that since I was told off for playing my recorder out of tune aged 6 I have given up on having any musical talent or inclination. While it is aimed at musicians, it is a good solid project management book that covers a whole lot of ground and is written in a very accessible style. I enjoyed it.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Similar Posts