Eating Your Own Dog Food in the Music Business
There is a commonly used phrase in the business world: “Eat your own dog food.” It typically means that a company makes sure to use its own products, which will help validate how well the products work. Why use something that your competitor makes, or something that you are trying to make obsolete, when you can use your own product?
A classic example of “eating your own dog food” is how, in 1980, the CEO of a young company called Apple Computer sent out a memo to all staff saying (yes, in all caps), “EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!! NO MORE TYPEWRITERS ARE TO BE PURCHASED, LEASED, etc., etc. Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas. If word processing is so neat, then let’s all use it! Goal: by 1-1-81, NO typewriters at Apple… We believe the typewriter is obsolete. Let’s prove it inside before we try and convince our customers.” (see this fascinating 1981 article from Inc. Magazine about Steve Jobs and Apple Computer).
How can we apply this concept to the arts?
I don’t want to make things “obsolete” – I believe the arts are inclusive. So I have a different take on eating our own dog food in the music business – or in the arts in general.
How can I – or you – help make sure that great artists, businesses that are run by great artists, and great businesses that support these artists SURVIVE in today’s world?
Let’s support our fellow artists. Let’s eat own dog food, whenever possible. That means that we help promote our colleagues, rather than compete with them. There is enough room in this big world for the great musicians to survive. We need not try to take each others gigs, convince students to leave another teacher to be in our studio. By being the best artist we can be, and by operating with integrity, we all can build our businesses and still feel great about ourselves. Plus, having more outstanding colleagues is inspiring, and can elevate our own level of artistry.
Let’s also support our colleague’s businesses – especially specialty businesses and products. Specialty businesses that support your specific community (such as the double reed community) need your business to survive. Eat your own dog food. Sure, instead of buying from a specialty retailer, you might save a couple of bucks by purchasing your music or supplies from some huge general online store that sells everything from car batteries to sunglasses to watches. But you cannot get the type of special knowledge and experience from that big online megastore. You can’t call one of those stores and get the answer to, “what are the differences between the many editions of the Marcello Concerto arranged for oboe and piano” or “which reed knife do you think is easiest for a new reed maker to sharpen”. You most likely won’t be able to talk to a human being, let alone someone with many years of experience in using that dog food.
I once went into a big-box major music store that caters to drum and guitar players, as I had some time to kill between gigs. I asked what I thought was a reasonable question: “do you have any wind clips?” The staff had no idea what I was talking about. So, I explained that instrumentalists who play outdoor concerts use these long clothespin-like things, with at least one of the two arms being clear, so they could clip their music on the stand, and when the wind blows, the music doesn’t fly away. I may have well been explaining how to create a nuclear bomb. They said, “oh, our music stands have these little metal things to hold your music” and showed me the cheapest wire stand I’ve ever seen in my life, with the tiny wires at the front that are annoying and useless.
A few days later, I wandered into a small, local music store that I’d never been in. Not only did the staff member know exactly what I meant from the phrase “wind clips”, they had them in stock. And, he was a university-trained instrumentalist, trying to keep his store afloat. I’ve never been back to the big-box store again, but frequent my local specialty stores, and of course the many terrific double reed stores and other classical music specialty retailers.
If you want to support your art, and help it survive and thrive, you need to do all you can to ensure that good artists and specialty companies get your business. Eat your own dog food. Support and encourage your colleagues. Buy from your colleagues who have the products you need, even if it costs a little more. In the long run, losing their expertise and specialty products costs us ALL so much more.