Timing and lighting

Timing and lighting is all about having the right idea at the right time, and being prepared to seize that moment and to maximize that opportunity when it presents itself. I want to tell you a little story that I hope will illustrate this idea of timing and lighting for you. When I was 16 years old, I went to see The Rolling Stones at The Forum here in Los Angeles. At the time, they were the biggest, baddest band on the planet. One of my favorite songs was a track called Midnight Rambler.

It was this 12 minute bluesy jam, that slows to a break about two thirds of the way through the song. When the band got to the break that night, the stage lights dimmed, and a long spotlight was shining down on Mick Jagger. Mick was wearing a silk scarf which he slowly but surely unwrapped from around his neck, as he sang the lyric, "Well you talk about the Boston..." And as the word Boston came out of his mouth, he drops to his knees, he whips that scarf to the stage, and the stage lights turn blood red.

My buddies and I all looked on in freaking awe of the mighty Rolling Stones. It's a moment I still remember today almost 40 years later. Why? Timing and lighting. They had a great idea, at the right time, and were prepared to maximize that opportunity for it's fullest impact. If the band misses the beat, if Mick Jagger blows the lyric, or the lighting guy misses the cue, it loses all it's impact.

Great moments, though, aren't all spontaneous. Great moments are conceived and rehearsed ahead of time. Unlike that night at The Forum, where the stones conceived the idea, the execution of the idea, and the timing of that idea, in the real world of the music business, most often, you can't control the timing of when things are going to happen. But, when that moment to make a lasting impression does come, you'll need to be ready. You cannot be rehearsing in that moment.

You'll need to have sorted out all that stuff ahead of time, and you'll need to perform at your best in that moment. While you're waiting for that moment to arrive, there are some things that you can actually control. You can paint a picture in your mind of what your great moment will look like. You can play it out over and over, until it's like a movie where you know the ending. You can think about how you'll execute that idea, and how you can rehearse it until it becomes instinctive.

When your moment comes, you wont' be thinking and worrying, you'll just be doing it. Let's put this into some real world context here. Let's imagine you're looking for a record deal. Or you're looking to find a manager. You've decided that you'll need great songs to get their attention, and great performances to close the deal. So you start writing songs. Instead of writing a song or two every once in a while, you write as often as possible. If you want to be a great performer, you're going to need to practice, so you make it a point to rehearse with your band members as often as you possibly can.

You spend time working on a great set list that showcases those songs in a way that's undeniable. You start booking gigs. At first, wherever you can. As you develop your live show, you get better and better gigs. You've sent your music out now to all the top labels, and some folks seem interested, and they promise to come out and see you, but they don't tell you when. And just when you've given up on the idea that those A&R folks are coming to a show, you're playing a gig at a local club, and lo and behold, that A&R rep from the label is in the audience, and he's interested in signing you.

All that planning, all that rehearsing meets the right timing, and your great moment presents itself. And if you've done the work ahead of time, you'll seize that moment, and now you're in business. But, if on the other hand, you've made excuses, you've procrastinated, you've spent your time whining about how tough it is to do, you found the time to dream about this moment, but did not prepare for it, you're going to strike out. And you may never get another shot to make that happen again.

That's timing and lighting. Along the way, I've learned something else about this notion of timing and lighting in my career. Sometimes, a great idea at the wrong time might not look like a great idea at all. Let's go back to that gig, and that A&R guy. Maybe you did everything right, you planned for your moment, you rehearsed for your moment, the A&R guy finally shows up and it looks like the timing was right. You played a great gig, but it didn't happen.

Why? The lighting was good, but the timing wasn't quite right. Perhaps that A&R guy who wanted to sign you had a boss who was not into it. And while he couldn't sign you, he stayed in touch. Later on, his boss gets blown out, and now the timing is right again, and you get signed. Now, if that seems far fetched, I want you to consider the fact that Aaron Bay-Shuck, one of the top A&R guys in the music business, the A&R exec who signed Bruno Mars took Bruno to the company not once, not twice, but three separate times before Atlantic Records signed him.

Bruno Mars never gave up, he never stopped writing, he never stopped performing, and so that when his moment to shine ultimately presented itself again, he knocked it out of the ballpark. The lesson here is that you'll never know when your great moment to shine will come. But when it does come, you'll need to be ready, so start planning and preparing right now.