Pro Tip #38: What is your bands velocity? and what the heck is Velocity?

ve·loc·i·ty: the speed of something in a given direction.

In this article, I’ll scratch the surface into its meaning specifically with project management and how it might assist your band in delivering on your goals and managing expectations.

In no way is this short article going to explain the principles of waterfall, sprints, agile, scrum, critical paths, or any other type of project management lingo but it should give you a small primer to consider that project management methodologies can actually assist in band management, if used properly.

One caveat: Like any tool, it only works when placed upon the right objects and in the case of bands and members, those who are open to the concepts of tracking progress as well as setting goals. Frankly, these types of things are difficult to implement because some will consider it too “serious” and the entire morale could shift for the worse. In other words, if you are just jamming for fun, this probably is not the article for you or your band (most bands in reality). For those remaining, use at your own risk.

Bridging project management and band management (it can be the same), Velocity encapsulates movement, forward projection, and specifically defines what a band should be able to achieve during a time period. In agile methodologies, we call those time periods “sprints” but for this article and in regards to band management, we’ll just call it “next rehearsal.”

In the simplest terms, Velocity is a measurement of movement or accomplishments.

So, “How do I use it?” or the better question, “What do I use it on?”

To keep it high level, this article will use the concept on learning new songs with a band. Learning new songs is something every band will certainly do and the struggle is real. The below story is fictitious, or is it?

The scenario: You just formed the ultimate rock band “Crotch Rocket”. The players are the best in the area and you plan to do some of the more complex songs on the Nickel Back albums.

The goal: You got a gig lined up at Madison square garden (Ms. Madison, the old lady that has a nice little garden in her back yard down the street). The gig is only 3 months away and your band needs 40 songs to be able to play the event (it will surely have record label executives watching you ready to sign you for playing the cover tunes so well).

The bands response: “Too easy, we can totally learn 10 songs the first week, and then maybe 15 the next week since we’re kicking ass, and then another 15 more the next week. We’ll be ready in 3 weeks and we’ll be ROCK GODS! Matter of fact, let’s go ahead and book us in 3 weeks, we don’t even have to wait 3 months!”

The plan: Band Leader: “By next rehearsal (next week), learn the first 10 tracks from Nickel Backs first album. Because I’m a good band leader, here are the official tabs so we’re all on the same sheet of music.”

The band: “No problem boss, we’re gonna kill this. This is gonna be awesome, we’re fully committed.” “We’re already the best band in the area!”

The next rehearsal:

  • Guitarist: “Hey man, uh, man, I got busy at work and didn’t have time to learn any of the new songs”
  • Singer: “what songs were we suppose to learn?”
  • Bass Player: “man, I learned it in a different key”
  • Drummer: “I learned my parts” (they didn’t.. but nobody can tell)
  • Band leader: “FML”

And… that starts the measurement. The velocity is the measurement of what actually occurred. The bands desire was 10 songs, the bands actual velocity was 0, zilch, nadda. 0 is bad.

Ok, I’m being a little dramatic, let’s give the band Crotch Rocket some credit and say they actually were able to accomplish 3 songs (in a week). And just like that, the band velocity is 3.

The problem: 3 is not 10.

The bigger problem:  Turmoil is brewing and they don’t even know it. Without setting expectations and valid achievable goals quickly, Crotch Rocket may not make it to even see the gig.

Where velocity comes in: Based on this new velocity number, the band leader is now armed with some realities. The band, as much as they wanted to do 10 songs a rehearsal, was able to only really produce 3. That velocity of 3 is the new standard (which hopefully will increase).

Side note: It also important to note that songs, like tasks, in project management can vary in complexity so velocity can change and would need to be measured over multiple rehearsals to really determine the capability of the members versus their perceived abilities internally. By a few more rehearsals, the band leader can generally access what the real velocity is (an average).

The math: With a little math, we can gather that timeline in reality looks a bit different from the original expectation:

40 songs / velocity (3) = 13.3 weeks (rehearsals)

Uh oh! That means that 13.3 rehearsals put Crotch Rocket over 3 months  (13.3 / 4) before they will be able to perform!! They are gonna have to cancel Madison square garden!!

Fortunately, for Crotch Rocket, they realized that building the ultimate rock band is hard and armed with this new reality of velocity, the members were able to prioritize some things, decrease complexity in song choices and increase their velocity to a solid 5 to make the gig.

And that’s the thing, velocity is something which you continue to measure to effectively manage what can be done. It resolves so many issues with false hope, missed expectations, and unproductive rehearsals.

There are so many facets I could go into but this article would then be a book but I’ll mention that effective planning and asking members to determine their own velocity is important to measure so it’s not constantly a struggle for members. Being in a band is about having fun after all and I can tell you even more fun when you have a high performing band where expectations are managed.

Ok, let’s wrap this article up:

Velocity can help your band analyze what you have delivered in a previous rehearsals and what is achievable going forward, making the process more efficient and attainable. Not only will it make your band more efficient, it is also a great communication technique for all the band members when it comes setting expectations.

Common Challenges

  • A common issue within even committed bands is 80% of the members will learn all the material but 20% do not. Unfortunately, with this case, the velocity is still the same, it’s based on the entire band and not individuals (i.e. the bands performance is based on the worst members performance). This process can quickly put a spotlight on members who constantly don’t meet the standard which can be a bad experience. Some members will be encouraged to get things together and others may just not care which can lead to lots of other issues to include resentment and removal of the member.
  • Band members typically don’t want to be held accountable. Many will start to consider the concept of having predefined tasks “a job” and worse, being “tested” at rehearsals. If not properly explained that it’s not a test or job, the members can start to resent the entire process, leading to a negative experience.
  • This concept doesn’t need to be forced on every little thing within a band. Use it where it works best for your band and make sure everyone on is on board with the concept, or, as a band leader, execute these measurements in private and just forecast within your internal plans.
  • This doesn’t solve band problems like drama, arrogance, girlfriends, or really anything other than helping to plan effectively. If anything, it can lead to more problems if not effectively implemented with willing members.

I hope you found the article interesting and if you implement it, I hope you have the same successes I’ve had with my bands I’ve used the process with. The current band I perform with went from a properly managed plan to 2 rehearsals to playing a festival. Finding members who can adopt the process and have the same commitments can do extraordinary things. It can work, just over communicate and give it a chance. Cheers.

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