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Client Horror Stories

Transcription of James Hush’s episode (That time your teenage idol hired you to manage their show, then makes you learn not to meet your heroes the hard way)

Transcription of James Hush’s episode (That time your teenage idol hired you to manage their show, then makes you learn not to meet your heroes the hard way)

This article was based on Episode #19: James Hush’s Story, here for us by the grace of Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!


Morgan (Host): Hey everyone, welcome to the latest edition of ‘Client Horror Stories’. I’m excited today to have James here. And there are a particular few reasons why I’m especially excited for today’s episode. It’s the first time in the history of the podcast that I’ve been especially excited. He is the first person I’m speaking to in Asia. And secondly, everyone else that I’ve interviewed so far has been from the tech development and digital marketing world. While James has some great stories from his music career long ago. Welcome to the show. So, you look like you’re about 22. So a long time ago, when you were eight years old, you were probably a music promoter. 

James Hush (interviewee): I’d been three years old.

Morgan (Host): A precocious little kid in Canada.

James Hush (interviewee) : It’s funny because there are a lot of my buddies back in my hometown in Canada who know me for being a concert promoter. I move around a lot. I went from Canada to the states. Now I’m out in Taipei. So a lot of people also know me from the tech side. Therefore, every once in a while, when my music buddies meet my tech buddies, like, when I had a buddy from Canada visit from Los Angeles, it was like, “Whoa, wait, what does this mean now?”

Morgan (Host): To have completely different personalities in each for all. You’re like the hips out cool music producer, bouncer type with one group. And then you’re the nerdy software developer with the other type.

James Hush (interviewee): I have to, I want to say change my personality, but at the play, a different role was when I was in a management role. When someone drops the ball and doesn’t keep their commitment, you have to play the role of a serious person by saying, hey, let’s get serious. But other than that, I’m pretty much the laid back friendly guy the entire time.

Morgan (Host): Oh, that’s a great point. And a great segue into the actual story because what’s probably one of the things that’s powerful, but the story you’re about to tell is that even among different industries, the core principles of dealing with human beings, relationships, and solving problems are true in any industry and widely applicable.

James Hush (interviewee): Oh, yeah. 1,000%. I forget who told me this, but they said, “Computers are easy, people are hard because computers do what you tell them to, and people will act against it.” People regularly act against their best interests, even if it is against investment. Anyone who’s worked with clients knows that for sure.

Morgan (Host): Hence the genesis of this whole series is to pass on what we learn from clients to the next generation after us. 

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah!

Morgan (Host): So, let’s jump in. Tell us about being a music promoter and then one or a couple of horror stories from your previous life.

James Hush (interviewee): Okay, cool. I’ll start a little bit early on to give some context. So growing up as a kid, I always wanted to be a rock star. I knew I was really lucky because, from the age of about 15, I knew I either wanted to be a rock star or a software engineer. So, I was able to optimize my high school classes and schedules choices pretty easily. I knew I had to take music classes and math classes. And I sure as heck knew that I didn’t have to take chemistry or biology. 

I was either going to be a rock star or a software engineer. And so around that time, I started playing in bands, in metal bands back when I was about 16. And with that experience, I didn’t realize it at the time, but the first lesson I learned was how to build a team becau   se I knew how to play guitar. And I realized rather quickly that everyone and their mom wanted to play guitar in the band. There was a supply and demand issue. Nobody was looking for an extra guitar player; they were mostly looking for bassist players.

Morgan (Host): The bassist is so uncool. No one wants to be a bassist.

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah. And fast forward, I ended up switching to the bass for the same principle because it’s a blind man. And so I realized rather quickly when I was 14 or 15 that if I want to be a guitar player, I got to learn, I got to make the band. So, if I want to make a band, I need to bring some value to the table. And the value you bring to the table as a guitar player isn’t your ability to play guitar as I mentioned; everyone and their mom knows how to play guitar. 

I realized the value I could bring to the table was I could write the songs. So that’s what I did. I wrote a couple of songs, and then I started to go around to find band members.

Morgan (Host): By the way, as the only interview I’ve done with anyone in the music world, I think you have to send me some YouTube videos of you guys playing. So we can  splice it into this interview for this point.

James Hush (interviewee): As for high school band clips, we had no business being on stage. I ended up working my way up to when I moved to Los Angeles as I joined a metal band out there too. You could see the difference in quality because the later stuff was much better than the earlier stuff. But, yeah, I’ll send you that over because it will make some good video editing. But yeah, that was the original goal. 

Morgan (Host): Just as a comment on that, I think most people don’t appreciate the parallels between starting a startup and starting a rock band. I think it’s the same thing. As everyone says, I’m going to start a startup and make billions of dollars. It’s a star economy, like making a band and how the vast majority of garage fanatics wind up going nowhere. And then there were the Beatles that made a billion dollars. The vast, vast majority of startups go nowhere. And that there’s Facebook.

James Hush (interviewee): Well, here’s the thing, too, by the time I was in the music because this was about ten years ago, the music industry was in a place where pretty much everyone knew they weren’t going to make money. We were playing heavy metal music, and we had music screaming in it, and no one was paying for that. I think it was similar to when you signed up for the gym. You’re doing it to impress girls or guys to find a girlfriend/boyfriend. But then, you get to a point where you get so buff that the only person you’re impressing is other buff guys. No one has a six-pack except the other gym people. 

So basically we were practicing guitar so much that the only person who would be impressed with the music we were playing at the time would be other guitar nerds. And so it’s funny, now the music I make now is a lot simpler and easier to play. But it sounds 100 times better. So we learned a good lesson of avoiding overcomplicating stuff, which is another kind of funny thing because you learn that as a software engineer pretty quickly. 

You can always tell who you and your developers are because they keep doing fancy stuff. The best senior guys I’ve ever met, all they do is they write a function, they write a test for the function. They don’t touch anything else. And they and they ship it.

Morgan (Host): Love it! It is a lesson that applies over. So you’re into metal music, you had a band in Ontario, Windsor?

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah, this was out in Windsor, Ontario, right by Detroit. And s o that was the first step I needed to make a product. I made 30 minutes’ worth of material to play live. And to make that product, I needed team members like a drummer because I couldn’t make any drum beats. I needed a singer, a bass player. So I put that all together and convinced four people to follow me along. And we had our first goal. 

Our first goal was the High School Battle of Bands, called Lali-Palooza because we’re the St. Joseph lasers. We worked for four months on that show, and then after that gig, we looked at each other and thought, “Okay, we don’t have any shows coming up, we don’t have anything.” That was another lesson I learned that I’ve taken in my freelancing career, you always have to work on your deal pipeline. A very common mistake that all of us have made is we put all our efforts to get one client, and then we work on a three-month or six-month engagement with them. We spend 50 plus hours a week doing the actual work, but when the engagements are over, then you’re stuck without a client for three to six months. 

And sometimes that’s okay. But it’s only okay if you made a conscious choice to take a three-month break. You can end up in that cycle of Oh, sweet, I’ve got a big client and then nothing and then big client and then nothing. So I learned at 15 years old, after the show that oh, shoot, we don’t have another show. And that’s when I looked at the other guys in the band. Marco, my drummer, doesn’t like talking to anybody. He’s not going to find us any shows. Ramiz is too busy practicing guitar; John will not reach out to people. So, I got to figure this out. I’m like, so how do I do this? So, I started doing outreach to other bands was on Myspace pages.

Morgan (Host): Myspace?

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah, if a show had posted, we would send a message and say, hey, if for some reason, anybody on this lineup drops out last minute, it could be like three hours beforehand to send us a message, we can play the show. And so the value I was bringing to the table bear because I knew like we only played one show. I knew we weren’t that good. I knew, just mathematically, we couldn’t have been back good because we’ve only played one show. 

We had almost zero draws because we only played one show. So the only thing of value we could bring is to show up. And surprisingly, that was a really valuable thing to bring to the table. If you can just show up, not even for music, but even for jobs. There are so many people at jobs who just don’t do anything. 

Morgan (Host): Exactly!

James Hush (interviewee): Some of them don’t show up in the theoretical sense, where they’re in the office, but their brain isn’t there.

Morgan (Host): It is checked out.

James Hush (interviewee): But then some people who don’t show up till 10:30 and leave at like 4:00. Just show up!

Morgan (Host): But by the way, I strongly agree with that, and my book, “Beloved by Clients” is all about making clients love working with you. One of the key points is just actually doing the work. If you’re being paid for eight hours a day, then do the eight hours a day. If you’re doing this, you are better than most people.

James Hush (interviewee): Oh yeah. One trick I would do like it wasn’t even a trick. I learned this from my dad. My dad worked in a car factory as an electrician. And so it was shift work. And because of the shift work you have to punch in and punch out because it’s a factory. You can argue that for knowledge work showing up 15 minutes late is not a big deal. But my dad would always show up 15 minutes early because he said, why not? He said, “I can show up. I can read my newspaper. I can have a coffee. Instead of reading my newspaper and having a coffee at home, I can read my newspaper and have a coffee there. And I know I’ll never be late.” 

So I remember my dad telling me that. And I just took on the same habit when I started working. I always showed up, probably 30 minutes early. But then I would leave at like 5:30 ish instead of 6. And even especially in California, if you show up at 8:30 while most of the engineers show up at 10:15, you’d still have like an hour to do deep work before anyone bugs you.

Morgan (Host): But what’s also interesting is that in the clients’ eyes, they hire you as a specialist because they’re not developers themselves. So, they look at all these other clues to judge your confidence. If a person that’s showing up early, eagerly ready to go versus the person who moseys in at 11 am. Not being a developer, they instinctively trust in the early person more.

James Hush (interviewee): I’ve had engineers or not just engineer out people argue with me on that. If I mention that I show up a bit early then they’ll instantly defend themselves even if my intention was not to attack them. I simply tell them what I do. I do this and like you said, non-technical clients appreciate it 100% of the time. So you do whatever you want to do. When I do this, I get good results. And so, if you’re not getting the results that you want, try doing something as simple as that.

Morgan (Host): I think it’s really powerful for people to think like they’re the other person like very few people think like they’re the boss, if you’re the boss, who like you hire a software developer, would you rather the software developer be there 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes late? Everyone would rather the person that’s there 15 minutes early.

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah. Plus, if you do something simple as showing up 15 minutes early, and leaving five minutes later then even if you do fall behind on something, they’re going to be a lot more understanding of that reasonable person. And most people are reasonable. Usually what comes across to people is this person’s bad at managing their time, because they will not show up on time. Secondly, they kept leaving early, and then they had to do some weird weekend schedule. But it depends as I said. 

I have also seen one of the most organized people I’ve ever worked within my life. She was the VP of product at our system once, and she was a mom with two kids. She worked out five days a week and had a perfectly organized calendar and everything. She would leave early every couple of Fridays to help with some kids’ stuff. But her schedule was so meticulously organized that other stuff made sense. 

I’m not saying that if you don’t work exactly 9 to 5 every single time you’re not going to be successful. I’m just saying if you’re going into a new relationship with a client or a boss, little things like that do matter.

Morgan (Host): 1,000% 1,000%

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah. Okay, so we’ve done the show-up advice. 

Morgan (Host): We haven’t even gotten to the story yet, but I love the metaphors and how parallel was that. So this is fun.

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah. So, going back I realized that I need to build up a deal pipeline. I did not realize what I was doing, but I was figuring out how to add value. The number one thing about the dad’s showing up advice worked. We started getting on small shows at completely last minute, and people were just happy that we showed up. And then from there, I started meeting people who were concert promoters. 

So, there are two different kinds of groups who organize these shows. Generally, either the bands themselves were putting on the shows, or there were a couple of people in my hometown, who made a living by organizing shows. They would find four or five bands and put them together, put the fliers up, and get tickets printed. They would take the risk by either renting out the venue or guaranteeing the fees for some of the bands, but then they would get the reward. If a lot of people showed up, they would make a difference. 

For example, if they needed 30 people to show up to a show to break and about 100 people show up, they would make a couple of 1,000 dollars. 

So, by playing these iffy shows, I started seeing the concert. From the first show, I’d make sure that all their tickets were organized. They would give maybe 50 tickets to sell, and then I’ll keep track of it for everyone in my band. So they only have to talk to one person. So I’d be responsible for everyone. And High School musicians are something. I would give them 20 tickets each worth $10 to sell, and they’ll come back with two lost tickets. I went to the promoter, and I took responsibility for that. 

And from there, I started building a relationship with the promoters. I told him, “Hey if you ever need someone to hang up flyers or watch the door, let me know. I’m down to help out and learn.” And because of that, I developed a relationship with a promoter named Jay. And he took me under his wing and showed me how to book shows. And that’s when I started not only booking shows for my band but money. It turned into the equivalent of my part-time job during college. 

So this is how I made cash through college and a little bit through high school. So that was cool. I started building this skill. So now instead of looking to find shows, I could just make the shows. And then I would be able to collect the profit in the form of money for myself and my band.

Morgan (Host): I spent college working in the University Library and Archives, and I think going to concerts would have been a more fun way to pay my way through college.

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah, it’s fun some days, but people’s problems with live events are a lot more heightened than in a normal job situation because, in most normal jobs, deadlines are a bit more flexible. From my experience, anything to do with live events has the tightest, most real deadlines out of any other project I could think of. 

For example, I used to work at the NFL. If The Super Bowl is happening in February, the website better is up. When I work with marketing teams at companies in engineering, a lot of them want to have a big splash marketing event there. They’ll say once this feature gets done, we’ll organize a splash event around it. I usually start by saying to teams, don’t listen to the engineers, don’t listen to me, I’m lying, if you want a big marketing event for a new feature, first of all, don’t do it. 

There’s a reason why Google and Facebook or any software companies avoid doing that. There are just too many variables that could cause a crash or instability. Otherwise, if you really want your business value to having that big marketing event splash, what I recommend is, do not let the engineers, including myself, have the code up on the staging server and then move the code from the staging server to production.

Morgan (Host): Not in real-time. 

James Hush (interviewee): It won’t work because I’ve seen it been tried many times, but it never works. So, the way I recommend, and this is how we did it for, we had the code up on the production server behind a flag which means the code is still in production. And even then, before you announce a marketing change, you test it out to a small percentage of traffic in an unrelated market. 

So a good example is the new homepage was viewable in parts of South America two months beforehand. If you were in a certain place, or a part of a small percentage population in South America, you would have seen the new homepage about three months before we launched a new homepage. And guess what, like the marketing teams always worried that oh, what happens if it leaks out?

Morgan (Host): Oh, my God. Yeah. 

James Hush (interviewee): What happens if it leaks out? Great. This will get free organic traffic. It didn’t leak out. It would have been great if it did. But my point is, when you’re doing live events, you can’t change the debt. You can’t.

Morgan (Host): Yeah. I agree with that, and I will add to that that delays are endemic, especially in software; everything just takes more time. If you’re launching an online marketing campaign, it’s not hard to turn on all the Google ads a week later than you expected. I happen to know because I’m crazy. The next Super Bowl is February 6, 2022. And like that date has been set for like four years. I looked up the 2022 Super Bowl years ago, and I could not believe it was February 6, years and years ahead.

James Hush (interviewee): They not only figure out all the logistics for that, but they make contracts with all the television networks.

Morgan (Host): Totally!

James Hush (interviewee): All the television networks have their losses fixed out, all planned out. So working in live events when I was younger, any sort of people problem during a live event is 100 times worse. Normally, when you work in a firm and someone comes to you with a problem to get fixed right away. Let’s be real, 95% of the time, it doesn’t have to get fixed on the spot. But if the sound is not working during the concert, it has to get fixed right now. So that led me to a record company called Roadrunner Records. It was a big heavy metal record company, and they were running a contest called “SignMeTo Roadrunner Records.” 

It was my favorite record label growing up. As part of the contest, they had a Battle of Bands show in Toronto. So normally I would book Battle of Bands shows on my own to generate revenue, but I never had my band play those shows because those shows were like Christmas movies; nobody wanted to watch them. They’re low, cost but they’re guaranteed to make money because there’s always going to be like a family who just wants to go see a Christmas movie with their 4-year-old, which means they’re turning one ticket into four tickets sale. And so Christmas movies make funds for movies like Avatar. It’s nothing guaranteed to make money versus an avatar costing a gazillion dollars. No guarantees but for some reason, James Cameron always pulls a miracle, but one day he might not. 

With this thought, I planned to play in Toronto to get some connections there. We won’t get paid but we may meet some Roadrunner people. So we went to Toronto, and all shows went pretty well. I talked to the promoter there. I mentioned that I book concerts in Windsor, my hometown. And he said, Oh, actually, “We’re thinking about running a similar show in Windsor. Do you want to help me run it?” Now looking back on it, there were a couple of Red Flags. First of all, his production company was called HOT Boxxx productions, literally the sketchiest name possible. And in general, I had a bad vibe from them, like the way he maintained himself; he looked like an over 40, like x punk kind of guy. And I just had a little bit of a bad feeling about them. But I thought this could help me build rapport. Maybe there’s some sort of relationship that could benefit us 

Morgan (Host): I want to comment on both. People rarely consider the possibility that their brand/name could sound really sketchy, i.e. triple X. Sometimes your target market will like it but potential business partners and employees may find it weird. So that’s a fascinating account. And also trust your gut. It’s such important advice. And I think everyone says it, and everyone knows it, yet we don’t do it because we are always hungry. We often ignore our gut instincts when it comes to Roadrunner Records or any other well-known brand, even if it stinks.

James Hush (interviewee): Do you know what helps with trusting your gut? Whenever I have a weird decision that I am not sure about, I’ll bounce it off to my girlfriend. She would tell me that this sounds like the time you did the other thing. And that you told me not to do this again. Are you sure you want to do this again? So having a partner or someone close, I bounce ideas and they’ll say the same thing like, this sounds like the time you did this eight years ago. Are you sure you want to do this again? It helps to have a close friend or partner whom you can bounce ideas off if you feel bad. That’s usually enough to like, jumpstart your brain to remember. 

So I came back to Windsor and talked to the guy on the phone and agreed to do the show with them. So there were three problems. Problem number one, we had no clear terms laid out. So I assumed we’d be splitting the profit 50-50. However, I never clarified that. I never wrote that down. I never asked. So that’s on me. I had one idea of what the outcome would be. But I never wrote that. I never wrote that out or discussed it beforehand. Number two, not only no clear terms, but all the work will be on my plate. Finding the venue, delivering the tickets, and the flyers, finding the sound person,  basically all the work was going to be on my plate, and almost zero work was going to be on this other guy’s plate. 

In addition, since we had no clear set of terms outlining how the rewards would look, I realized looking back that I was also responsible for all the risk. If you think about it like that, they weren’t going to send me any money upfront, either. They wouldn’t pay the venue, the sound guy, or any other friend. I was entering a dangerous situation where I had zero rewards and all the risks. So this is what I like to call bizNOW a bad deal. I avoid doing deals like this now.

 Morgan (Host): It’s incredible. In retrospect, it’s so obvious, but how old were you at the time? You were like a 20-year-old college kid, really into music, and was a part of a super famous metal band. It was all there; you’re a rational, logical guy, but it just takes a level of experience and sophistication to realize such things on the spot like that.

James Hush (interviewee): When you’re young, especially when you’re growing up, like I grew up in Canada, in a nice town, with middle-class parents, you’re wrapped up in bubbles. So I’ve realized people just steal from people all the time in a sense of being vague intentionally. That’s the right way to do it.

Morgan (Host): I agree 1,000%. I have two comments on that. After spending much of my career working and living in Latin America, there is the perception that everyone here is corrupt. On the other hand, in North America, there is a high level of integrity and honesty and the look for win-win solutions and everyone’s best interests. 

I actually think North Americans are better at marketing because they make themselves look and sound better, and they hide the stealing when compared to Latin America, where everything is open. Would you rather see it out in the open or hit the ground running? Guess what, I actually appreciate it when the bad behavior is out in the open because then I can more clearly appreciate what’s happening and avoid it.

James Hush (interviewee): That’s why getting, and you don’t even need to make a contract, like a legal contract or anything, especially if it’s around $10,000 $20,000. It’s not a big issue. Just be clear in your email about what you believe makes you know, but ultimately, you’ll have to go to court for anything; make sure you’re on the same page about what you believe will happen.

 Morgan (Host): Writing down the assumptions just goes so far toward clarifying issues. Because in my methodology, I always insist on every little thing to be documented. I always tell my teams that if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen precisely because of this. But at 20, unfortunately, I was not like that either.

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah, no big deal. So the show comes up. There were about 13 bands on this lineup, and anyone who’s run events knows when you have 13 bands, it’s such a pain because if one person is over-timed by five minutes, it starts pushing everything back. As an event organizer, if I find one person off by five minutes, then I have to go to the next band and ask them politely if they can cut out five minutes of their set.

I do public speaking now, and my superpower is that I used to be an event promoter. So when event organizers come to me and ask me to cut out 5 or 10 minutes, I always say, Yeah, sure. I know exactly how to do that. And then instantly, they love me. Because I know from their perspective that I just fixed their whole problem. I fixed their whole day. I just cut one story of five minutes.

 Morgan (Host): People are so used to prepping their speeches and PowerPoints to the point that no one ever wants to cut them, so this is actually useful to be able to do that.

 James Hush (interviewee): Yeah. It is emotional for bands when I ask them to cut 5 minutes. It means a full one song. They feel like I like attacked them. Afterward, I would have to go to another band and ask, Oh, can you cut five minutes instead? And eventually, they would agree. I noticed that the bands, who were the most professional, were the easiest to work with, and they also always sold the most tickets. They always brought in the most revenue. And then, coincidentally, had the best music, which made sense because if you’re organized enough to keep track of 40 tickets, post a few things on Facebook before the show, and show up on time, you’re probably organized enough to put more effort into songs every week. 

Morgan (Host): I 1,000% agree with this. It is why it’s vital to get all the small details. It reminds me of a few years ago when I read a book all about Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands when I was growing up. And one of the most surprising things I learned about Led Zeppelin like the image you have of these, like classic rock bands from the 60s 70s like a bunch of guys and kids in our garage, getting together and practicing. And that’s how it is, it’s a little bit like good mythology, to begin with. But, as it turns out, Jimmy Page lived up to the title of the guitarist at the moment; he founded Led Zeppelin and was the world’s highest-paid session musician. He was the go-to guitarist that every band wanted.

James Hush (interviewee): Best guitar player in the world! 

Morgan (Host): Yeah, the best session musician in the world, and the most popular music in the world, where every famous band would go to be the backup guitarist and play on their records. And then it’s like, “Wow, I could start my own band.” And it’s when I recognized a great paradigm change in my head.

 James Hush (interviewee): One more thing a record producer in Los Angeles told me, Do you know why Aerosmith never broke up while the Beatles broke up? I said I like to know why. According to him, The Beatles would figure out a different split for every single song they wrote. For instance, Ringo would receive 20%. George is going to get 10% for writing this verse, etc. What happened next was that they started going off on their own doing solo things so they didn’t have to split. 

 Morgan (Host): I see!

 James Hush (interviewee): Besides, Aerosmith had split royalties for every single song, even from the beginning. Always!

 Morgan (Host): I had no idea that was a great little anecdote.

 James Hush (interviewee): And it doesn’t matter because I saw Steve Tyler in interviews. It may be possible that the drummer, during practice, tapped something when he didn’t like the verse he sang. And that got in my head. And that caused me to think of this, and it went easier. He said, and that’s why we’re all friends because everything’s just even, and we’re never afraid of ideas from anyone.

 Morgan (Host): Furthermore, constantly renegotiating is emotionally draining for everyone as opposed to being able to agree on an imperfect formula even if it’s imperfect, you can just focus on your creativity without worrying about it again.

 James Hush (interviewee): Yeah, because the money’s gonna come. And especially if you’re at the Beatles or Aerosmith level or even on a startup level, once you have $2 million or 5 million-plus dollars, who cares? 

Morgan (Host): 1,000% 1,000%.

 James Hush (interviewee): So back to the show. And one of the final Red Flags I saw was that they insisted on having their own door person. So, the door person is the person who collects money and holds onto the cash box.

 Morgan (Host): Yes.

 James Hush (interviewee): Normally, I always had a high school kid as my door person. I just paid them 100 bucks to watch the door because I didn’t want to watch the door. That’s where I learned how to delegate because I used to run the door myself. It was kind of annoying. There were times when I had to leave the door to go deal with something else. So instead, I’d just have a friendly warm body watching the door. And so that was the first time I delegated when I found a high school kid.

 Morgan (Host): Until this conversation, I did not know that door person faces, as you said, a doorman, but I guess that will be the case in 2021.

James Hush (interviewee): I had my own door person, but they told me they would bring their own. I realized after that never let someone else hire the door person. That needs to be yours. Because, at the end of the night, the promoter left with all the money. The Roadrunner people took me to another room and gave me 300 bucks. But I still collected all the money for ticket sales, so I knew we had $5,000 in profit because I helped organize it. And so, in my brain, I lost $2500. 

Now, remember, I lost onto something that I never wrote any terms down, never discussed. Everything was just in my head. It was my fault for not pushing it forward. The promoter was also sketchy because he kept saying, “oh, we’ll discuss later; we’ll figure it out.” And so I think that’s a good example of being like, the kind of like the North American kind of lack of a better word corruption is being vague on purpose in such a way that you can even lie to yourself. Like to feel like, I didn’t really technically do anything wrong. But yeah, so this guy left with the cash.

Morgan (Host): This is incredible. I love the story. A few comments on this. They appreciate physical control, which is surprising, especially for computer nerds, who believe everything is online and don’t think about things like who has the physical box, or even when you run servers like Amazon hosting Amazon, and they can switch it off. Also, for $300 after all of that, it’s incredible. 

I think it also highlights the difference between good behavior and legal behavior. Because what many people say is we didn’t break the law. He never made an agreement. And he was paid for his work. Even though their instances are similar to this all the time. In fact, the vast majority of the time, there is no law broken, therefore it is legally not illegal to act in this manner. However, everyone takes advantage of it. 

Finally, I admire your insight that the best liars are those who lie to themselves. I’ll add to what you said.  So, from this guy’s perspective, it is alright as he never signed a contract with you. He may have thought that you are not doing it for the money. You probably did it because you wanted to be associated and help out. Everyone’s a good guy and a hero in their own telling of this story.

 James Hush (interviewee): So I try to call him up, doesn’t pick up the phone. It was super sketchy. Okay, now here’s the twist. About three or four months later, this Toronto promoter gives me a call, asking if I want to manage another Windsor show the next night. So I obviously said, No,

 Morgan (Host): You’re a fast learner. I’m glad you learned from that incident.

 James Hush (interviewee): A couple of weeks later, I was talking to the bar owner.

 Morgan (Host): Hold on before we get to the next part. I’m excited about what happens. But I do want to comment on the fact, that he calls you to ask you if you want to do it again. It confirms the analysis we discussed a few minutes ago that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. If in his mind, he took advantage of you. And you know, and stole $2,000 from you, he wouldn’t have called you up to do it again. When they rob someone, they don’t call the next day to try to hire them; they disappear. So he did create some justification in his mind that he legally did not break any laws.

James Hush (interviewee): Yeah. 

Morgan (Host): So what happens next? 

 James Hush (interviewee): So a couple of weeks later, I was running another show at the bar. I knew the bar owner, obviously. And I asked him about the show, and he told me that it was a mess. It was an absolute mess. The guy didn’t show up. He called him the day before and said he couldn’t come. So the owner had to run it. He was determined to never work with that guy again. 

Yeah, so there are a couple life lessons here. So the first one already kind of mentioned was to get the terms spelled out in advance. And it doesn’t have to be a legal contract, fancy thing, especially if it’s like not a huge amount of money. But just make it clear what outcome y’all are hoping to get. What happens when you get that outcome? Make sure that you understand what the upside will look like, how you’ll deal with it; what the downside will look like, and how you’ll deal with it. 

And if you’re doing a deal where it’s just you’re paying X dollars for a deliverable, it’s pretty simple. But it’s when you’re in the transactions and you’re like, “Oh, here’s a guaranteed amount of money, here’s a % backend.” However, when you have creative deals, which I’ve found as I progress in my job, the deals such as the way I’m compensated, become more creative. Because that way, I can match potential upside with myself and the market, which was an excellent example, especially when working with startups, that don’t pay as much as Google and Facebook. And that’s perfectly fine. And so, when I talked to some of the startups, the first thing I wanted to do was make sure we got along as individuals because life is too short not to work. 

And if I like a person, and I like the idea, and we get down to numbers, and if the numbers they put on the table are much lower. I’ll say, I like you, I like the idea. Let’s get creative. Instead, how about we do this much salary with this much bonus objective similar to the level of guaranteed income that Google or Facebook could pay? And the bonus will be paid out when we achieve these company goals and vest this much equity over this period. So we know that we’re both in it for the long term. 

And so that way, for someone I’ve never worked with before, worried about spending so much guaranteed money on me because they still don’t 100% trust me yet, they can fire me after three months because all my upside is later anyway. When I’m great for two years, then you don’t have to worry about re-budgeting. The amount of money you will pay me or if what I ask for will be more like I am not going to be asking for a raise up because it will be so much on me as equity.

 Usually, people agree on these terms. It removes the headache for business owners, who need everything organized and decide to dance more than anything. So, there are no surprises when they’re budgeting later. So, the first lesson is to figure out the terms. And then the other lesson I learned was that relationships have a lot of value, too. So if this promoter treated me fairly, we could have worked on other projects together in the medium long term and made even more money. So, if there is a sense of fairness, like in the first deal, this is a fantastic illustration. And, for example, if he had phoned me up ahead of time and said, “Oh, do you want to organize another performance like this and do 50-50?” we would have ended up with more money and less stress. 

Because we could have done numerous different presentations, especially with people, and because he is in a Toronto market, as this market, we could have been more creative. We may be able to work out deals like, oh, instead of paying two 50%, you can pay me a flat fee this time, and then you can get my band on this show in Toronto. We could have gotten some fancy stuff together if he had thought further ahead. 

And even if I had considered a little bit, I would have tried to make everything sure. And this is how I do it now: let’s make sure this like relationship is set up in such a manner that even if the engagement doesn’t work out, we still have that relationship so we can work on future business. So those are the two main points I discovered. And I’ve been remembering that for years.

 Morgan (Host): Fantastic lessons! I definitely agree with both lessons, but on the second one, I want to comment. It’s not even close. I believe you implied something about the 50-50 that I’d like to clarify. So it’s not that 50-50 is bulkier since nothing is ever 50-50 in real life. Someone usually throws in more, but it’s really about having whatever the figure was stated out clearly, like you said it produced at least $5,000 profit, and he paid you $300. 

That’s roughly 6% if I’m doing the math correctly in my head. As a result, instead of receiving 50% of the profit, you received about 6%. So, instead of using totally made-up numbers, if he had gone to you and said, “Okay, let’s do a 40-60 split, I’m so important, I’ll get 60, and you’ll get 40,” Even if it’s not 50/50, it’s so clear, and you think to yourself, “Wow, 40% of $5,000 is still $2,000!” It’s still worth it as a college student. For you, it’s still well worth it. So the key to fairness is simply having a number, agreeing on it, and being clear on it, regardless of what that number actually is. 

James Hush (interviewee): Right. I agree with you 1,000%. It’s not about the number. It’s about having a discussion and agreeing on the project. In general, I’m a simple person. So I try to think of the easiest way to figure it out since there are so many questions in the air, especially for very early ventures when there’s no money. When compared to a startup that’s currently producing a couple million dollars per month, I’m not going to walk in and ask for 50%. Unless I have some insane technical skill that will drastically improve the situation. But, honestly, I’m not bad.  I know my stuff when it comes to technology, but there’s no crazy machine learning algorithm I’m bringing to the table to double your company’s size. So that’s fine as well. 

But I agree since, for example, I’ve worked at organizations that are further along in their development, where I was given a percentage of stock. And it was all worth it because they’d go public after that. And that percentage was like a big chunk of money. As a result, I still felt extremely fair. And the fact that we discussed it ahead of time because this was a truly professional company compared to some of the others. I believe this is true a lot of the time, particularly for startups, and there are many parallels between startups and content promotion. 

It’s almost as though individuals are terrified of being rejected if they apply. Sometimes, I know I will not get 50%. If you simply go ahead and have the talk at the beginning, you’ll be fine. And add something along the lines of, “Okay, well, realistically, you’re not going to get 40%. You’re going to get one like that.

Morgan (Host): Yeah, I agree more evidence that the number is less important than having a conversation. People become mostly attached to numbers that are randomly like 50%. They feel equal and I know people that would rather have 50% of something worth zero which causes the company to be driven to the ground. You can’t raise investment, you can’t do all these different things. If someone has 50% and they won’t take any less, as opposed to A. I personally would rather have 1% of the next Google than 50% of nothing.

 James Hush (interviewee): Or even better, I’ll have 0% and just a guaranteed chunk of cash to work with some buddies I like. Many times, especially if you are contracting for a large company, you are just asked, “How much does an engineer cost?” But when it’s a deal with people I like, I am cool with it.

 Morgan (Host): Exactly. Love it. James, these are fantastic lessons. In fact, I think you might have inspired me to go find more people completely outside of the software and marketing universe to share their experiences. Because not only are all the parallels there, these are more fun issues about everyone in the world loves music. 

But more than that, when you talk all about your own profession, everyone has strong opinions. How to manage software developers, agile. You have strong opinions. But when it’s a whole different industry that you know nothing about, like concert promotion, it’s much easier to see the Red Flags and think about it with clarity of mind.

 James Hush (interviewee): Yeah, 100%. And that’s why I do public speaking and training now. I always tell stories from these other industries during my speech because I noticed there are so many people in tech who do a great job training how to do functional programming? And what I really cover in my talk is how to deliver software quickly with fewer bugs. When you get to that kind of big idea, it’s not about deciding whether to use Python or JavaScript. 

It’s about tying in those stories that I developed as a concert promoter or while overworking in early startups and focusing on emotions. Figure out why those emotions happened and then figure out the big rocks and big ideas that can prevent those things from happening. I have realized that 95% of problems in businesses are not that complicated. If you just focus on the big ones and then hire the experts to deal with the 1% issues here and there, that’s usually the best route in my experience.

 Morgan (Host): Love it. I agree 100%, and on your training, we will link it to your site and in the show notes as well. And, I think it is your website if I remember correctly. I love the first and last name .com domain. It is always easy to remember. James, it’s great having you. This was unusually fun. And for everyone who made it to the end, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

 James Hush (interviewee): All right. Thanks. Have a great day. Bye.


This article was based on Episode #19: James Hush’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!