Incfile’s ongoing Business Owner of the Month series is spotlighting Incfile clients who are doing wonderful things as entrepreneurs. This month we interviewed Ben Lack, founder of the Brass Animals, a company that provides New Orleans-style brass bands for live music and entertainment at weddings, corporate functions, parties, special events and more.
There’s nothing like live music from a big brass band if you want to make a memorable impression at an event. The Brass Animals play a wide selection of live music with a seasoned horn line playing what they describe as their “infectious brand of brass-driven, booty-shaking” hip-hop, New Orleans funk, pop and R&B. They cover current hit songs and classics from artists like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder.
Although the company is headquartered in San Francisco, the Brass Animals have local troupes of musicians in dozens of cities throughout the U.S. They’ve played for the Oakland Raiders, San Jose Earthquakes and at corporate events for big companies like Salesforce and Jack Daniel’s.
Ben shared insights and learning experiences from his journey of starting a business as a musician and entrepreneur.
Going from “Band” to “Brand”: From Musician to Business Owner
Ben comes from an entrepreneurial family and decided at a young age that he wanted to be his own boss. “I've always wanted to be my own boss and have seen many members of my family take that path and find lots of success,” Ben said. “So when I was in high school, I asked myself, ‘Why not me?’ and haven't looked back since.”
Ben started out by playing with a band called the Brass Animals. But he quickly discovered that there was potential to not only make a living as a working musician, but to expand the concept into a scalable business model. It all started somewhat by accident, when Ben’s band got double-booked by winning an audition to perform at an NFL football game.
“A few years ago, my band was asked by the Oakland Raiders football team to perform at home games,” Ben said. “When we won the audition, we realized after the fact that we had already committed to playing a private event at the exact same time in Oakland. So I had two bands perform that day and covered both gigs, and made twice the money. That's when I knew that being a cover band could become a viable business model, and we now have local troupes in cities all over the country.”
Ben found a way to go from “band” to “brand.” He took a concept for the Brass Animals that started as a successful local band of musicians, and turned it into a larger brand that serves even more clients at events all over the country.
What are some possible ways that your business can scale up or replicate your products or services for additional markets? Don’t assume that you have to think small or be limited to a single area or market. There might be big opportunities to take your business to a wider audience.
It’s All About Building Emotional Relationships
Why do people hire a live band for their wedding or corporate event, instead of just using recorded music? It’s because there’s a special emotional impact that happens from that live music performance. The Brass Animals have become known for their fun, energetic live shows that create a memorable spectacle and build emotional bonds with the audience.
Ben said that those moments of creating emotional impact are what make his business so special and rewarding.
“I've really enjoyed seeing how our performances impact our clients’ lives,” Ben said. “Like for a wedding when the newlyweds get to dance to their favorite song that we're playing. Or when we surprise a client's loved one with a Mardi Gras–themed birthday celebration. Those are the best!”
Even in tough economic times, the most successful businesses tend to be able to create memorable moments of emotional impact for their customers. When people care about your business and feel like they have an emotional connection with your company, beyond just buying from you, they’ll be more likely to stay loyal to you and keep recommending you to friends and loved ones.
Collaborate with Talented People
The Brass Animals are a collaborative effort, with talented musicians all over the U.S. playing together at live events. Ben said that his working relationships with his fellow musicians are one of his favorite aspects of running a business.
“I love music and being able to play music and I love playing with extremely talented musicians all over the country,” Ben said. “Owning a company lets me do this. And this is something that I'm not sure that I'd be able to do any other way.
Choosing great collaborators to partner with, whether it's fellow musicians, contractors, business partners, investors or hiring employees, is one of the most essential elements to helping your business grow and thrive.
Keep Going in Times of Challenge
The COVID-19 situation has caused a complete shutdown of live entertainment, corporate events and conventions, and even people’s weddings and private parties. This has understandably created major challenges for the Brass Animals.
“The coronavirus has crippled the entertainment and events industries, and all of our gigs have been cancelled for the foreseeable future,” Ben said. “So knowing that I'm not able to provide regular work for all of our musicians is deeply troubling.”
Even though Ben currently is not able to provide work for his beloved musician colleagues, he is hopeful for the future. He hopes that in a year from now, the company will be expanding its work by playing more gigs in all of the cities where it currently has a presence.
The COVID-19 situation and the lockdowns it has imposed on daily life are showing everyone just how much they love certain real-life experiences like live music, live entertainment, special occasions and celebrations. Hopefully once the current environment passes and a New Normal can be achieved, the Brass Animals can get back to entertaining their audiences, with the unique joy and energy that a real live brass band can deliver.
Learn more about the Brass Animals and see video clips of their live shows at BrassAnimals.com.
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