I know I’m a little late to this party, but I’ve become a bit addicted to Kitchen Nightmares, the show in which famous chef Gordon Ramsay walks into failing restaurants and rips the entire staff a new one. I’ve always found a strong connection between the culinary and musical arts and what it means to survive in both. These are a few notes I’ve taken from Chef Ramsay.
1. Keep your menu small. Time and again Gordon has to completely overhaul a menu that is five or more pages long. He pares it down to a few really killer items that people will always order. For musicians, the lesson is to stay focused. Find a musical niche to fill and be great at it.
2. Find the best people for the job. No matter what type of restaurant it is, the success and/or failure of the place always rests on the staff—from the wait staff all the way up to the owner. Music groups are the same. Everyone has to share in the vision and musical direction of the group. If you find the right people to play and work with, your job becomes less like work.
3. Pay the bills. I was stunned at how many restaurants on the show would be half a million dollars in debt (if not more). I also noticed a lot of people spending time and money in all the wrong places of the restaurant. The weight of all those bills takes its toll. For musicians the same is true—if you’re not taking care of your self financially, you will constantly be saddled with stress and worry. Eventually you will end up hating your career choice because of how insecure you feel. Do yourself a favor and do what it takes to make sure your financial house is in order: take more gigs, pick up a “day job,” and don’t fill your time with free gigs and favors if it’s taking away from time you could be making money.
4. Change is inevitable and necessary. This is my favorite part of the Kitchen Nightmares show: the moment when Gordon starts telling the owners what needs to be done—and they fight the advice at every turn. Most of them eventually realize that the change is for the better and embrace it. As musicians, we are not used to the idea of fluidity and change in our art—most of us still play music mostly written in the nineteenth century and earlier. Musicians have a tendency to believe that what they’re doing should work because it has in the past. But we live in a time in which changing (evolving) will open up new doors for our music and keep us afloat in this new world.
5. If you are proud of what you do, your outlook on life will be great. There’s always that moment at the end of the show when the owner, chef, and whole staff are showing a renewed energy and bring a higher level of excitement to their work—all because they take pride in their work again and feel that the future is positive because they enjoy working again. This should be an obvious point, but it needs to be made. If you find yourself dreading your rehearsal coming up, never practicing just for fun, and making cynical comments about music and your fellow musicians, it’s probably time you reevaluated where you are. That time is when you need to remind yourself why you decided to make music your career in the first place; you need to do whatever it takes to find pride in your work again. It may be time to find new staff (collaborators) or get out of the kitchen all together, but the key is to always love your work. If you feel you are doing good work, your pride and passion will show through to your audience.