Speak From the Heart

My Roger Davies story turned out surprisingly well. I had to respond in a confrontation with him; punting wasn’t a possibility. For those of you not in the music industry, Roger managed Tina Turner from the time she left Ike until the day she retired. Sade still works with Roger as her manager, and my interaction with him came while he was organizing Sade’s “Love Deluxe Tour” in the early 90s. I had my talent agent’s license at the time in order to negotiate contracts for up and coming performers who weren’t ready for a big time talent agent to take over their career. I was representing Rick Braun, a jazz trumpet player who had just released his first CD. Roger knew this and offered Rick space at the merchandise tables to sell his CDs during the tour.

Rick had already negotiated a touring contract with Sade, which didn’t include health insurance or half pay for days off, standard offerings to touring musicians with a major artist. The other members of Sade’s band – musicians, to be fair, who had been there longer than Rick, and earned their compensation – did have these two line items in their contracts.  To be fairer, Rick did agree to a contract without health benefits and half day off pay.

But, we thought we’d try to renegotiate.  The tour was about to start in a few weeks. Rick came to me and asked if I could help renegotiate the contract. I said I would, but Rick would have to be ready to make a bold statement in order to get Roger’s attention. I guaranteed nothing but an attempt to change the terms of the contract. I even gave Rick a harsh reality check, that he could risk getting fired if we pressed Roger. But Rick was game.

My strategy (what on earth was I thinking!) was to have Rick stay home from the next rehearsal. He was to give my name and number to the person who would be calling him from Sade’s camp to find out why he wasn’t there. Well, it worked. That afternoon Roger himself called me, furious, and read me the riot act (he was totally right about being angry): I was risking the future of a great but unknown musician who was lucky to be on this tour. (True) How could I have the audacity to put Rick in such a precarious position? (True again) And just who the heck was I? (certainly not as high profile as Roger) While he was talking I remained completely silent. I barely breathed, and yes, I was scared! Roger was huge! Still is. He’s an unbelievably excellent businessman. And even though I set Rick up for the possibility that he could get fired, I didn’t want that to happen. I believe I started praying immediately.

At a certain point Roger stopped talking and asked if I was still there. “Yes,” I responded, “but I was listening to you. I wanted to hear everything you had to say.” With that, Roger said he was done and asked me to talk. Game on. No punting allowed, so I spoke from the heart. I explained that Rick was appreciative of the opportunity to work with Sade. He was grateful for the tour allowing him to sell his CDs. And although Rick had worked with many other major recording artists, he was unknown as a solo artist. But if he wasn’t good, Roger wouldn’t have chosen him for that band. Roger and Sade needed a certain sound and Rick’s sound fit the best for her music.

I said that because Roger was such a strong force in business, nothing but a bold move would get his attention. Staying home from rehearsal was that bold move. The contractual requests that we had of Roger were standard. The request to come current on rehearsal pay was obvious. I asked if I could fax over the rewritten contract for his consideration. He said he would think about the requests and have his office get back to me. They did, the next day, and not only granted Rick his three requests, but asked if I minded my contract being used as the template for the entire band’s contracts!!

Formula for the “respond now” paralyzing moment: Listen without interrupting; that shows restraint, character, and poise.  It also shows respect to the speaker.  Then breathe; breathing clears the air.  Lastly, speak from the heart; it demonstrates social intelligence and a level of self-respect that can turn a paralyzing moment into a win-win for everyone.

Kudos to Roger Davies. I will forever be grateful to him for showing me what a true professional looks like!