Small Business Success Q&A #4: The O-Tones

If you haven’t heard the O-Tones, you really should. They will definitely get your toes tapping, and if you’re in the mood to dance, they’ll have you hopping. The O-Tones have been a fixture of the Pioneer Valley music scene for many years. I enjoyed them immensely at a fundraiser they participated in several years ago for a charity I was involved with at the time. It was a great evening of terrific music.

Many people might not think of a band as a business, but to stay around this long, the O-Tones definitely have to be thinking of themselves as business people. I hope you enjoy learning about their keys to success.

Name: Mary Witt

Company name: The O-Tones

Location: Florence, MA


Founded: 1993

No. of employees: 6

Business description: The O-tones is a hot Swing and Motown band gets your feet dancing. We travel to Boston as well as to all of MA, CT, NY, VT, RI and NH for events and weddings. Our songs are well-loved, coming from many different eras. We love the music we play and it shows. Our diverse repertoire as a dance band showcases powerful vocal harmonies, a driving rhythm section, soulful tenor sax, blazing guitar solos, and funky keyboard.

The core of the group is made up of three stellar singers, Mary Witt (bass), Ann Percival (rhythm guitar), and Zack Danziger (lead guitar). Each lending their own flavor, they soar in their solo vocal stylings, while blending smoothly in their harmonies. Add to that hot tenor sax by Kerry Blount, boogie woogie piano & organ by Walt Chapman, and, creative, rock solid drumming by Pieter Struyk, and you’ve got a sound that can’t be beat. With three singers and six instruments, you get the feeling of a big band with horn section. Smaller groupings are also available.

What have been the keys to your business success?

1. Luck – and by that we mean, that although we have worked hard to have a great service for people, we are also very lucky that the music we love to play, Swing, R&B, Jazz, and Motown is loved by many people of different generations and what many people want to dance to and listen to at weddings and parties.

2. Good service – we learn songs that we really enjoy and arrange them for our group, three singers with lots of vocal harmonies, sax, guitar, and piano duets and trios, backed by a solid and creative rhythm section. Because we pick the songs and arrange them, we don’t get tired of them, so we come across as happy and excited when we play for people. We don’t play many requests (other than those, say, for a first dance for a wedding that we can work up ahead of time) so we don’t play off the cuff, keeping the sound professional and solid, while still leaving plenty of room for improvised solos and singing style, including scatting.

3. Hard work – we put a lot of time and energy into doing a good job at each gig for each client, and therefore get a lot of direct referrals. We play for fundraisers as well, which exposes us to a lot of people and shows that our hearts are behind good causes. We also spend time doing a lot of guerilla marketing by maintaining a mailing list and sending out monthly announcements, on the web (our site, Facebook, Youtube, Myspace, and many others) on the street (flyers for dances and events), and linking up with any other people, music, or organizations that will network us with more new faces and ears.

Best business advice you’ve ever been given? Pick something you’re good at and do it well. Sincerity goes a long way to making your product or service passionate and of high quality.

Worst business advice you’ve ever been given? Be willing to do any gig for anyone at any price and play any music they want. (Why do something that neither you or the audience will enjoy?)

What was the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do as a business owner? Almost let someone go. Luckily they quit first.

What advice would you give to someone just starting a business? Think about what you really love and develop your product or service thoughtfully. Take people out to lunch who may know your field and pick their brains. Network with everyone. All these things can be done subtly and naturally. Don’t try too hard; it will turn people off. Be yourself. Research the competition, but don’t ever see them as competition. Organizations and businesses can be much more successful if they support each other. It helps everyone. Good karma will always pay off sooner or later. Don’t expect if you do a favor for someone, that that will come back to you tomorrow. Sometimes it may take a few years, but it will always payoff.

Favorite all-time business book? We don’t read them. We act more intuitively, learn from experience, ours and others, by talking to lots of people and being observant and being open to feedback.

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