When Chris Jones was 11 years old, he started Funeral Reserved, a band that played a lot of Doors and Steppenwolf. The band didn't last. But five years ago, Jones, now 50, caught the bug again. The COO and CFO of TruGolf, a 30-employee golfing software company in Centerville, Utah, formed a new band with the same friends he had played with as a kid. The seven-member band performs about a dozen times a year in local clubs. "The beauty of the band is that I'm immersed in the music. I wake up at 4 in the morning thinking about it," says the keyboardist, who admits to spending most of the rest of his time thinking about work.
Jones is just one of many entrepreneurs by day who choose, at night, to let their freak flags fly. A growing number of business owners are in bands they're eager to take public. This year, 40 bands vied to be included in The Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands, a national competition and fund-raiser, compared to 10 when it started in 2000. And the Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp, a five-day camp for players from newbies to advanced musicians that features real rock stars, has added a second annual session to meet demand.
Playing music is a good fit for entrepreneurs, says Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia who studies motivation, personality, and the arts. Farley coined the term "Type T personality" to describe people who are rule breakers, innovative, and interested in challenge and stimulation—traits typical of entrepreneurs. And because company owners tend to make decisions themselves, being part of a group can be relaxing. "They're not being looked at for all the answers," says Farley.
Many who pick up instruments as adults once played them as a child or in a band, but even those who've never touched a piano or a trumpet often turn to music as an outlet. Experts say picking at a guitar at home can be as stress-reducing as taking lessons or playing with friends.
You can check notices on bulletin boards in stores and rehearsal studios and ads in local alternative papers to find bandmates. The tougher part for most business owners is finding time to practice. Jones says his band practices two to three times a month, and that "you really do look forward to it because it's such a break." Rich Casolari, the 57-year-old owner of Advanced Financial Concepts, a five-employee, $800,000 financial services and products company in Palos Heights, Ill., is a drummer in Bombay Alley, a blues band that plays in local clubs and at festivals. His six-member band tries to get together on Saturday mornings. "Practicing is always an issue," says Casolari.
Most entrepreneurs limit their gigs to Friday and Saturday nights. Until they build a following, most bands play for free. Those who play for money—Casolari says a typical gig pays $100 to $150 a person—know their bands are a business, too. That means showing up on time and sober. For some, it means tailoring their playlists. Forty-nine-year-old Randy Ginzig (stage name Randall Keith), owner of Jacksonville (Fla.)-based General Sign Service, took trumpet lessons as a child and studied jazz at Rutgers before he got his MBA. Ginzig's five-member band, Alpha Dog, now plays at local clubs. "I understand that most club owners are mainly interested in their customers staying, eating, and drinking," says Ginzig, who plays lead guitar. "While Alpha Dogs started out mainly as a jazz band, we realized we'd get more bookings by moving off to more popular music."
Of course, playing in a band as an adult isn't exactly the same as it was in high school. Says Casolari: "Now I have a roadie. You didn't see Frank Sinatra moving his piano."
By Roberta Bernstein