Answering the phone with a quick “hey” and “how are you doing,” Jimmy Wilkens, a Cleveland State University graduate making a name for himself with his band The Sonder Bombs, eases his way into a quick 15-minute phone call about his life after graduating.
Graduating from Cleveland State in 2015, Wilkens studied management and labor relations, which is a degree that has a particular focus on human resources.
While the program he majored in doesn’t have much to do with what he’s doing in his life right now, that doesn’t mean attending the program wasn’t valuable. According to Wilkens, the program has helped him significantly since he helped form the band back in 2016.
Being in a band is kind of like starting up your own business, Wilkens explained. Due to his background in business, he’s been able to handle a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities of being in the band, which has allowed the other members to focus on other tasks. Whether that be Willow Hawks (uke, vocals) working on songwriting, Eric Heald (drums) focusing on merch and other label-related things, and Kevin Cappy (the newest member and bassist) figuring out how to take the band’s live performance to the next level.
“A lot of bands struggle with getting their music out there because, when you’re in a band, you’re a creative person and you don’t think in terms of business,” Wilkens said. “I think the business school helped teach me that you yourself are a brand and [the importance] of networking.”
In today’s current scene, it’s apparent that a lot of bands feel as though playing in front of a bunch of people is enough to gain a rapid following, but there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that needs to be done to gain success. Between drafting up emails to networking with other bands, who are typically the ones that help out the most, there’s more to being in a band than just making music.
According to Wilkens, his business communication class helped him better understand how to communicate efficiently and effectively in a professional setting. One of the most important skills he took away from attending the class was how to draft an email properly.
“A lot of these emails I was sending sounded bigger and badder than what we were, and then we got put on good shows because of it,” Wilkens explained. “It also helps when we’re trying to get press. So when we’re trying to email blogs and publications to get someone to cover our music, you usually have to send an email first and the same skills apply there.”
Taking a concept that he learned from a business class, Wilkens realized rather quickly that the band is a business, and to succeed, they would have to find ways of setting themselves apart.
“I had one marketing class, but a lot of the concepts came up over and over again, and the thing that stuck out to me was companies that go above and beyond to do something different from everyone else,” Wilkens said. “So I look at the band the same way: the band is basically a business; we are starting a business from the ground up, so we have to do things that are above and beyond to make us stand out from the crowd and show that we care.”
Through networking with others to advertising their music online, Wilkens and the rest of his band have always kept the notion that they are their own brand in the back of their minds.
The business side of things is just one of the many aspects of being in a band, but it hasn’t phased Wilkens in the slightest.
The Sonder Bombs recently signed a deal with Take This To Heart records, which will release their debut album sometime this fall. Once the effort officially drops, the band will head on a string of tours.
Original story published Sept. 17, 2018 at the Cleveland Stater.