Erja Lyytinen: A common goal defines a good team

“She is the future,” said guitarist Carlos Santana about Erja Lyytinen. Lyytinen, 44, is a Finnish blues guitarist, singer and songwriter who is gaining worldwide success. Guitar Player magazine – considered the most respected guitar magazine in the world – recently put her in the spotlight in its latest issue.

In 2020, she was voted the 2nd best guitarist in the world at the time by the readers of the British Total Guitar magazine. In 2017, she won the Best Guitarist Award at the European Blues Awards in England.

A band is an expert organization

Erja Lyytinen, bassist Tatu Back on the right and drummer Iiro Laitinen on the left.

The work of a professional musician is demanding specialist work and good management within the band plays an important role. Teamwork must be seamless for things to work out.

– It is challenging to be the frontwoman of the band and at the same time the leader, says Lyytinen.

– Working in an artistic environment, you have to keep in mind that there are creative, sensitive people around. Tough decisions can, in the worst-case scenario, ruin the creative vibe or even the whole gig experience.

When playing together, good chemistry between band members is essential. In addition to the sound being in balance, the spiritual atmosphere of the band must be in balance. A rift between the players, or on the other hand, a strong mental connection, creates a vibe that is visible and audible, at least for the other members of the band, if not for the audience as well.

As the leader of her team, Lyytinen is responsible for ensuring that the band’s spiritual atmosphere is okay, everyone is valued and their opinions are heard, and that everyone is treated as equals. The boundaries between work and having fun are blurred when compared to, for example, office work.

– As a band, we travel together for hours in the same gig bus in very demanding conditions, says Lyytinen.

– Conflicts arise when everyone has had little sleep, conditions are challenging and the whole team is under pressure from the outside. That is when good leadership is measured. At those moments, it’s my job to take control of the situation.

Even when the tour has a separate tour manager, the responsibility for handling unexpected situations, such as the breakdown of a tour bus or breach of contract by festival organizers, often lands on the band leader.

One of the most important hallmarks of a good team is a common goal, and this is also true in the music industry. According to Lyytinen, it is important that the people on her team specifically want to be part of her band and want to grow together, continuously improving their performance at both individual and team level, from one gig to another.

– A good leader also remembers rewarding their team, says Lyytinen.

Oral feedback is important in order for each member of the team to know they are an essential part of the ensemble. This promotes a good working atmosphere and increases well-being at work.

– All you need is one guy to ruin the atmosphere with negative attitude. Thus, a good band is also a good team that always acts as a common front on the stage.

Organizing a tour is a big project

Organizing tours involves a lot of advance planning, arrangements and financial investment. There are many things to consider – including travel times between venues and other logistics issues, the differences between venues, their facilities, transportation and maintenance of audio equipment, marketing, band rehearsals, hotel reservations and meals.

Lyytinen’s company, Bluesland Productions, produces her tours. When planning tours, precise budgets are compiled.

– MS Excel doesn’t lie. It gives you a very clear picture of whether a tour is worth it, for example financially, says Lyytinen.

– However, it’s also important to weigh the fact that sometimes an economically unprofitable tour is a good move in terms of promotion. In that case, next year’s spreadsheets will look a lot better. We usually make fairly precise plans for tours and also take conscious risks.

As with projects in general, unpredictable challenges that require quick decisions may arise.

– A couple of years ago in France, on a Sunday afternoon, a tire of our tour bus burst and no auto workshop could be found at such a short notice. We moved all the necessary instruments to a taxi van and rushed the 200-mile trip to our next venue while our bus remained in the yard of a French auto repair shop.

The gig started on time despite the surprise.

Lyytinen feels that the most important success factors are planning and staying on budget, well-planned marketing and the fact that you have to make hay while the sun shines.

– However, the most important thing is to play together at the gig, and the feedback received from the audience. As well as, of course, the fact that on the last day of the tour, a happy, albeit tired, group should be sitting on the tour bus with you.

Inspiration from the joys and sorrows of life

Lyytinen gets her compositional inspiration from all around her – her own life and the feelings she experiences, whether they are sorrows or joys.

– I have had a strong internal passion to make music for a long time, and fortunately it hasn’t shown any signs of dying, says Lyytinen.

– It’s amazing to get into the studio to record your own music with the band after a training phase. Getting songs on an album is a tremendous reward for the work done.

The musician’s favorite tools

Lyytinen’s tool is the guitar. According to her, she owns a couple of dozen different electric guitars, plus a couple of acoustic and resonator guitars.

– My favorite instruments are G&L brand Asat Z-3 Semihollow, HOS Electro Reso “Erja Lyytinen Signature” and Eric Johnson Fender Stratocaster. The first guitar mentioned has travelled with me to almost all of my gigs abroad and is a very close instrument to me in that sense. We have cried and laughed together all the way from Rovaniemi, Finland to Bangalore, India. In addition, the guitar looks fabulous because of its shiny blue body and mirror plexiglass, Lyytinen says.

Lyytinen loves great-looking instruments.

– Guitars should have glitter on them!

A unique resonator guitar custom made for her by a Finnish guitar manufacturer HOS Guitars is often used in her solo gigs.

– Using this guitar, I can conjure up a traditional resonator guitar sound that is perfect for slide playing. From Fender’s Stratocasters, on the other hand, I feel like I’m getting the most bluesy sound and the Eric Johnson model is one of my favorite guitars when I play traditional style.

Erja Lyytinen will play a private acoustic gig for Semat’s staff and stakeholders on Friday 21 May. Supporting her at the event, will be bassist Tatu Back and drummer Iiro Laitinen.