No Skin In The Game

Over the past few years I've had the opportunity to co-produce records with Brown Bannister, a personal hero of mine. He'd shudder to know how young I was when records he produced for Amy Grant, most notably "Lead Me On," taught me what pop music is capable of.  Needless to say, I've learned so much by working alongside him.

Producers have their own jargon and we tend to collect phrases as we go. A phrase I've heard Brown use often is, "I've got no skin in the game." It encapsulates one of the things I most admire about this man.

The first time I met Brown, I was playing keyboards on a Dave Barnes record. We got word that Brown would be arriving mid-day to help Dave produce the session. I wondered what would happen to the dynamic in the room when this legendary guy came in. I was at the piano when he first said hello to everybody over the cue system. I have spent the ensuing years trying to answer this question: how did I know the moment that I heard Brown's voice in my headphones that this was going to be a great day, I was going to play my very best, and there was nothing to worry about?

I came into producing as a player, arranger and writer. I felt I had something to offer. Or something to prove. I also had a lot to learn. I knew nothing of engineering and had no ear for tones. This made me insecure. I needed a controlling share of the good ideas to be MY ideas in order to justify being called "producer." That's because I didn't yet know what makes for a truly great producer.

To hear Brown tell his story, you'd think he fell accidentally into production with no qualifications whatsoever. After engineering his first tracking session totally blind (a friend hired him though he was brand new in town and had no experience--and the record went GOLD!), he was asked to produce Amy Grant's debut album. When he protested that he didn't know how to produce, his friend reminded him, "You don't know how to engineer either!"  Because Brown didn't think of himself as especially good at anything (though of course he is) and because he kept finding himself in over his head in increasingly high-pressure situations, he developed a distinct mode of operation: he surrounded himself with talented people and cheered them on to greatness. It worked very, very well. Like, double-platinum, Grammy well.

My pastor recently offered me some advice.

Walk into your house, your job, your church, and make it all about you. Use people to get what you want and see how much joy that produces. Now go into those same places and open your eyes to the people around you. Serve them and meet their needs. In service you find a renewable resource of joy.

Which pretty much describes the difference between Brown and "the old Ben."

When Brown says he has no skin in the game, he means he has nothing to prove, no ego to appease, and nothing to defend. He wins when everybody else wins. And this posture creates a palpable sense of calm and assurance wherever he goes. The Holy Spirit had already put me on the path to getting over myself by the time I met Brown, but I had never seen others-ness modeled so beautifully as I saw it in my friend and mentor.