The Franz Family: How Parents With Vision Transferred That Vision . . . and Are Making a Living at It
Jan. 20, 2011
My wife sent me a link to a YouTube video. I was instantly hooked.
This is a family that plays bluegrass. That is not unique. But this band is.
I want to go through what makes this venture work. Some things cannot be imitated. Others can.
This video is professionally produced, but anyone with training in lighting and under $1,000 in equipment could have done it. That is the wonder of electronics today.
Even if you don't like bluegrass, watch this. I'll then go through what this family has going for it.
They are musically talented: way above average. The dobro work is very good. The arranger placed it front and center, which was wise. Usually, the banjo is the heart of bluegrass, with the lead singer playing guitar. Maybe someone like Bill Monroe can make the mandolin work. But rare is a dobro front and center. I do not recall ever seeing a bluegrass lead singer also lead with the dobro. So, the arranger was willing to try something very different. It works.
Notice that the parents are in the background. Momma has a head of hair like Emmylou Harris does. Lucky her. But she just does the bass work. The bass is always in the back. The father is a good enough guitarist to provide rhythm, which is what the guitar is supposed to do.
They put the kids up front. When the daughters are this pretty, marketing demands this.
The harmony is right: authentic bluegrass. A spectacular lead singer is rare: Monroe's high-pitched wail or Alison Krauss' incomparable sound. But the music is basically down-home music, ideal for families and local performers. It is harmony-based, not solo-based.
The family does gospel music. This is common in Southern music. Bluegrass concerts are the only ones where it is common for the MC to begin with prayer. The regional culture has always maintained this tradition. So, the band can get scheduled at churches. It has also played Branson for years.
The parents persuaded the kids to master their music. This is not an amateur band. The parents found a way to harness the talents of the children in a way that promoted a family tradition. The parents could not have known that the group would be good enough to get off the back porch and into Branson. But they gave the children the vision to stick with the program.
The band does not center on one performer. This is not the Jackson Five.
When the children are finally out on their own, they will still be able to get together for a week of practice once a year if there is a concert opportunity. They will do Christmas singing like few families can. Their site features Christmas hymns. There is always a market for Christmas hymns.
This Christmas carol is uniquely bluegrass. I have never heard it sung this way. The girl has got it right . . . if you like bluegrass. This is artistic creativity. It is also very good marketing. Make something familiar sufficiently different to identify it as your unique product. This is not easy to do.
So, in summary, the parents had the wisdom to push the children in their youth. The children turned out to be more talented than the parents. Yet the overall product remains a family product. The children have gained the ability to perform in public. The family makes some money, and the investment in musical discipline will continue to pay family benefits for many years.
This is a good working model. But don't expect to get this good.