There aren’t too many businesses tougher to make it in than rock music. There’s immense competition; you need to tour relentlessly; you must play in smelly bars in front of loud-mouthed drunks; your hours are better suited for bats than people; you’re cooped up in a bus, van, or hotel room with several “co-workers” day in and day out; your market is fickle and popularity can change in the blink of an eye; and there are numerous ways other people in your profession can take advantage of you. And if that weren’t enough, until you make it pretty big, you still need a regular job when you’re not on tour. Simply put, if you can make it in the rock biz, you can make it in any biz.
So, what can we learn about business from our rock idols past and present? Quite a lot. For the reasons above, successful rockers are the ultimate entrepreneurs, and we can certainly improve our business ventures by following their lead.
If there’s one way rock stars excel in business and are at least recognized for their savvy, it’s in marketing and promotion. Rock music is built largely on image and getting the word out. Not to say there isn’t talent behind the flash, but unlike any other music genre in history, the flash is an equal part of the package. Rock music epitomizes the adage “sell the sizzle, not the steak.”
If you look closely behind the music, you’ll find that rock stars adhere to five key “musts” of marketing and go beyond expectations in each. In this part one of “Marketing Your Business the Rock & Roll Way” we’ll look at three of these five “musts.”
1. You must have a worthwhile product or service
I hope you already feel this way about yours, but if you have any lingering doubts or if reading that sub-head gave you a little twinge, ask yourself what you can do to improve your product or service. It’s pretty hard to market yourself when you don’t have confidence in what you’re offering. And this is more common among entrepreneurs than you might think. In fact, most fall toward one of two extremes — overconfidence in their ventures or insecurity about them.
Insecurity is best battled with expertise and experience. One of the best ways you can improve your marketing is to improve yourself professionally. As singer-founder of Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan, said, “Great music is still the greatest marketing tool.” When you’re great at what you do, word of mouth spreads faster; and when you excel at what you do, you exude confidence in your marketing.
Rock music jumped to a whole new level when the Beatles came to America in 1964. It launched the aptly named “British Invasion” and eclipsed Elvis’ taking of the country nearly a decade before. For many people, it was as if the Beatles came out of nowhere. But there are no overnight successes. The Fab Four had already been playing together (at least Paul McCartney and John Lennon) since 1957, and by the time they landed on the shores of the U.S. they had already played over 1,200 shows. Most bands never play that many in their careers. In addition, their hundreds of shows in Hamburg, Germany between 1960 and 1962 lasted between five and eight hours each. Unlike the hour-long shows in their hometown area of Liverpool, these shows (played to coming-and-going crowds in clubs from late afternoon until the middle of the night) required them to perform not just their own relatively small repertoire of songs, but also jazz, swing, R&B, doo-wop, be-bop, folk, and country tunes. So, as you might be surmising at this point, it wasn’t just their mop-top haircuts that set the Beatles apart. And their critical musical success — they are widely considered the hallmark of rock music talent — was no fluke. It was the culmination of their developing immense skill and expertise in their chosen field.
As you plan your days and weeks in your business, be sure to make time to improve yourself professionally. This may include online research, taking (or re-taking) educational courses, reading relevant publications, networking with colleagues, and taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses. As Donald Trump has said, “If you are great at what you do, you don’t have to promote yourself as much.”
2. You must truly believe in what you’re doing
One band that sought to emulate the Beatles in success was KISS. They knew doing it musically was out of the question (they were competent but not outstanding musicians), but felt they could give the then-disbanded-Beatles a run for their money in marketing. The year was 1973, and as you’re reading this, if you aren’t familiar with KISS, do a Google search to find an image of them to put this in perspective. At that time, with a few exceptions, rock concerts were mostly four or five guys up on stage just playing their instruments. Attire consisted mainly of tight, bell-bottom jeans and billowy, button-up shirts or tight t-shirts.
KISS co-founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley gambled on making their mark by taking rock concerts to a new extreme — wearing their now-signature makeup, eight-inch platform boots, crafted costumes, and employing theatrics such as fire-breathing, confetti, bombs, and choreographed stage moves. Each of the four band members performed as a character. They even had a giant KISS logo behind the drum set, made of hundreds of light bulbs that would flash or blink or sparkle like something out of Vegas. Their show was so overpowering at the time (contrast it with the peace-and-love theme of the day) that many people were speechless and most bands didn’t want KISS opening for them.
Furthermore, much of the rock-music industry — and all of the critics — resoundly denounced the band. They were seen as crass, garish, and a blemish on a genre that had only recently gained some respect. KISS’s manager was advised repeatedly by others in the business to have his band drop the makeup and theatrics or they’d be doomed to laughingstock status. But the band refused. They, particularly Gene Simmons, felt strongly that American teenagers, especially those in the rural areas, were hungry for something new and exciting in rock music. In fact, they made a point of playing in smaller towns and cities across the country, because they knew it would generate word of mouth in places where the biggest thing to come to town was the carnival.
From 1973 to late 1975, KISS’s record sales languished. Their vision wasn’t exactly meeting with the success they’d hoped, and they were on the verge of becoming a footnote in rock music history. They’d gambled big, and their record label was running out of time and money to invest in them. They were touring the country in a station wagon, and their manager was paying for their expenses with credit cards. But they truly believed in what they were doing. They even had an announcer open each show with a boastful “You wanted the best, you got the best, the greatest band in the land: KISS!” It was the ultimate in confidence and bravado.
The band’s fourth album (a concert recording when very few bands released live albums) was their do-or-die moment. And it finally paid off. Their belief was now becoming reality. Whereas their previous albums had sold in the five and six figures, this live album broke the million-unit (platinum) mark … then it broke two million copies sold and kept going. KISS was now legit. (Critics and many in the business, however, would never give them credit for years to come.) Less than two years later, in 1977, KISS was arguably the biggest band in the world and second only to the Beatles in many rock accomplishments.
Believing in yourself and your venture reaps multiple rewards. It buffers you against the naysayers and bolsters you in the bad times. But it also boosts your confidence as you market your business. People are naturally attracted to confidence, and a firm belief in what you’re doing is contagious. Of course, we all have days when we waver in our beliefs, no matter what they are. But on the whole, a healthy level of self-assurance will go a long way. And at least you don’t have to get up in front of thousands of people and breathe fire while wearing makeup and platform boots.
3. You must put in time and persist
Both the Beatles and KISS paid their dues. And the same goes with every other rock star out there, to one degree or another. Success in marketing is rarely quick; it goes to the tortoise far more often than the hare. Or to use another analogy, it’s better done using the Chinese water torture method: in constant, relentless drops.
The German band Scorpions hit it big in 1982 with the release of their album Blackout and single “No One Like You.” Two years later, they established firm stardom with the top-ten song “Rock You Like a Hurricane” from their next album. Their videos became a staple on MTV and the band enjoyed phenomenal popularity (and income) through the rest of the decade.
But what most people don’t realize is that Scorpions formed in 1965. Their seemingly overnight success in the early ‘80s (at least to the MTV crowd) came nearly 20 years after they started performing. Like every rock band that makes it, they put in thousands of hours rehearsing, promoting, and playing … rehearsing, promoting, and playing … rehearsing, promoting, and playing. If that sounds like something out of the movie Groundhog Day, imagine what it felt like to them. But that dedication was ultimately their ticket to rock & roll history. And they’re still performing and enjoying the rewards to this day, over 40 years after their start — making them the second-longest, continually operating rock band (behind Golden Earring, which started in 1961).
Success in marketing is about doing many small things consistently and persistently, not doing a few big things randomly and occasionally. Commit to doing three things each and every day to promote your business, and you’ll accomplish much more than by taking the haphazard marketing approach too many entrepreneurs take. And these can be small things — one day it might be commenting on someone’s blog, writing a short article for EzineArticles.com, and checking out venues online where you can do a public demonstration of your work; the next day it might be commenting on another blog, sending out an email blast to your clients, and calling one of those venues. Even if you can’t commit to three a day, commit to one a day and your business will benefit.
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Too many entrepreneurs focus on the “core functions” of their businesses, not realizing that marketing must be a core function of their businesses. It’s not an afterthought or something you do when you have time. It’s a daily activity just as much as the work you do on your products or services. Not fully dedicating yourself to marketing is as foolish as performing a rock concert on a deserted island.
In part two of this article, we’ll take a look at the fourth and fifth “musts” of marketing your business the rock & roll way — know your audience and put your product or service where you audience will discover it.
About the Author:
Andrew Chapman is the co-author of Rock to Riches: Build Your Business the Rock & Roll Way, which features business lessons learned from savvy rock stars. Andrew is an admitted entrepreneurial addict, having started and run five businesses throughout most of his adult life, in addition to several ventures from the time he was 10 to 18. He’s an award-winning writer, the author of seven books, an unaccomplished drummer, and a professional speaker who has rocked thousands of people in over 300 gigs throughout the United States and overseas. Andrew lives in the peaceful art town of Idyllwild, a mile high in the mountains of Southern California. For more info on Rock to Riches — www.RockToRichesBook.com; for more on Andrew — www.achapman.com.