In a previous post—"Taking Care of Business"—I argue that the great rock bands have been worthy exemplars of aspiration, ambition, motivation, and drive. But that's not sufficient. There are obviously other qualities needed to be successful.
I thought I'd illustrate this with a story of a particularly hardworking rock & roll group—one of several "almost famous" bands I performed in a few years back.
The Berries—later known as The Band of Angels—were a four-piece Hollywood proto-glamor-rock band. (I'm not sure what that means either.) Our claim to fame was our residency in the early '70s as house band for Gazzarri's, a legendary dance club on Sunset Strip.
Gazzarri's was famous for two things: the surprisingly good bands that began their career there for little pay—including the Byrds, Doors, Buffalo Springfield (with Neil Young and Stephen Stills), Van Halen, Guns N' Roses, Motley Crue—and its underage dancing girls. (If there was any connection between those two phenomena I haven't been able to document it.)
Our band received the customary $40 per night per band, from which, after deducting expenses for rent and band expenses, I could lavishly distribute a dollar a day to each band member.
The club gave us good exposure in Hollywood—and a significant upgrade in our social life. But despite our success on the Strip we never lost sight of our long-term goals and eventually recognized we were not getting the big-time notoriety—or record contract—we thought we deserved.
So one day we took a drive up to Hollywood Boulevard and sought the advice of Jim the Record Producer (not his real name, even in Hollywood). Jim wasted no time in giving us trenchant advice in hushed tones: "Being talented songwriters and musicians isn't enough. You've got to be willing to do whatever it takes to grab the public's attention and stand out from the pack. You need to be willing to kill chickens!"
Horrified and perplexed at this cryptic counsel, uttered with the authority of a Delphic oracle, we held several band meetings in the next week to try to decode this message and discuss our options.
We thought we were willing to do anything to be successful. After all, my band mates spent hours everyday working out on their guitars and blow driers. (I sported a Jimi Hendrix-like Afro hair style which was immune to anything but a garden rake.) But sacrificing chickens seemed a little extreme for four sensitive, animal-loving artists in leather jackets. Besides, if Bill Gazzarri got upset when we spilled sunflower seeds on his club's plush red carpet, how was he going to deal with chicken entrails? And what if the go-go dancers were offended by the chickens? (Or—more likely—what if the chickens were offended by the go-go dancers?)
But one band member had a stunning insight: Jim's message might be a metaphor! After looking up the meaning of metaphor, we immediately started dreaming-up gimmicks that might be as outrageous—but not as cruel—as killing chickens. Finally, after much soul-searching, our lead singer Dave came up with the bold idea of changing our name to "The Skunks" and bleaching white stripes in our hair!
Our first reaction was we'd rather sacrifice chickens. (Our second reaction was we'd rather sacrifice go-go dancers.) The truth was we weren't ready to sacrifice our social life—or hear people say "The Skunks stink."
To his credit, Dave was not hesitant to bleach a large white stripe in his own hair—and, as it turned out, he adjusted quite well to living alone. The rest of us never followed his example, and the band eventually broke up without ever gaining media attention or signing that elusive recording contract.
I'm certain to this day our disappointed fans shake their heads and mutter: "That band could have been huge, but they just weren't willing to kill chickens."
One lesson to be drawn here is that a business team needs to be willing to do whatever it takes to separate itself from the competition.
Alas, we took the more comfortable route and dared not to be bold. (Ok, we chickened-out.) But a less obvious lesson is that there are many ways to stand out from the pack. For instance, we could have performed at Gazzarri's with chickens and go-go girls dancing together on stage—perhaps combining a "dirty dancing" routine with "the funky chicken" (a big dance craze at the time).
Who wouldn't pay to see that? We could have billed it as "funky chickens dancing dirty"—or "funky dancing with dirty chickens." (Now there's an idea for reality TV.)
Chalk up another business lesson from rock.