What makes a music act great?

I recently guest posted at Joel Canfield's by-product-of-a-lifetime-of-musical-ingestion "Know Your Music.com".

For completeness-and-neatness, that piece should of course also be here.

Here's JC's intro and Facebook mention:

This O'Leary chap is a character.

A rebel in his own mind, he continues to swim upstream toward the book he claims he's writing about business lessons from rock.

Whether you just love music or want to spruce up your entrepreneurial menage, I urge you to read John's blog and buy his book, should he ever get around to finishing it.

Here's one of his insightful, inevitable-but-not-obvious business lessons from rock…

And now a lightly edited variant of the post…

A simple question: what makes a music act great? (I confess I've been obsessed with this question for more than 40 years, especially as it relates to rock bands.)

Between the late '60s and mid '80s, I played with a dozen decent bands, hung out (hung over?) with a hundred others, and opened shows for two dozen R&R Hall of Fame acts. And over the last ten years I've done hundreds of hours of research on the best of the best.

Though I may never come up with a conclusive answer to the question (why spoil the fun?), I can say with some confidence that a great music act (or business enterprise for that matter) is dramatically different in some way.

It must stand out from the pack.
It has to have a unique identity.
It must offer something that nobody else offers.

If you'll excuse the business jargon, it has to have some brand differentiation.

The best example? The Beatles, of course, who at the time had a shockingly unusual look (long, mop-top hair), a unique sound for a pop band (crooning harmonies over rocking guitars), and original material that broke the mold year after year.

Their radical image was probably the biggest factor in gaining them world appeal. (Capitol Records signed them because of 'the hair'—and the teen hysteria it generated—and only later realized they had fortuitously acquired the world's greatest songwriting team.)

Yes, there are other things required besides having a distinct brand—and I outline five other success differentials in a book I'm working on, Business Lessons From Rock (which may finally see the light of day this year).

But a great music act must be distinct or everything else doesn't matter. It will just be lost in the crowd.

Different isn't always better but better is always different.

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  1. Never heard that story about why Capitol signed the Beatles. I know Capitol kept turning them down until just before they broke in the US, after they had four #1 hits in Britain.

    Who was it that said "Different isn't always better..."?

  2. The Beatles had been signed since 1962 to Capitol's sister label, Parlophone, but Capitol didn't pick up the option until late in 1963.

    Who said, "Different isn't always better..."?
    I did. Should I make my font bigger?

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