The 5 most business-savvy rock bands


The top rock bands—despite any anti-capitalist, working-class-hero pretensions—eventually became exceptional business teams.

The numbers (in dollars and cents) don’t lie. Here are my favorite examples, in no particular order.

KISS. From a marketing standpoint they were geniuses. They got it about brand. Their visuals—costumes, makeup, pyrotechnics—made their live shows legendary, building a large and loyal young male fan base. They got it about merchandising too, and raked in more merch dollars than any other musical act in history—nearly a billion by some estimates.

Rolling Stones. They were onto brand early (even if no one used the term then). They stuck to their musical roots as basic rock & rollers, played up their “bad boy” image for media and fans, and exploited their iconic tongue & lips logo. In time they also got wise to royalty percentages and learned how to maximize box office profits. They—and U2—have grossed more in concert sales than any other band, well north of a billion dollars.


Fat city


When a terrorist attack occurs in a major urban area (as just happened in Boston) it’s a message to some that we’re better off living far from densely populated regions.

After all, terrorists seek out this population density to foment the maximum amount of mayhem and destruction. It’s also a reminder that cities can be dangerously violent and crime-ridden even without the thoughtful assistance of international or domestic terrorists.

But there's a good reason why people are attracted to cities to begin with—and why urban areas are growing faster than ever. Densely populated regions—like Boston and Cambridge—are centers of creative enterprise. The sheer concentration of human capital in these geographies enables productivity and economic success. That's why denser populations pay higher wages. No wonder three quarters of the world’s population now live in metropolitan areas. Worldwide surveys even show that people are happiest in the most urban of countries.


Built to last or built to rock?

In a comment on my last post, game designer/indie film producer/screenwriter/record producer/blues musician/earliest childhood friend Ken Melville made a fascinating and noteworthy observation:

    Groups/corporations have a productivity and creative energy curve that flatlines after a while. You can’t maintain the magic forever. It’s just not new anymore. The excitement is diminished. The market is flooded with your genius products, and there are copycats and natural plateaus. Apple is there. Google is there. Facebook is there. The Beach Boys got there. The Beatles got there.

It's TBD whether Apple, Google, and Facebook have hit their apex, but we do know that no company dominates its field forever. As Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan point out in their book Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market—And How to Successfully Transform Them: “El Dorado, the golden company that continually performs better than the markets has never existed. It is a myth.” Some organizations manage to hang on awhile (like those 1300-year-old Japanese hotels), but that's not the same as ruling the market and maintaining the magic.

This raises a key question: should a company try to survive at all costs? More fundamentally, should an organization even be “built to last”? Is that what’s most important?


From me to you

50 years ago this month The Beatles released a song that marked a major turning point for the young band. “From Me to You” was the tune that convinced producer George Martin that The Beatles were destined to be great—and deserved his full attention.

The record became the group's first #1 hit in Britain. (Their previous single, “Please Please Me,” made it to #2.) It also happened to be the first key change in a Beatles' composition, a sophisticated songwriting trick (for a rock & roll band) that would later become part of their aural brand. For music critics paying attention in Britain, the song served notice that these Liverpool rockers were breaking new ground in popular music. They were defiantly original, passionately engaged, and dramatically distinct. (Think there’s a business lesson in there somewhere?)

Here’s Walk Off the Earth’s take on the tune, adding their own innovative spin to it.