Business lessons from Walk Off The Earth

Economist Richard Florida, mentioned in a recent post, often talks up the connection between (1) the artistic creativity of musicians, writers, actors, etc., (2) the economic creativity of entrepreneurs, and (3) the technological creativity of engineers and scientists.

They are so interrelated, Florida contends, that artistic creativity in a community can attract and stimulate economic and technological creativity over time—as has happened in the San Francisco and San Jose metros, providing us Silicon Valley, the engine of the Creative Economy. By this logic, city planners can better stoke the economic fires by providing an inclusive, culturally diverse, artistic environment that’s attractive to young creative professionals—than by subsidizing sports arenas, casinos, convention centers, and shopping malls!

But Florida’s thesis led me to a different insight this week. The best musical acts—especially in today’s DIY indie world—must have all three of these creativity burners going at once. These artists have always had to be innovative, but now—to keep ahead of the pack—they have to be equally inventive in their promotional strategies and technological approaches.

My favorite example of this (and nearly everything else these days) is Walk Off The Earth, the ridiculously talented Toronto-based quintet that rode to internet fame on the basis of their quirky home-made video of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” which garnered 58 million YouTube views in 6 weeks. Here’s a more recent home-made clip, of a Taylor Swift tune.

Their use of social media as their primary promotional vehicle has been text-book smart. To keep their rapidly growing fanbase engaged, WOTE is constantly uploading inventive YouTube covers of contemporary hits even while on tour promoting their new album of original songs, R.E.V.O. Though most of their videos are home-made, some recent ones have been studio productions—now that they have Columbia Records behind them. (Either way they’re usually produced by their singer/multi-instrumentalist Gianni Luminati.) They also stay in touch with fans through news updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Keek (using 18-second video clips). File this under "entrepreneurial innovation."

Their technological creativity is evident in the vids themselves—which show off abundant video and audio tricks, such as tape looping. Their clips often have an organic live-performance look, even when (truth be told) they’re performing lip synchs to previously recorded tracks.

For another home-made clip, this time of a Radiohead tune, check here. As is often the case, the most entertaining part of this occurs when the song is over and the performers are goofing around (but always promoting themselves!).

For an earlier post on WOTE, including my favorite video of theirs, check here. (They’re not the only ones promoting themselves.)

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  1. In "Story Engineering" Larry Brooks points out that talent is the bare minimum price to get into the rodeo these days. Without talent, all the cool tricks or marketing won't create a lasting effect.

    It's nice to see someone who had the entrance fee know what else it takes to play.

    I'd love these posts to be longer, more details on the what and how. Though maybe it'll all be in the book, eh?

  2. Yes, much of this will be covered in the book (which, in one of those amazing coincidences, will be titled Business Lessons From Rock). My interview with WOTE’s Sarah Blackwood, for instance, will be included. Meanwhile, my agent has requested I rewrite some sections before she begins shopping it to publishers, so that will keep me busy for awhile.

  3. who's the new guy in the group?

    this band will be semi-retired, doing oldies tours by the time you have your book out.

  4. I'd get a serious case of scepticism if any city planners claimed they were about to, "...stoke the economic fires by providing an inclusive, culturally diverse, artistic environment that’s attractive to young creative professionals..." Of course it's a noble objective but I'm not too sure how you can actually ensure this is what you provide. I rather think our old friend serendipity has a large role to play.

    While we're on the subject of being inventive with promotional strategies and technological approaches, isn't "agent" and "publishers" just a little Olde Worlde?! :-)

  5. Of course serendipity has a large role to play in any business success, as I will soon discuss on these cyberpages. But I don't think it coincidental that the Silicon Valley pattern of artistic creativity preceding entrepreneurial and technological creativity has also occurred in places like Boston/Cambridge, Austin, Seattle, and even Santa Monica/Venice (my old musical stomping grounds).

    I had planned to self-publish my book but I couldn’t find any attractive “New World” options. I had already found a literary agent many years ago who liked the beginning of my book and this winter I discovered she’s still alive! So for now I’m going to work the agent-to-publisher route. If that doesn’t work out I may further investigate self-publishing. Thanks for your concern. :-)

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