After 11 years of blogging on rock & roll and business—and nine years hosting this site—it's come to this. A cat video.
I'd like to think there's a business lesson here. The value of collaboration? Of following our animal spirits? Of looking for innovative partners in unusual places?
But now that I have your attention...
Following up on my post last week in which I mentioned that much of pop music is the product of computer-generated vamps and beats, I should give some props to John Seabrook and his recent book, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. Seabrook exposes the secrets of the electronic "robopop" that a small group of "songwriters" use to create melodic hooks on top of. All of this is then fed to famous singers (like Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Katy Perry, or Nicki Minaj) to customize and call their own. The result is "highly processed," "industrial strength" pop, composed by a handful of specialists. And a new business model for cranking out popular music.
What the hell do I know? Years ago I dismissed Justin Bieber as a contrivance—a white pretty-boy of limited talent, with the emotional depth of a birdbath, in desperate search of hip-hop cred. (I pride myself in being non-judgmental.)
And yet…his last two hit singles (co-written by him) are more than decent songs, artfully performed, superbly produced. And the two accompanying music videos are exceptional.
If there’s a business lesson here it’s a simple one: surround your talent with greater talent.
A long-lost Beatles interview was discovered a few years ago from a Scottish TV taping session in April 1964.
This was initially touted as the earliest surviving Beatles interview—which of course it is not—but it may be the earliest surviving interview in which John Lennon and Paul McCartney discuss their songwriting partnership.
But more importantly it offers a critical lesson in team collaboration: it works to share the credit.
John and Paul agreed from the beginning that no matter how much or how little each contributed to a finished song, it was to be credited equally. (Even if a song was written only by Lennon or only by McCartney it was labeled a "Lennon-McCartney" composition and the royalties from the song were shared fifty-fifty.)
This was a smart way to manage competition cooperatively.
Here's a recent clip of the Adele song, Hello, which WOTE performs in their effortlessly creative, DIY style. They're joined here by KRNFX, one of the world's great beatboxers. (Check out the end of the song to hear his best effects.)
What possesses this fan boy to keep honking Walk Off The Earth? Well, as long as they keep uploading the most innovative (and whimsical, wacky, and fun) music performance videos you'll see anywhere, I'll keep hyping them. As one YouTube commentator put it, it's as if they walk into a nursery and play whatever toys are lying around.
In my rock & roll days I played in a dozen groups, but not one that required me to promise in writing that I would not leave and start (or join) another band within a year. It just wasn't done. If it were, most of the all-time great bands would never have made it to their first rehearsal.
So why are “non-compete clauses” acceptable in other kinds of businesses, especially hi-tech?
It’s understandable that a company wants to protect its proprietary technology, but that can be handled with non-disclosure agreements. Obviously a company wants to discourage talented workers from leaving and taking their expertise to a competing enterprise.
But when too many companies in a given community demand non-competes, it becomes an innovation killer. It suppresses entrepreneurship in the region—and drives top talent to flee the community entirely to take up work where non-competes aren’t valid. (California, here I come!)
Everybody in my circle is debating the merits of the new Home Box Office television series, Vinyl, about the music business in 1970s NYC, produced by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Rich Cohen, and the Sopranos’ Terence Winter.
So far, not so good. The first installment of the show was packed with hackneyed themes and tired performances by misogynistic, chain-smoking, coke-tooting cartoon characters—mixed with predictable Goodfella’s-style violence. (It also had some flaws, but let's not be picky.)
Episode #1 included a sleazy promo man killing a sleazy DJ and mobsters beating up a black singer for not cooperating with his record label—the usual Scorsese fine touches. But the person getting bludgeoned the worst was the viewer, or at least this viewer. A line from a Boston Globe review summed it up best for me: “It’s a story of excess told excessively.”
And yet…the film helped draw connections in my brain between the wild and woolly rock & roll business and the disruptive brand of American free enterprise in general. At a time when the extremes of capitalism run amok are being assailed daily (and properly) in a presidential campaign season (at least by one party), it’s useful to remember that the libertine spirit of rock & roll—a freedom that underlay both the music and the business—has allowed for both dissolute debauchery and unparalleled creativity.