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The Prefab Four

concert-819149_1920Rolling Stone’s cover story last week featured Five Seconds of Summer, the Australian pop-punk-band-that-insists-it’s-not-a-boy-band, whose first two albums of catchy pop tracks have become international #1 hits.

For a band this new and young to hit the top of the charts and get this much media hoopla is quite a success story. But I find other aspects of the story to be more interesting.

For instance, I was surprised to discover the business calculation behind this teen success tale. According to Rolling Stone the band started out in Sydney with a one-year business plan, hatched by their first manager, that clearly delineated the marketing territory the band was aiming for: “Musically, 5SOS can occupy the space between One Direction and McFly.” (One Direction is a megastar UK boy band and McFly is a UK pop band.)

The band also carved out in advance an individual persona for each of the four band members (one would be the mystery man, another the creative one, etc.) Then they fully exploited social media to build up a fanatical teen fan base. (That part was not a surprise.)

But what floored me was finding out that One Direction acquired a 50% stake in 5 Seconds of Summer Limited Liability Partnership. No wonder One Direction tweeted up 5SOS from the start and had the band open for them on their 2014 tour! They had a share in 5SOS's profits.

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The forgotten man

pete-seeger-81869_1920It wasn’t a deliberate strategy to make Bob Dylan the centerpiece of this blog over the last six months.

But as 2015 unwound and the world began to take notice of the 50th anniversary of key milestones in rock history, we couldn’t ignore the creative destruction that Dylan unleashed in the summer of 1965 that is still being heard and felt today.

For starters, his mind-bending surrealistic song poem, “Mr. Tambourine Man” became #1 for The Byrds in June of that year, followed by his own sneering six-minute put-town of a socialite, “Like a Rolling Stone,” which hit #1 a month later. The boundaries of pop music were suddenly eviscerated, as reflected by the blockbuster hit records that followed—"Get Off My Cloud,” “Turn Turn Turn,” “The Sound of Silence,” and Rubber Soul. This was no longer your father’s Hit Parade.

But before we put a wrap on the Dylan chat for the year, let’s revisit Dylan Goes Electric by Elijah Wald one more time and note the subtitle of that book: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties. This refers to the July evening in 1965 when Dylan, dressed like a British rock star, mounted the Newport stage with Fender Stratocaster in hand and belted out three songs with a loud electric band to a chorus of boos. This was considered the death blow for acoustic folk music—especially as championed by Pete Seeger—which had finally earned some popular acceptance (and even Top 40 radio play). From then on, rock ruled and many erstwhile folk singers performed with electric instruments and rock arrangements.

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Feliz Navidad

Holidays aren’t the same without a Walk Off The Earth video, so here we go!

If you're new to this site, Walk Off The Earth is a Toronto band that achieved YouTube glory in the winter of 2012 with a live video of all five members playing one guitar. (See here). A national TV appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and a Sony recording contract quickly followed. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of videos, albums, and multiple tours of North America and Europe.

Here they are doing a holiday spoof of their original video. (I’ve seen them up close on many occasions perform a medley of songs on one guitar, so I'm here to tell you this ain't smoke and mirrors.)


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This and that

cartoon taco I thought I'd give myself permission once again to wander off topic a bit. (This assumes of course that I’m normally ON topic.)

I was about to stop at my favorite Chipotle restaurant in Boston last week when I noticed a caravan of TV news trucks parked outside. I soon discovered it had just been closed by health inspectors. Bummer, I thought. I was really looking forward to that E.coli burrito.

Chipotle hasn’t had a great couple of months—if you hadn’t heard—having been cited for numerous food safety violations. (This is not a desired outcome if your brand identity centers around healthy food.) It raises questions about Chipotle's “Food With Integrity” promise. Now marketers will always tell you there's no such thing as bad publicity, but that may not extend to salmonella salads.

And yet, loyal customer that I am, I’m rooting for the company to turn this around. Snarkiness aside, I actually do like Chipotle's food (and prices) and I respect any business that’s trying to do something innovative. Chipotle has been praised by Slate Magazine for "unusual process innovations" that invite comparisons to Apple. And its decision to go au naturel with its food sources was an adventurous one for a “fast casual” restaurant. Chipotle's success in recent years in rolling out its “slow food, fast” approach to dining is a pretty good example of business model innovation.

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What do Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs have in common?

light-309103_1280Continuing my recent Bob Dylan fixation I just devoured A Freewheelin’ Time by Suze Rotolo, a 2008 book that details her three years as Dylan’s girlfriend, beginning soon after he arrived in New York in 1961. Several things caught my attention.

First, though Rotolo painted a mostly favorable portrait of her ex, she did admit that “artists we admire aren’t necessarily exemplary human beings just because they are exceptional in their chosen fields.” Whoda’ thunk? In particular she commented on the webs of deception Dylan spun about his pre-NY past and other women in his life. No breaking news here. But when Rotolo described his occasional tirades and “telling-it-like-it-is” cruelty to friends and colleagues it reminded me of other creative geniuses who are similarly famous for their withering take-downs of coworkers, including Steve Jobs—especially as depicted in the recent film of the same name.

I’ve often wondered about innovative wunderkinder—like Jobs—who are capable of such hostility to colleagues. Are they dealing with pressures that the rest of us mortals can’t comprehend? Are they dealing with old childhood wounds that have never been healed? And are they so above reproach because of their immense talent that no one dares to call them out on their incivility and immaturity, allowing them to continue it indefinitely?

Second, from watching Dylan up close for years, Rotolo had a simple take on innovation, which also applies to Jobs’s modus operandi: “The learning process for artists of all stripes usually follows the path of imitate, assimilate, then innovate.” Jobs, like Dylan, was famous for his expropriation of others’ ideas. (To be fair to Dylan, that's accepted practice in the world of blues and folk music.) As mentioned in a previous post, Jobs and Apple became experts at “recombining existing technologies” (including, in the first Macintosh, the rudimentary graphic interface of Xerox’s PARC computers). Jobs himself has admitted that creativity is just synthesizing.

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