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The business school of (old) rock

Rock and Roll used to be fairly predictable. Get a record contract, launch an album, release a few singles and then go on tour to promote your music. Develop a hideous drug habit, split up or die and then reform for nostalgic reasons and/or unpaid tax bills. Now, the old benchmarks and sureties have gone.

Record sales mean next to nothing and a successful musician needs to learn a whole new set of skills in order to survive. They need to have a presence everywhere, online and on-stage. They must play constantly (increasingly relying on merchandise to prosper) and become proper, professional brands.

Diplo is a good example of this new breed of musician.

A Grammy-nominated, touring musician and DJ, he also runs his own record label, MadDecent, and looks after promising new artists. He even starred in Blackberry ads, that appeared in the World Series.

Musicians like Diplo are definitely the future, but ironically, old rockers are turning to the world of business to teach it a thing or two and earn a few extra bucks, now their royalties are drying up.

Rock stars are trying to be business gurus and may be appearing at a conference near you anytime soon.

Perhaps the first will be The Monsters of Rock’n’Roll Business, at the Dartford Hilton, on 19 June.

It is being organised by Peter Cook, a former band manager, who has published, PunkRock People Management, his guide to “hiring, inspiring and firing staff”. He now gives lectures on the similarities between business and music.

Cook, an MBA graduate, who also wrote Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll, says: “Procurement managers are not known for throwing TVs out of hotel windows, nor for their creativity.”

“What we teach them is about balancing the need for order and structure, with a little bit of creative spark, which gives them the edge over their competitors.” Bernie Tormé, ex Ozzy Osbourne guitarist and Ian Gillan, singer from Deep Purple, will also be joining in.

Tormé says: “I have worked with a fair mix of Class A rock stars (drug ref?); the music business is a great teacher of life skills, such as negotiating, marketing, teamwork, high performance and stuff. Both how to do them well and occasionally, the dark side of the force. Big companies are far more complex, although it’s not as different as you might think.”

To stimulate their corporate audiences, they use jam sessions, but also stress the importance of discipline; even the best rock guitarist might find himself out of a job for irregular attendance or being constantly drunk.

Andrew Sentance, previously of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, is a fan and peppers his talks with anecdotes from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. “Business can learn from the rock business; sustaining a career and a business both require resilience, hard work and discipline. Inviting a rock star to address your conference gives colour to a world people often see as dry and uninspiring.”

Christ, it’s like punk never happened.

If you are interested, here are some (totally unforced) top tips from Peter Cook:

Walk on the Wild Side: Encourage mavericks if you want new things to happen.

Reasons to Be Cheerful: Staff like being listened to, doing things that count and getting feedback.

I Can’t Control Myself: Creativity without discipline rarely leads to innovation.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: Strategy is a process of continuous learning. If you stop, you may disappear.

I Fought the Law (the Law Won): You can have a good argument with colleagues, but once it’s settled, move on, don’t harbour grudges.

Nigel Phillips
Picture by Erik Petersenn

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