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Business lessons from a life of rock and roll

Reported by Flying Solo
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips. (AAP)
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by Robert Moorman

I didn't know it at the time, but spending years in a rock and roll band proved instrumental in turning me into an entrepreneur. Here’s what I learned from the experience.

Tenacity pays off

From the moment I discovered the electric guitar at the age of 12, playing in bands was all I did; I was obsessed. The bands were pretty ordinary initially, but by investing every single spare minute of my time both they and I became better.

Rehearsals became gigs, gigs became tours, and through a miraculous combination of circumstances we managed to get signed by a record company. Calling myself a professional musician was a dream come true.

Passion makes everything worthwhile

The job was very enjoyable when I was in my early twenties. (Free booze! Travel! Attention from girls!).

It became less so when I started to grow up. (Crappy hotel rooms! Smelly tour buses! Waiting around all day!)

By the time I hit 28 I was done. I remember the exact moment: I was doing a gig in Amsterdam, on stage at 4 o’clock on a weekday morning, looking over the crowd and asking myself ‘Why did I want this again?’

I really couldn't remember, so it was time to move on.

No experience is wasted

So there I was, in my early 30s, in need of a career change. Had I just wasted a decade of my life? Absolutely not!

If getting four guys in their early 20s onto the same page and working very hard without pay to create a product that you're not even sure anyone wants is not a management achievement, I don't know what is.

Aside from people management, being a musician involves a host of skills that proved to be a great stepping-stone on my way to becoming a serial entrepreneur. Negotiation, IT, workflows, project management. It’s all part of being a music producer.

Diversity is good

It’s very tempting to surround yourself with people with whom you have a lot in common, and who agree with you on everything. The problem is, that doesn’t create great music, or a great business.

The Beatles were much better than the sum of their parts because of the tension between the band members.

Of course, I don’t mean that you should be throwing stuff at each other. It’s challenging to find a way to accommodate people with differing viewpoints, but the rewards are often worth it.

Money doesn’t motivate people

Some of my soloist friends tell me that they would never want staff, because it’s such a major headache. I don’t agree.

After managing to keep four young 20-somethings focussed and happy without being able to pay them anything near what they were worth, I can safely say that money doesn’t keep people going. The ability to grow professionally, to self manage and to learn new things does.

Don’t get caught up in the competitor noise

When you meet other bands backstage there are two types: the ones who genuinely loved your gig, and are not afraid to tell you so, and the cagey weird ones who won’t talk to you.

Being obsessive about your competition diverts far too much attention and energy away from your efforts to be outstanding. Sure, compare prices and do a bit of research, but don’t pore over your competitor’s Twitter feed every day.

You don’t have to be the best

One of my favourite quotes of all time is from Ty Tabor, the guitarist of King’s X, who said, ‘You don’t have to be the best, just different’.

There’s always a competitor who’s willing to work longer hours for less money, who outsources to overseas companies, or who has more money to throw at AdWords. The trick is not to try to undercut or outperform them; it’s about being compelling, so your prospective customers don’t want to shop around.

Kill your darlings

Despite only the ten best songs making it onto an album, every good record is actually made of the 40 songs the band wrote that no-one will never hear.

Allow yourself space to try out new things, and then throw out what doesn’t work and refine what does.

Keep some of the rock and roll alive

Most of all, I learned that the same elements that drive bands drive good businesses: fun, a sense of being part of something important, and creating something that's unique to you.

Have Robert’s rock and roll insights left you like a star struck groupie?

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20/12/2014 17:35Sydney, Australia. 20 December,2014
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