#TBT: One-Step Strategy for Success: Be Awesome, Part II

Happy #TBT! Here’s Part II to last week’s oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: One-Step Strategy for Success: Be Awesome. In Part I, Jim comments on a Bob Lefsetz article about the troubled state of music and the music business. Jim offers that Lefsetz’s remedy is better music.


And maybe Bob’s right: Just make better music. Just don’t suck. Just be great. Which is easy, if, you know, you’re great. Hey, Beatles, just make great music!

“Righty-o, old chap. How many No. 1s did you want us to whip up?”

Easy for you to say, Beatles.

At its worst, this line of thinking does two really bad things: It suggests that maybe the old days weren’t so bad, when wisened gate-keepers protected us from all the crummy music out there.

That is just crazy. Like I said, those gate-keepers didn’t stop Kajagoogoo or Night Ranger.

And the second thing is that it suggests (but doesn’t quite say) that if you’re not already great, maybe you should just give up.

I think Bob would retort that what he’s saying is that a person should put in his 10,000 hours first, and well, I’d agree with that.

That’s a minimum ticket of entry for long-term success, but it sure isn’t a guarantee, especially in a fashion-driven business like music. You could be John Mayer and look like Chris Dodd, and your chances of succeeding in the music business, now or in the vaunted ’60s and ’70s, would be greatly reduced.

By the logic of “just make great music” Microsoft wouldn’t be a success. Much better software existed and exists. Even the iPod is very arguably a product with superior competitors on the “just be awesome” scale.

Why do people buy so many more Prius cars than Insights, which are also compact hybrids? They are very similar, feature for feature. I don’t know why, but something about the overall marketing formula made the Prius win.

Sure, the Beatles made outstanding, special music, but it didn’t help that they were lovable and funny, easy to watch and even looked a bit like friendly cartoon characters. People weren’t JUST buying the music; they were buying the whole thing.

Audiophiles and true believers JUST buy the music; everyone else buys the whole thing.

It’s like that guy that sits at the baseball stadium with a transistor radio in one hand (to listen to the play by play) and a scorecard in the other and who still steams up when he thinks about the fact that they put lights in Wrigley Field or about the Chernobyl-like disaster that is the Designated Hitter Rule.

For him, it’s just the baseball. For everyone else, it’s the whole thing: the game, the team, the personalities of the players, the promotions at the stadium, the hot dogs, the beer, seeing the silly strobe lights go off when there’s a home run.

It’s the whole thing.

And sure, it helps sell the whole thing if you’re Alex Rodriguez, but you can’t build an industry on needing Alex Rodriguez.

So on the one hand, you’ve got the people running the music industry, cynically firing off bottle rocket after bottle rocket, knowing that their acts will fly high for a little while, explode and then disappear, and on the other hand, you’ve got somebody like Bob, who just wishes they’d all stop sucking so much and be great.

But I’ve got a modest proposal to make, based on the idea that not everyone (and in fact very, very few even within an entire generation) can be great, and that it really is the whole package that sells.

How about less cynical marketing? How about a focus on building long-term value in a band’s following AND getting the music right?

It doesn’t have to be “great” in the Beatles-esque sense, because you’re marketing to a niche that will define greatness to include you, but it does have to be really good, and that’s a marker a lot more people can reach.

And the marketing has to have at its heart a concern about the buyers and supporters of the artists, their interests and wants and the cultivation of a long-term, personal relationship.

That’s a formula for success that can actually be replicated across an industry, whereas “just be great” is the last desperate plea of a purist.

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