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Pop Music’s Lessons for Marketing

post # 139 — July 21, 2006 — a Client Relations, General post

There are some mysteries about my hobby – pop music – that I would love to know the answer to, because I’m sure that if I understood them better there would be some interesting business lessons: a) What really ARE the marketing lessons of Madonna’s career? How did someone of her (shall we say modest) talents become the lasting global phenomenon she did?

b) Why is there such a dichotomy between “hip” and “professional?” McCartney was always clearly the most talented musically, but he could never approach the reverence that Lennon achieved thorough his “attitude” and “persona.”

c) On a related point, most of the (I think) truly talented pop music artists I like – Abba, Beach Boys, Bee Gees, etc, – are viewed as terminally unhip, no matter how well they sell. I know that says a lot about me, but beyond that, what does it say about the role of “hipness” in marketing?

d) I like the Eagles, I really do – but how does one explain the fact that their Greatest Hits volume 1 is the best selling album of all-time (rivaled only by Thriller.)? Does that teach us more about marketing and management or more about musical tastes?

e) So much of pop music success seems to be about “catching the cultural wave” – which is what a lot of businesses would like to know more about (and which ‘The Tipping Point’ only just touched on.) Has anyone developed any general lessons? Anyone want to co-author the book?


Mark Gould said:

I think our tastes are very different, David, but I have noticed this phenomenon too. There are other manifestations of the disjunction between coolness and popularity.

For example, Apple Mac computers are seen as hip by their makers and owners (Apple’s latest commercials play on this to an almost unbearable extreme), but they have never been and probably never will be a dominant force in the personal computer market. Perhaps this is a deliberate act on Apple’s part—after all, it is still a very profitable business.

Another example—in the UK, the most popular car colour by far is silver. The police have even started buying silver cars in order to preserve the resale value of their vehicles. Yet, I understand that silver is actually the second preference for most new car buyers. It has become a default safe choice because there is no “most popular first choice”.

I think there is a snobbishness about the hip and cool. I know that as an adolescent, I tended to prefer music that many of my peers shunned (apart from a selected few, whose similarity of taste I could tolerate). I wonder whether there is an old tribal instinct at play here.

There might also be a natural tendency to evangelise that leads people to select the less obviously popular choice. Where is the fun in persuading someone to enjoy something that the majority already appreciate. It is more fun to convince them of the rightness of something that is challenging because of its unfamiliarity.

I think the reason why people buy Microsoft-based PCs—rather than Macs—or silver cars—rather than Dayglo pink, shocking pink, deep blue, or whatever other colour they really love—is safety. The definition of what is safe will depend on the product—it might be resale value, interoperability or something else—but wherever safety outweighs even a strongly-held personal preference a basis for popularity can be built.

I suspect that is one reason why our musical tastes diverge (judging from your earlier post: http://davidmaister.com/blog/72/). Whereas I think you appreciate the subtleties you find in different versions of the Great American Songbook, I am too easily bored by that. One or two of the Cole Porter and Harold Arlen classics will suffice for me (probably sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan). Other than that, my tastes are catholic to the extent that they encompass bebop, delta blues, reggae, punk, indie, dance, pop, folk, rap, and so on.

The lesson for marketeers might be that for every few loyal proponents of the Great American Songbook, there will be a follower of the eclectic taste of the late John Peel. For every ten silver car buyers, there will be one who chooses to follow their primary choice. For every 100 Microsoft purchasers, there will be a Mac devotee.

(For the record, my Volvo is not silver and my PC is a Mac. Is there a pattern?)

posted on July 21, 2006

Krishna De said:


I’d like to offer my perspectives on the pop idols and pop groups you mention and specifically in relation to the brands they have created.

a) Firstly Madonna and what can we learn from her lasting success? I see Madonna’s brand being that of change. Her fans follow her as they have come to expect that she will constantly re-invent herself and be on the leading edge.

This is what she has achieved with every album she has released. How many people do you know can go from the image she created and some of the stage shows of the 1990’s then be an acclaimed children’s author!

All strong brands are consistent and Madonna’s brand is consistent in changing.

To stay the same would disappoint her fans I am sure.

b) The dichotomy between ‘hip’ and ‘professional’ and Lennon and McCartney…..

The Beatles in their time were certainly considered to be hip and trendsetters. I wonder who truly was the centre of influence for the brand they created — my money is on John Lennon.

When Paul McCartney then formed ‘Wings’ the style of music and the image was very different — it probably left a few Beatles fans wondering if ‘Wings’ was for them.

I am guessing that Paul’s personal brand was much more aligned to ‘Wings’ — he and Lennon had different personal brands.

In an business context the personal brand of the business leader does impact how investors perceive the credibility of the organisation and it’s reputation as has been proven time and again through research.

At the end of the day, the CEO must create a corporate brand that he can represent fully — look at Jack Welch and Steve Jobs — both very successful leaders with different styles, but both attractors of great talent with people who love to work with and for them because of what they stand for.

The question for us as business leaders is therefore what do we stand for? Why would people want work and follow you as Paul McCartney was able to create a following? If what you stand for is not in alignment with the organisation what action will you take? Do you too set up your ‘own band’ or business or move to an organisation where you will be in alignment.

3) Abba, the Beach Boys and the Bee Gees — not everyone will admit to having them in their collection but millions do!

Marks and Spencers and Ford could be considered in the same way — mid market brands that deliver what they promise consistently. The fact is, they are brands that are conservative and play it safe — as a result they tap into a mass market but not for a premium price.

Being hip may not attract the mass market which often means that these brands position themselves at a premium price and therefore also being considered as exclusive and elite and we know there are consumers that will be attracted merely by these last two characteristics.

In fact I can’t think of any brands that are hip and a trend setting at a low price.

In fact once the brand is becomes mainstream, many of these consumers will choose another brand — think about the ‘in crowd’ that follows the new restaurants and bars that open up in any city. Those ‘trend setters’ are not loyal consumers in the long term but can get your business on the map.

4) The Eagles Greatest Hits — for my mind they have been successful because their music is again generic enough to capture a mass audience.

Compiling the greatest hits together — or in fact any greatest hit compilations gives the consumer and customer what the want — all the best bits.

Perhaps we can learn from this as we think about how we package our services and products. Which of our products and solutions are the most popular and how could they be packaged together to increase revenues?

The greatest hits albums are a great model for us to replicate — they leverage the content or the song so that from the album you get the single, remixes, extended mixes and then the greatest hits compilation.

How can we leverage our business? For professional services it might look something like a one to one consultation with a client turns into a post on a blog, then into a podcast, an online article, extending into a white paper, which becomes a breakfast meeting, a day long workshop, a three day event through to a lucrative consulting project or even licensing or franchising our model.

5) And as for the cultural wave, I think there are some groups that shape the culture and some that then adopt, adapt and apply themselves to leverage it.

Those that try to shape it sometimes get unstuck as it’s a challenging job looking to shift consumer behaviour and even with a massive marketing budget and years of research it can still go horribly wrong.

Think back to the new product that Coke created — a new taste for Coke in the mid 1980’s which was taken off the market within 3 months of launch, loosing them credibility, millions of dollars from years of R&D and then the advertising and marketing budget and market share to Pepsi.

I recently watched a documentary about ‘Blondie’ and how they caught the cultural wave. They adopted and adapted what was going on in the underground music scene in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and integrated that — from punk, to disco and rap — then bringing it mainstream to a broad audience through their own songs.

The strongest brands will adapt and change over time. As an example the washing up liquid ‘Fairy’ a leading household cleaner in the UK market by Procter and Gamble.

They have developed a brand that has remained relevant over time, upgrading it’s formula and creating brand extensions over the last 45 years meeting the needs of the consumers of today and with a different tone to it’s above the line advertising so it is contemporary and of it’s time.

Thank you for the insteresting and thought provoking post David.

Krishna De

posted on July 22, 2006

David (Maister) said:

No, many thanks to you, Krishna and Mark, for joining in on this one.

Some people may have thought that I was just playing games with this topic, but I wasn’t.

In many ways, we’re ALL, in some way or another, in businesses strongly influenced by FASHION. In the consulting industry, they used to talk about who was considered to “have the hot hand” – ie was the in-vogue firm.

So, learning how to function in a “fashion” business may sound trivial, but it’s not.

Even businesses that take themselves seriously and want to project an image of ‘gravitas’ must acknowledge the fact that ‘gravitas’ is a ‘persona’ and that an organization must learn to avoid the things that conflict with its persona and identify and do the things that support it.

One of the reasons I am intrigued by the possible lessons from pop music here is related to a point that Krishna makes. He says ” the CEO must create a corporate brand that he can represent fully.” There’s a world of debate in that one conclusion.

For example, is it the CEO who does this? Krisha may be right – even more right than he says. Hypothesis: – pop groups – and companies – succeed when there is an unambiguous ‘persona’ that the market can either relate to or not relate to. It’s the lack of a persona that leads to mediocrity. And one person not a committee (probably the CEO) has to enshrine that persona. (The biggest reason bands break up of course!)

So, much as I hate to admit it – (I’m an operations and numbers guy by training) – there’s great importance in understanding this thing called ‘market image.’

However, I would offer the next conswequence of Krishna’s statement: 99 times out of a hundred, it’s not the marketing whizzes that do their magic, it’s the performer him or herself, – or the CEO him or herself – that actally has the ‘persona.’ The message to the marketing people is “This is who I am – go out and market me.”

My proposition is that, only in very rare circumstances (either in pop music or business) has the “specially created for marketing purposes” persona – ie manufactured image really worked on a sustained basis. There actually has to be a “point of view” there.

What that also means, if it’s true, is that it’s good business as well as good “art” to ‘stick to your guns, stay true to your vision, be who you are.’

It may take a while to find your market, but if you change to meet what you THINK the market wants, you run a high risk of being unmarketable because “there’s no there there.”

So, some hypotheses. McCartney may not have been as hip solo, but he sold more than anyone else because he remained McCartney.

But, Krishna, Mike, and everyone, this needs more than anecdotes, it needs comparative research. For example, Madonna succeeded by constantly changing, but Joni Mitchell lost her audience when she went from being ‘folk-y” to being ‘jazz-y.’

As I asked initially, when you look at the broad sweep of the charts and the sales figures, are there really demonstrable, transferable lessons here? Just because pop music is entertainment doesn’t mean it isn’t a big global business with business lessons to offer to the right investigator!

posted on July 22, 2006

Dennis Howlett said:


I think you’re posing a very tricky question in disguise: Is there a connection between popular culture, success and longevity? At a deeper level, where is the intersection between socially constructs and monetary success?

The examples you cite are interesting in different but related ways. The comon thread is that all are underpinned by solid business and financial management. Most studies of Madonna for instance stress that Madonna IS an industry in her own right.

If you extrapolate to artists who were very successful but whose time is past: Bowie, Johnny Rotten, Adam Faith—they all used their accumulated wealth/kudos to make sound investments that have made them extremely wealthy in their post-pop lives.

The example of Apple is a great testament to the IT industry being one that is fashion driven. Taken further, if you look at the success of salesforce.com you can argue that they’ve turned a traditional developer partner program into a ‘sexy’ fashionable model that jibes with the current fashion for Everything 2.0. the question right now is whether in the IT industry, we’ve finally seen a recognition that fashion matters. I suspect we have.

But here’s another question. Is originality – as in the case of Madonna as a marketing phenomenon able to consistently tap the fashion pulse – a replicable business model?

So is it about catching or creating a cultural wave?

Big questions, few easy answers but certainly worthy of study as a management issue.

posted on July 22, 2006

Dennis Howlett said:

I should have added – how do ‘we’ locate brand marketing (management) in this context?

There needs to be a set of hypotheses capable of being tested.

posted on July 22, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Yes, Dennis, the IT business is a classic example of one that should be trying to learn whatever lessons exist (if they exist) about fashion / cultural businesses.

My IT clients are always asking about how they (a) become the latest in-thing or at least become talked about – all that Buzz marketing talk has got them really going; and (b) once they are well-known how they sustain their success? Do they preserve what they are known for or (as many in IT would argue) work hard to make their old model obsolete.

Many would argue that the latter is exactly what the Beatles did – they evolved so fast and took their audience along with them. The Stones, however succeeded (astoundingly so) pretty much only when they kept on being just the Stones.

So where’s the lesson?

posted on July 22, 2006

Krishna De said:


I definately believe there are transferrable learnings between pop and business – after all pop is all about BIG business for the record companies and their investors and if they are astute enough and have a trusted advisor in their manager and their accountant, for the pop star or band too!

In the casie of Joni Mitchell ansd other artistes however their changes are often not about following the music trends – as you hear many of them in interviews they follow their personal aspirations.

Therefore in many cases making a move say from being a member of a group and finding your voice as a solo artist or deciding to follow a different style, that’s pretty risky.

Yes they can do some research on stage with new songs if they are live, but they don’t have the benefits of market research that we have in business.

Absolutely I agree that the CEO of the professional serices firm – particularly if it is their business – is the person that must inspire the vision of the organisation through their beliefs and principles.

In fact that is even more critical in professional services practices than in compnaies with traditional products and services.

The role of the marketing and PR/corporate affairs team is also to keep the business leader/executive up to date with comparative research about the market, consumer trends and competitors. And of course for them to provide robust evidence of the impact of their marketing plan in conversation -effectiveness of spend being one of the areas that often is not as robust as it might be.

They also have a role in challenging the CEO – all too many times I’ve seen the CEO and the leadership of organisations not want to change because they are out of touch with what is happening in the market and how they need to reframe their message. Now there are volumes that could be written on that subject alone.

David you have provoked an interesting debate.

Have you ever thought of hosting an open bridge tele-conference so that people could engage in such a debate? I hold weekly conference calls for my community and I’d be happy to share my resource bank with you if it would be of assistance.

Best wishes


PS – just to confuse you the he is a she!

posted on July 22, 2006

Dennis Howlett said:

Interesting question David. I’ve long felt the IT game IS a fashion business at multiple levels. The key to success ‘seems’ to lie in the ability of charismatic individuals who pursue innovation to ‘be’ the source of influence that cascades through to mainstream influencers and so able to create and manage the buzz your clients crave.

The classic example for me is SAP/Accenture/Gartner. SAP took the idea of business process re-engineering and enabled Accenture (as it is now) to be successful. In doing so it created a virtuous circle that Gartner was able to convert into popular TLAs. All of this backed by Hasso Plattner’s vision. Everyone becomes a winner in this game.

They’re still operating on that pattern today and continue to confound observers (like myself) by their ability to maintain momentum.

Today, Marc Benioff (SF.com) is pushing hard to define the business platforms/models of tomorrow.

He’s created and riding the Everything 2.0 wave and doing so in an innovative way.

We don’t yet know whether Benioff will cross the $1bn threshold (current run rate $500 mill) but if he does then it gets really difficult for others to mimic with any success. All built on fashion based marketing exemplified by rounded corners and shades of blue on the website! Along with making it easier for others to be successful through the AppExchange platform. It’s a neat way of building upon the ‘fashion’ wave.

posted on July 22, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Apologies for the gender confusion.

But then, given the industry we’re discussing, that may not have been that out of place! There have been more than a few performers who built their careers on just that! (Just joshing – I do apologize!)

posted on July 22, 2006

Krishna De said:

David and Dennis

For my mind the majority of businesses in the IT business must be somewhere in the middle between Madonna constantly changing versus the Stones.

Many in this sector want to move to the newest technologies and platforms and be on the leading edge but then the customer or consumer feels tricked into having to continue to upgrade with the cost, time and inconvenience involved.

But I also sense particularly from internal IT communities in corporates that they would like to stay as is. Whereas in fact they need to be closer to the customers and consumer to understand how they do to ensure that their infrastructures make their business easier to do business with so that they create brand ambassadors, raving fans and lots of buzz (or old fashioned word of mouth marketing).

Best wishes


posted on July 22, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Dennis, your examples are terrific. do you have any ionsights on the HOW these guys ( SAP, Accenture, Benioff) became the fashion leaders? Were there specific actions or tactics you would highlight as important parts of the mix?

posted on July 22, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Krishna De has carried overv this sdiscussion to her blog ( http://www.krishnade.com/blog/?p=223#comments

) which is worth visiting.

With her permission, I’m repeating here a comment of mine that I added to her discussion, and then her response.

I said: Thanks for taking the topic seriously, Krishna.

To respond to only one of your points – or rather, build on it.

I think, as you pointed out, one of the biggest marketing lessons of the past few decades was the power of Greatest Hits albums. This was true back in “my era” (the 60’s) but the NEW discovery later on was the strength of the “NOW” series – that it DID make sense for even very promnent and elite artists to participate in “collections” to reach a new audience. Prior to “NOW,” people like the Beatles always thought such things would cheapen the brand.

The NOW lesson took a long time (more than a decade) to be copied in the US (but has succeeded here just as well.)

So, on to the business lessons. I’m trying with “my stuff” to do EXACTLY what you recommend. With my podcast series on my websites, I’m creating repackaging of my most “in-demand” ideas (I won’t say greatest hits) so that my audience can experince them in new ways. You are so right that it’s a good idea!

And, I’m much more willing as a consultant, to “licence” my stuff to the business equivalent of “NOW” collections.

The pop industry DOES offer some useful lessons!

To which, Krishna replied:


Thanks you for sharing how you are re-packaging your expertise.

The other advantage is that if you give people a ‘taster’ such as through an article or a podcast, over time, those who are ideal potential clients will move to a more expensive product.

In the world of pop this would be from hearing you on the ‘NOW’ collection that you mention to perhaps buying your album to progressing to see you at a live concert – or for those true fans, following you around the globe on your world tour.

The power of the ‘NOW’ collection in business and using the podcast as an example is also a way for people to find out more about you, your expertise and your style without having to contact you.

For a service professional this also plays an interesting role in actively using podcasts as a way of reducing face to face time with a potential client before they then decide to invest in your solutions.

I’ve several examples of clients who have heard me once on a teleseminar – either my own or a colleagues/JV partner – and then become clients. Now that’s really effective marketing as I didn’t even need to leave my home to achieve this!

posted on July 23, 2006

Coert Visser said:

Hi David and others, Intruing topic. I agree with you, David. It’s paradoxical. With respect to The Beatles two eyewitness have confirmed your point. The new book Here there and everywhere – by sound technician of the Beatles Geoff Emerick clearly explains the musical dominance of McCartney in many repects. And George Martin their famous producer once wrote: “Paul McCartney has a sense of structure in his compositions that very few popular songwriters have ever had. He instinctively had much more musicianship in him than any of the others did: Paul had the makings of a great composer.” (Source: 1994, Summer of Love). The interesting thing is that the general public, not knowing who wrote what seems to favour McCarntey. In any poll more of his songs end up high. Furthermore, McCartney’s Beatle numbers have consistently been covered more by other artists. Only the ‘hip’ music press seems to differ. ‘My theory is that they think Paul’s music is to positive and simple-sounding. Positive and simple usually isn’t associated with intelligence. Liking this simple music can brong along the risk of being seen as simple-minded? Time will tell, who was the greatest. With respect to The Beatles my bet is on Paul. Anyway, who cares? Forget what critics say, and just enjoy the music. After all, it aint no contest.

posted on July 24, 2006

Bill Peper said:

I am the rascal who posed the original question on David’s views on the “Great American Songbook,” and I suggested that David consider writing a regular column on business lessons that we can learn from pop music when David asked for advice on creating more awareness for his blog. I had to smirk when I saw this blog entry after 3-weeks of not being able follow the discussion here.

I am convinced that valuable business lessons are just about everywhere, and that one of the most important functions of a coach/consultant/facilitator is to recognize these lessons from contexts other than the traditional business setting.

I feel that we limit ourselves to traditional business settings for our examples, to the detriment of our clients. At least in my case, my best ideas come from thinking about things outside of the immediate context for a solution to a problem.

Let’s admit up front that Madonna is a marketing genius whose successes deserve to be studied by serious business analysts. While in no way ever a fan of Madonna (Like a Virgin and Papa Don’t Preach are the only song titles that I can think of, and I could not hum the melodies or recall the lyrics for the life of me), let’s examine just a few of the possible lessons Madonna has to teach us:

  • Talent alone (here a beautiful singing voice) does not determine success, nor do professional critics. There have been thousands of singers with better voices than Madonna, but only a handful who have earned more money. Have any of us had clients that expect their “perfectly-priced, perfect products or services” to sell themselves and fail to market effectively? Work after the product is manufactured can be infinitely more important than the creation process. Where do our clients focus their attention and dollars? Many do not even try to track the success or failure of advertising efforts.
  • Madonna was willing to challenge sacrosanct cultural taboos, yet she was able to remain in the mainstream culture. Those who challenged the system earlier were generally relegated to the fringes of the entertainment world (Lenny Bruce). Are our clients willing to take the kind of risks and upset the apple cart as Madonna did?
  • Madonna focused on more than singing to deliver her entertainment. She created a unique fashion look, used videos brilliantly when that was just an emerging industry, and added choreography to her entertainment package. Are our clients looking for ways to add additional value or find new ways to provide value to customers in order to stand out from the crowd?
  • Madonna has adopted a multi-dimensional persona that has permitted her to enjoy success in more than one entertainment industry. Had she stuck to just her singing and video career (a safe choice given her success), she would be singing with Tony Orlando and Dawn in Branson, Missouri by now. Have our clients continued to develop future products and services, or are they just riding their one Gold Record before retreating to oblivion?
  • Madonna was willing to venture into new areas in order to expand her success, even at the cost of criticism from many quarters. Critics hammered her performance in Evita, but the public really liked it. Are our clients willing to risk criticism or failure in order to be successful? The road to success is rarely the path of least resistance.
  • Madonna has issued albums in many varied styles (so I presume). Again, her willingness to experiment and grow as an entertainer separates her from most people. How many of our clients are continuing to grow professionally or have found success in a second industry?
  • Madonna has selected venues for her expansion brilliantly. She has leveraged her persona and fame as a singer to become an actress and author, and she has explored a whole slew of other pursuits. What can our clients learn from Madonna’s ability to evaluate her options and enhance her successes? Do our clients consciously plot the business’s future to allow future expansion into new markets?
  • Madonna was willing to court publicity and did what it took to become famous in our society. This required her to understand the various major media hot buttons and capitalize on each of them. She paid her dues by giving up her privacy and participating in tawdry behavior in order to maintain success. It is important for all of us to realize what costs are associated with that kind of success and when success is not worth the cost.
  • Madonna has worked extremely hard and in a focused manner to achieve her success. Are we (or our clients) working as hard as she has to be successful in our pursuits, and are our efforts as focused at success?
  • Madonna has adapted to a new reality in the music industry, and she is still issuing commercially successful records. What lessons can we (and our clients) learn about the ability to adapt and succeed in a changing industry?

It is not an accident that Madonna has succeeded wildly in her career, even though she is not “my cup of tea.”

posted on July 24, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Bill, I’ve always been a fan of your comments here and elsewhere, but this one is BRILLIANT!

I plan (with your permission) to circulate it to every client I have who ever asks about careers, strategy or marketing. Wow!

posted on July 24, 2006

Brent Schlenker said:

I just discovered you and love the podcasts. I’m also very glad to see someone else fascinated by this topic. My spin is from the genre of Rock ‘n’ Roll. There are tons of great business and leadership lessons to be learned from VH1’s behind the music. I doubt any of the readers will be into it, but I love the stories behind Aerosmith, KISS, Led Zepplin, and others. KISS had a single minded goal from the very very beginning…to be the biggest @#$% rock band ever. Talk about connecting with customers, there fans were labeled The KISS Army. Now that’s branding! Great topic. Great blog. Great podcast. Keep up the great work!



posted on July 24, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Welcome, Brent.

The thing I notice about the “Behind the Music” (and the whole history of music bio films) is how predictable the rhythm of the career and life is.

If you miossed “Ray” or “Walk the Line” or even 1930’s “The Fabulous Dorsey Brothers”, here’s the plot

Kids from poor background struggle(s.) to survive.

Get(s) big break.

Treats their family and loved ones like dirt.

The pressures of life on the road.

Succumbing to substances.

Start seeing themselves (and being treated as) “artists” (poor sensitive souls)

Fight among the team about who’s really the top dog.

Break up and go out of fashion


Live in obscurity

Either return in glory decade(s) later or die in obscurity


I’m not joking. It’s amazing how common the pattern is, and how constant it has been for decades (if not centuries.)

Now, what does THAT all teach us?

posted on July 24, 2006

Shaula Evans said:

David, have you ever heard Garrison Keillor’s send up of this life cycle of music celibrities, about a classical choir who makes it big? His commentary on the coolness of being uncool are suprisingly germane to this discussion.

You can read the script here:


Or better yet, listen to the radio skit:


(The musical arrangements throughout are…amazing. Listen to it rather than read it if you can.)

He really, really nails it. (And as someone who sang in choirs for years and years, I can attest he skewers choirs very accurately, too.)

posted on July 24, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Shaula, as soon as I can tear myself away from this blog, I’m off to listen. Thanks for the link!

posted on July 24, 2006

Bill Peper said:

Thanks Shaula for the Garrison Keillor link. I enjoyed the choir story.

I have a habit of taking questions seriously — must be something about being both an attorney and a facilitator. David’s question, “What does THAT all teach us?” after describing the lives of many entertainers ending in tragedy deserves a response.

Here are some of the lessons that we can learn from this common life cycle. While these are not directly related to corporate life, the normal topic discussed in this blog, they are critical for all of us:

•Money can permit entertainers to buy whatever they want except happiness. Our culture is filled with many rich people who are miserable, particularly when possessions prove incapable of satisfying our deepest needs as human beings. We are capable of deluding ourselves only so long that life will be great when … I make one million dollars a year … find my soul mate … buy a corvette, etc.

•Fame and fortune permits access to temptations that many of us never face. Entertainers have virtually unlimited access to groupies, drugs, and material possessions. It would take an uncommonly well-adjusted person to not be affected by the temptations that surround successful entertainers in our society. Senior law partners at large firms and doctors have an astronomical divorce and substance abuse rate. “Common Folk” are, as a group, just as messed up as entertainers, but lack the opportunities to indulge in excesses of our media celebrities.

•Excessive fame and talent, particularly at a young age, can retard the emotional development of a person. Avenues open for the truly gifted, who learn that normal rules do not apply to them and that they are entitled to whatever they want. This lesson

•Hollywood and the media focus on the spectacular and tragic, stories that have a hook. I saw a friend at a funeral recently who earned a Gold Record in the 1960s. He married his high school sweetheart, and they have raised a wonderful family. He settled into a job not related to the entertainment industry, and he still sings occasionally for the love of singing. Will MTV do a show on him or Kurt Cobain’s march toward suicide?

•David is correct in his conjecture that the tragic life cycle he describes has occurred in varied forms throughout history. His summary captures perfectly the message of Ecclesiastes, the book of the bible written 2500 years ago summarized by the phrases that, on the level of human reason alone, life is “vanity of vanities” and “that nothing is new under the sun.” David’s mention of the cyclical pattern of these tragic figures brought to mind a passage from philosopher Peter Kreeft’s discussion on Ecclesiastes in Three Philosophies of Life, a great book I read several years ago:

“The most ineradicable reason Solomon gives for vanity is the very nature of time itself as cyclic. And the four great divine deeds revealed in the Bible all break the cycle and introduce something new, something from without, outside of time itself, something from eternity rather than from the past, therefore something radically new: Creation, Incarnation (Jesus becoming Man), Resurrection (Jesus raised to new life in glory by the Power of the Spirit), and Last Judgment. Here is something new under the sun because it comes from beyond the sun. Here are meaning and hope. … Here is true transcendence.”

Ecclesiastes, a remarkable book of existential philosophy admired by pessimists and agnostics Herman Melville and Thomas Wolfe, provides the question that Christianity answers according to my religious tradition.

posted on July 25, 2006

Matt Moore said:

Two critical points about Madonna:

1. She is very canny in terms of who she collaborates with: her producers & arrangers are some of the best in the business. She makes up for her shortcomings in musical talent whilst controlling her overall “brand”. She is also pretty ruthless when a better collaborator appears on the horizon.

2. Her attempts at diversification have been mixed to say the least. With the exceptions of Desperately Seeking Susan & Evita, her film performances have been forgettable. Whilst she has been very canny at adapting to new musical trends, she really only plays herself – which makes for a pretty fatal lack of range as an actress.

3. Much of Maddona’s musical inspiration & support came from the gay community (in New York and elsewhere). Which she has been loyal to over time. And they in turn have been loyal to her.

So what are the lessons for the rest of us? – If you want to be the best, work with the best. – Know your limitations. – Know who your friends are.

As for the narratives of pop stars, whilst I can’t answer as comprehensively as Bill, I would say the following:

Most of these are American stories. And American stories tend to about individual ambition & success (rags-to-riches) balanced by a need to maintain the social order (the excessive star, once chastened, must either make peace with his friends & family or die).

The very things that a capitalist society valorizes (ambition, success, consumption) can be destructive & dangerous if unchecked.

posted on July 27, 2006

Simon Luscombe said:

It is a very interesting topic with some issues you have raised comparing business with music.

Firstly though in business wouldn’t you rather be an ‘Abba’ or ‘Bee Gees’. Undeniably brilliant and profitable whilst being timeless? Introduced to a new generation every few years and whose legacy will never die? This is far superior to being considered ‘cool’ the musical equivilent to Radiohead or Nirvana, those who die, disappear or completely lose what made them so great.

The problem is ‘cool’ keeps changing, but the genuinely talented will always prevail. The same in business. Fads come and go, but a well placed idea or product which builds a reputation on quality, will outlast all other rivals.

Yes Madonna is great, no denying it. But she works really hard in all aspects of her life, and it shows.

posted on December 14, 2006

Simon Luscombe said:

2 other points…

1. The Beach Boys are considered cool now, particularly Pet Sounds. This is any cool rock star’s staple influence (also voted the 2nd greatest album of all time on Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums) behind Sgt Pepper by the Beatles.

2. The Eagles – as Lisa from the Simpsons once said ‘you never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator’.

posted on December 14, 2006