Depending on who you talk to, the music business is either a "give the people what they want" business, a "give the people what they expect" business or a "give the people what will sell" business. All three are reasonable business models. And for better or worse, they all seem to be functioning and producing ROI at some level.
However, the recent passing off Steve Jobs, and the spate of tributes to and critiques of his life, personality, passions, foibles and accomplishments, gave me pause to compare his business with the music business. The world already had the computer, the cell phone, the Walkman and the music store when Jobs started his business. But it was the sheer power of his vision and his entrepreneurial courage that drove him to reinvent these paradigms and change the worldwide consumer definition of "what they want," "what they expect" and "what will sell."
Steve Jobs was in the "give the people what they don't know they want yet, but eventually won't be able to live without" business. He was the quintessential innovator. Sure, it wasn't easy. But the last time I looked, Apple was the most valuable brand on the planet.
Part of the reason for his success was that he created a culture of innovation in the workplace and an expectation of innovation in the consumer and financial marketplace. Everyone from Wall Street to Main Street came to breathlessly anticipate the next paradigm-shifting, stock-splitting, money-printing, destined-to-be-shamelessly-ripped-off innovation from Apple. And much of the time, Jobs and company delivered even more than we anticipated.
So, where is this spirit of innovation in the music business? Why is innovation not a driving force behind every label exec, publisher, artist, writer, producer and engineer in the business? Where is the culture, the expectation of innovation that legendary music business icons such as Clive Davis, Don Kirshner, Berry Gordy, Ahmet Ertegun and Mike Curb once created, promoted and profited from?
There's absolutely nothing wrong with giving people what will sell. But why has the music business decided or accepted that innovation doesn't sell?
I'm asking for your professional opinions.
Who are the innovators?
Who are the Steve Jobses of Nashville's music industry?
Who are the major players in the "give the people what they don't know they want yet, but eventually won't be able to live without" business?
It's a great question, but unfortunately, the innovators aren't well known until well after they did their thing. It's not until well after their technology or vision in art has been copied, followed, adopted en masse until they are known to be visionaries or innovators. Some, like Les Paul or Steve Jobs, are fortunate enough to see this happen in their life times. Others, like Hendrix, are not. But how many times do we hear a Hendrix riff echoed in a song to this day?
Yes, Hendrix was way ahead of his time. I mean, who else could have sung a song proclaiming, "excuse me, while I kiss this guy?"
GROAN! What a minute... You were joking, right? :-) Actually, I thought Jimi was an innovator because he was the first left-handed guitar player to play a right-handed guitar. Anyway, I remember reading somewhere that he was also pretty good. :-P
Of course Russ, the actual lyric was, "excuse me, while I kiss the sky."
I hear you. But I also hear it's next to impossible to keep a secret or an opinion bottled up for very long in the music business. There's got to be buzz around town about the firebrands and Frankensteins who are rewriting the rules and getting paid for it.
Rarely are they the same.