So I’m reading today’s "Wall Street Journal" and there’s an article on Foursquare and in the accompanying photo, the CEO is wearing a hoodie. Remember when rock stars wore street clothes?
1. Don’t dress up in outfits and never wear a suit, unless it’s a solemn occasion, and then you should appear in a twist on a tux or suit. Country stars wear their cowboy hats to the Grammys, you should wear your normal stage clothes to the Grammys, if you go at all.
2. The business tanked when the executives all started dressing like NBA coaches, in multi-thousand dollar suits. If Tommy Mottola had been on the right path he’d still matter. But like the music he championed, he’s gone.
3. Focus on the product first, not the money! Google, Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, each and every tech startup began without a business plan. When you start playing music and immediately want to get paid you’re sending the wrong message. Make it about the product first, figure out how to make money second.
4. It’s all about the users. Sure, Facebook is constantly changing its privacy settings, but do you notice the backlash?
5. Marketing comes last, if at all. Google didn’t advertise until long after it became a household name.
6. Position yourself as cutting edge, as new. No tech startup gets a toehold unless it’s doing something new, why do you think you’re going to be a big success in music replicating what everybody else does?
7. Position yourself as a renegade. That’s part of the hoodie ethic in tech. In music everybody dresses up in finery and kisses the butt of anybody who might get them ahead, radio, the press, the guy at the label. These people should be afraid of you, they should not understand you, they should be your friend last.
8. Education/practice. Mark Zuckerberg went to Harvard, as did Bill Gates. Why do you think you can make it in music if you’ve got no talent and haven’t practiced? You don’t get into Harvard on a whim, you’ve got to perform for twelve years in advance, get great SATs, have incredible grades. Bill Gates was coding when he was still wet behind the ears. If you started playing yesterday and expect to be famous tomorrow, we’re laughing.
9. Be new and exciting. We can’t wait for the new iPhone, Apple has us hooked, constantly testing limits like the Beatles whereas the musical acts today are repeating themselves, endlessly.
10. If you need adult supervision, raid an established firm, the way Facebook got Sheryl Sandberg from Google. But Mark Zuckerberg is still the boss. You can hire a name producer, but he answers to you! Your name is on the line, he can just go on to another project when he’s done with you.
11. There’s more than one way to make money in music. Selling recordings is not the end all and be all. Google developed AdWords and AdSense and they gave e-mail away for free so they could insert ads alongside missives. None of this existed prior to them doing it. What are you doing that’s new? And Zynga has a huge valuation by selling air, i.e. virtual goods. Wanna entice the public? Sell something other than recordings and concert tickets, be innovative.
12. You must be outside the system. Tech companies are unafraid to ruffle the establishment yet today’s musical acts are positively docile, you could take them home to mom and dad. Sure, there are performers with tattoos and piercings, but that’s just for show. But even classics like Jeff Bezos are messing with mom and dad, Amazon is planning to sponsor a vote in California to ensure they don’t have to pay taxes. Musical acts are so busy selling out, they have no idea what rebellion is.
13. Once you make it, don’t blow all your money. Today’s successful tech youngsters may buy a house, but they no longer even buy a fancy car. It’s all about the work. And when they do spend, they tend to give the money to charity.
14. Tech startups are sold via word of mouth. They don’t hire PR companies to flog them to the mainstream media. The mainstream media gets on the bandwagon last, when they hear about it from everybody else, when the users have turned the enterprise white-hot.
15. Groupon changed shopping. Who’s willing to change music?
16. Google is your friend, you depend on it. Bands are your enemy, everybody in music is your enemy, from the label to Ticketmaster to… Interacting with music is about keeping your hands in your pockets, fearful of being ripped-off.
17. In tech they pay with stock options, it’s all about the upside. In music it’s all cash up front. The execs want huge salaries and the bands want huge guarantees. If you believed in yourself, in your work, you’d be willing to take more of the backend, which would be huge because of your hard work and ultimate success.
18. Tech is all about getting the most users and then monetizing. In music we want people to pay up front. Get everybody to listen to the music, that’s more important than getting a very few to buy it.
19. Tech is about killing your young. No one protects the past, they just try to ensure they’re not left out in the future. Friendster didn’t go to Washington, D.C. to try and prevent the intrusion of MySpace into its sphere. And MySpace was eventually killed by the unforeseen Facebook. Keep making more new music, if you tour endlessly on the one hit album you’ll find when you’re done you’ve been surpassed, someone else is now the big kahuna.
20. Don’t be afraid of the future. Microsoft bought Skype. Music companies sue upstarts. They should purchase or align with them.
Party like a rock star. We hear that all the time. That so and so is a rock star. You want to know who’s a rock star? The techies. The cofounders of Google have a veritable air force, and they’re not telling everybody about it. Rock stars used to function off the grid. Now the techies do and the musicians are positively mainstream.
The public has voted. The money is in tech. Because it’s the land of excitement, where innovators go to blow our minds. That used to be music’s domain. But music abdicated its position. If music is to count again it must take the above lessons very seriously, or else it will be doomed to be the second-class citizen it has become.