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Five Lessons Musicians Can Learn from Beatlemania
 

Five Lessons Musicians Can Learn from Beatlemania

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Was Beatlemania simply a product of its time, or can artists today learn anything from the meteoric rise of the Fab Four 50 years ago? My new presentation shares five lessons artists and marketers can ...

Was Beatlemania simply a product of its time, or can artists today learn anything from the meteoric rise of the Fab Four 50 years ago? My new presentation shares five lessons artists and marketers can learn from Beatlemania, such as the importance of courting influencers and rising above the critics. This presentation contains speaker notes.

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  • The Beatles are invading America all over again.
  • The Fab Four are a hot media sensation decades after they last recorded music together. Both Billboard and Rolling Stone recently featured in-depth cover stories discussing the drama leading up to their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 -- generally regarded as ground zero for the birth of Beatlemania. They've been featured on CNN, they have more than 2 million Twitter followers and 39 million Facebook fans, are being feted with a weeklong celebration on Late Night with David Letterman and a TV special commemorating The Ed Sullivan Show moment. In 2013, Mark Lewisohn published a 1,000-page book, Tune In, that covers the band's formative years -- just one of many landmarks that have ushered in Beatlemania, Part 2.
  • And they also remain a marketer's dream. As Ad Age reported in its February 3, 2014, edition, "The band, which broke up 44 years ago, sold nearly 1 million albums and more than 2.7 million digital songs [in 2013], according to Nielsen SoundScan. They remain a constant presence on radio. 'Love,' the Cirque du Soleil show based around Beatles music, continues to be a popular draw in Las Vegas." Moreover, Vans recently announced the sale of shoes based on the Beatles move "Yellow Submarine," Bloomingdale's is selling Beatles-inspired merchandise, and Capitol just issued a massive box set with remasters of all the band's U.S. albums. Who isn't cashing in?
  • But amid all the hoopla, a question remains: was Beatlemania a product of its time? Can artists today learn anything from their success? After all, the world was different in 1964. The record industry enjoyed a relative oligopoly. Teenagers bought record albums and singles instead of downloading them for free. And media was not fragmented like it is today. A band that broke through on radio and television could dominate listening tastes because there was less competition for our ears and eyes from the digital world. As Ad Age noted, the Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan drew more than 73 million viewers, or 40 percent of the American audience -- an unthinkable number today in our multi-tasking society, when our attention is divided among a plethora of TV channels, Internet sites, and mobile apps.
  • Bands trying to break through today face a very different world. Audience tastes have splintered among a wide range of formats, such as hip-hop, pop, electronic dance music. Any musician, whether a rocker or a rapper, competes for a smaller slice of our attention. And of course the economics of music have changed. Artists now compete for a smaller share of our wallets thanks to our changing music consumption habits, in which we download and stream smaller morsels of music rather than willingly buy full-length albums at prices determined by record labels. To survive, musicians have to become self-made marketers and master more content forms such as video and visual storytelling.
  • And let's face it: the Beatles were a once-in-a-lifetime, fortuitous combination of massive talent. The Beatles were more than a band; they were a cultural force to be reckoned with.
  • But the Beatles were not such a singular talent that they failed to influence the way artists perform. To the contrary -- they exerted enormous influence, elevating the start of the art for writing and recording rock and pop music. The Beatles empowered future generations of musicians to seize control of their own destinies in the recording studio. Their ability to craft their own songs inspired other ground-breaking bands like the Rolling Stones to start writing their own. They taught musicians that a combination of hard work and collaborative writing could produce great music. And those lessons, which endure today, started 50 years ago with the birth of Beatlemania.
  • The first important lesson from the success of the Beatles is to aspire for greatness. You could argue that the Beatles could have enjoyed some measure of success by recording a few decent songs sandwiched between albums full of forgettable material. After all, the Beatles initial push into America was supported by a $50,000 marketing investment from Capitol Records (a significant sum in those days), and the band had more than music going for it. But of course the Beatles and their producer George Martin did not settle for anything less than excellence. Even in the early days, the Beatles were committed to recording and releasing nothing but their best studio efforts. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were both friends, collaborators, and competitors, constantly pushing themselves to get better with their songwriting. In fact, Paul McCartney was known to become an exacting task master in the studio, especially as the band's sound became more sophisticated, demanding multiple takes of songs and dismissing the efforts of George Harrison and Ringo Starr. As a result, today every single one of the Beatles albums stands as an essential listening. In today's loud and cluttered marketplace, any band that wishes for even a glimpse of success must be absolutely uncompromising in its standards. Today it's all too easy for an aspiring artist to produce rough, unfinished drafts of music that are better off remaining on the shelf. All you need is mobile phone, some decent software, and Internet access to create music. But that doesn't mean you should.  One reason Kanye West is so successful is that he always aspires for greatness (and, of course, he'll be the first to tell you he usually succeeds). With each album and tour, he demonstrates a passion for topping his last effort. He is renowned for his standards and willingness to push himself to innovate, whether injecting daring elements of theater into his performances or sampling art rockers like King Crimson in his song. As Producer Jeff Bhasker recently said of Kanye West to Entertainment Weekly, "A lot of people know how to make an album, but [he's like,] 'How do I make the best album I've ever made again?' Especially after you've done it, like, five times." Rapper Jay Z put it even more simply to GQ: "Kanye is a perfectionist." Dick Wingate, head of BHi Music Group, recently issued a challenge for all the aspiring Kanye Wests and Paul McCartneys in an interview with me: "[Musicians must] Be GREAT, not just very good. There’s too much very good music. It doesn’t rise above the clutter. Perform every show like it’s your last, no matter how many people are in the room (Bruce Springsteen did). And do not go into being a musician to make money. The odds are you never will.  Be a musician because it’s the only thing you can do to express yourself, it’s your lifeline to the world."
  • The Beatles didn't just aspire to be great. They worked hard to be great. In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell asserts that it takes on average 10,000 hours of practice to achieve true expertise in a given field. And he cites the Beatles as an example, noting that before they visited America, they had been playing together for seven years. And they endured a trial by fire, playing in sweaty, crowded, and at times hostile bars in Hamburg, Germany, sometimes seven nights a week. Gladwell notes that between 1960 and 1962 alone, the Beatles traveled to Hamburg five times. On their first trip, they played 106 nights, five or more hours a night. All told, they played 270 nights in just more than a year and a half -- before they'd even recorded a lick with Sir George Martin. As Gladwell points out, by the time they had experienced their first real success in 1964, they had played together an estimated twelve hundred times, during which they honed their craft and learned how to play together. "When they came back," points out Philip Norman, author of the landmark Beatles biography Shout!, "They sounded like no one else. Hamburg was the making of them." The Beatles kept up their pace when they began recording, too. In the early going, it was down to producer Martin to push them to do take after take to wrest out of them the best sound possible, even if some of the early songs paled in comparison to the band's more mature material. As they learned how to be better songwriters, they never stopped writing, even as they were touring. It was not uncommon for the band to squeeze in the writing of songs while taking a break between concerts. Here's how Paul McCartney recalls the early years, as recounted by Mark Hertsgaard, in his book A Day in the Life: "Recalling a spare afternoon he spent in a hotel room writing 'She Loves You' with Lennon, McCartney exclaimed of the young Beatles, 'God bless their little cotton socks, those boys worked! They worked their little asses off! Here I am talking about an afternoon off and we're sitting there writing! We just loved it so much. It wasn't work." Today, bands have to work even harder than the Beatles did. Not only do today's bands have to make great music, the up-and-comers especially need to take a more hands-on role with their marketing and business management given the implosion of the music industry. To be sure, there are more tools available for artists to build their brands, ranging from content platforms like SoundCloud to social media tools such as Twitter. Daria Musk famously relied on Google+ to launch her career. Amanda Palmer has become a poster child for using Kickstarter to self-fund her music. Superstar Justin Timberlake adroitly uses Instagram to promote his song releases and his tour 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With great possibilities come many responsibilities, though. Just sustaining a brand -- let alone building it -- means a lot more than releasing an album every other or touring every summer. In our 24/7 digital universe, artists have to maintain a visible presence every day of the week just to keep pace. Even a legacy rocker like Robert Plant -- who arguably has nothing left to prove at this point in his career -- recently joined Twitter and Instagram in order to keep his brand circulating.
  • It might be hard to conceive of this, but the Beatles faced lots of criticism and rejection even as Beatlemania was beginning to explode. Some journalists looked at the Fab Four as something of a shaggy-haired curiosity with little to offer anyone but the most rabidly devoted teens. The Baltimore Sun, reacting to the growing U.S. enthusiasm for the Beatles in late 1963, published an editorial that said, "America had better take thought as to how it will deal with the invasion . . . Indeed a restrained 'Beatles go home' might be just the thing. Donald Freeman of the Chicago Tribune scoffed that the Beatles "look like four of the Three Stooges . . . And if they ever submitted to a barber who loves music -- snip, snip! -- that would be the end of the act." Incredibly enough, when the Beatles exploded on national television via The Ed Sullivan Show, The New York Herald Tribune reacted by announcing, BEATLES BOMB ON TV. Newsweek referred to the band this way: "visually, they are a nightmare . . . musically, they are a near disaster . . ." And yet, the Beatles were undeterred. Why? Number one, because they knew better: they'd seen the fan reaction first-hand. And second, they had been battle-tested by years of touring among inhospitable locations and enduring rejection in some quarters in the U.K. Today's artists have it even worse because they receive criticism from all sides: the professional critics, fans on social media, self-appointed pundits from the blogosphere (like me), and each other. Taylor Swift can certainly attest to this reality. She's been pilloried by industry authority Bob Lefsetz, mocked by bloggers such as Perez Hilton, and roasted by Tina Fey. Of course, she famously endured Kanye West's ungracious public dissed her at the VMAs in 2009. Whether she invites criticism through her actions and words is another matter. What's important is that she simply keeps focused on recording music, winning awards, and building her brand to the tune of earning $55 million in 2013. Not bad for someone who knows something about backlash.
  • The Beatles didn't simply endure critics: they won them over. From the start, they always understood how to charm and wow the influencers who were so critical to building their fan base. In their home country, they famously charmed the Royal Family in a Royal Command Performance in November 1963 even though they resented the experience. Once they hit the States in 1964, they swallowed their pride and bantered good naturedly with journalists who greeted them with condescending questions about their hair and depth of their musical talent. Their ability to joke and answer questions with witty replies gave journalists just what they needed: good copy. After the band conducted a "meet the Beatles" press conference upon traveling to New York in January 1964, Beatles photographer Dezo Hoffman wrote, "Two hundred hard-boiled reporters who'd come to destroy the Beatles ended up adoring them." The band also understood how to charm all the other important influencers who would be so instrumental in exposing their brand to a larger audience. They played nice with Ed Sullivan and played by his rules (as opposed to the Doors, who three years later would open disrespect Sullivan on his own show). They took under their wing New York disc jockey Murray the K, who became such an important early champion of the group that he became known as the fifth Beatle (a title that would be shared by others, too). Today musicians are courting a new set of powerful influencers beyond mainstream and social media pundits: brands. The music-savvy companies like Coca-Colas Pepsi, Samsung, and Harley Davidson can give musicians a new global platform to expand their audience base through sponsorships and co-branding relationships. For instance, Kid Rock and Harley-Davidson agreed o offer limited-edition, co-branded Rebel Soul merchandise featuring a line coined by Kid Rock: "I can't hear you over the rumble of my freedom." As part of the relationship, Kid Rock also performed at the Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary Celebration in September 2013. Meantime, In 2011, Madonna and Smirnoff formed the Nightlife Exchange with goals of building digital reach for Smirnoff and generating business for both Madonna and Smirnoff. According to Christopher Swope of Live Nation, the relationship (which featured a special global dance talent search in 2011) has helped Smirnoff achieve double-digit sales growth in key markets (with the help of a specially branded Madonna VIP Access Smirnoff Limited Edition pack) and generate 1.8 billion media impressions. The relationship also helped Madonna make her MDNA tour the highest grossing of 2012.
  • It's easy to think of Beatlemania as a runaway train that simply collected fans as it picked up steam. But, fans madeBeatlemania. Incredibly enough, one 15-year-old girl named Marsha Albert was crucial to the birth of Beatlemania. On December 10, 1963, she watched a widely broadcast Walter Cronkite segment about the Beatles. After watching the broadcast, she wrote a letter to DJ Carroll James of WWDC in Washington, D.C. She asked a simple question: "Why can't we have music like that here in America?" The DJ arranged to have a copy of a new Beatles single named "I Want to Hold Your Hand" played on the air, and he invited Marsha Albert into the studio to celebrate the song's initial airing in the United States. All it took was that one moment: the song caught fire that night, as fans deluged the radio station with requests for more airplay. Albert's letter set in motion an a chain reaction that led to the Beatles suddenly becoming a hot sensation based on the strength of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." As Billboard noted, "Had Albert not written to James, setting this acceleration into motion, the conditions wouldn't have existed for the fan hysteria that accompanied the band's trip to the States and the record-shattering ratings for the Beatles' appearance on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' on Feb. 9."  And the Beatles showed their appreciation by arranging to meet Marsha Albert and thanking her on-air at WWDC -- just one of many times they would honor and connect with their fans. Ironically, the cresting popularity of the band made it impossible for the Beatles to respond to fans as personally as they did with Marsha Albert. But the Beatles made themselves as accessible as they could. They used their natural charm and stage presence to respond to screaming throngs of girls at their shows. They always engaged with fans warmly in public and defended them in the press when skeptical journalists poked fun at the fans' unbridled hysteria. When responding to fan mail became a physical impossibility, they remembered their fans by recording a special "Christmas greeting" every year beginning in 1963. (Thus it was especially cruel and ironic that decades later, John Lennon was indulging in what he thought was the request of a fan for an autograph when he was killed by Mark David Chapman.)  Musicians today can honor their fans in many more creative ways than recording quaint holiday greetings. Social media makes it possible for musicians to do what the Beatles could not: engage with fans personally, as Eminem recently did through a Facebook Q&A and as any musician can do on Twitter. Some artists have taken fan engagement to a whole new level by creating their own private communities where they can build deeper relationships with fans. Lady Gaga, for instance, operates her popular Little Monsters website, which is a hub for her 24/7 nexus of fan-related activity. She also involves her superfans in her own marketing. Hip-hop impresario Jermaine Dupri builds a vibrant community by interacting with fans daily on his Global 14 website, where he also updates fans on his career managing Mariah Carey. 
  • Fan engagement is an important area where artists have an advantage over the Beatles. No matter who you are -- an up and comer like Daria Musk or a superstar like Beyoncé -- you can establish a fan base and build it in far more personal ways. Whether there will ever be another Beatlemania is open to debate. But you can create your own groundswell of support so long as you aspire to be great, remain committed 24/7, ignore the critics, and court the influencers.

Five Lessons Musicians Can Learn from Beatlemania Five Lessons Musicians Can Learn from Beatlemania Presentation Transcript

  • Five Lessons Musicians Can Learn from Beatlemania David J. Deal Instagram.com/davidjdeal
  • It was 50 years ago today
  • The Beatles conquered America
  • That was then
  • This is now
  • And not everyone can be the Beatles
  • What can artists today learn from Beatlemania?
  • 1. Be great, not just good
  • 2. Commit to success – 24/7
  • 3. Rise above the critics
  • 4. Influence the influencers
  • 5. Love your fans
  • Thank You David Deal davidjdeal@gmail.com