For as long as it takes you to read The Music of Business, drop all vices and preconceived notions, then get ready for a heady ride. British author, Peter Cook has compiled a top shelf read that should remain in your library as a reference and an inspiration. This book is about the art of busines explained through the business of music.
This review is coming a little later than planned as there’s a lot to think about when you get into the various voices and opinions relayed through Cook’s lens. It takes a good deal of background knowledge to make all the necessary associations here. You need to know about science, business, music history, and pop culture to connect the dots bringing away the full impact of Cook’s intent.
This is a book for the thinking person, the one who is serious about the path they’ve chosen to follow. Musicians and entrepreneurs are not often invited to the same party. However, it appears one of the goals here is to illustrate musicians need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs, when most often they don’t. Conversely, entrepreneurs will hopefully see they need to balance watching the bottom line with a certain rhythm their artistic counterparts handle quite naturally.
As with everything we read, some of the information will appear as gospel, already carved in stone somewhere. Other ideas will be taken with a grain of salt at one sitting, while being incredibly powerful the next time around. When Cook talks about music, it’s his opinion. As subjective as the discipline is, what appears to be great talent in the eyes of some, will be waved away by others. Still, there’s undeniable truth on the business side. For instance, among many examples, he lays out much that works in Lady Gaga’s career on the entrepreneurial side, and how she has bundled ideas from mega stars that came before her. It’s worth paying close attention to Cook’s accounts and how various relationships dovetail into a total package.
Many will determine there’s a common missing link in many of these stories. Cook talks extensively about Gaga, Prince, and Madonna in terms of their success. What remains a mystery to many are intimate details in these storied careers and how the leap from being a nobody to a household name occurred. The struggling artist who reaches for Cook’s book for inspiration will be left wondering just how Madonna became one of the richest entertainers in the world. Was it all hubris? Was it management or a certain investor that actually launched Madonna’s career? That’s the multi- million dollar answer everyone is searching for. Cook masterfully ignores these details in favor of other clues. Why masterful? Because too many try to emulate what has worked in one or a few mainstream stories as the template everyone can use. Instead, Cook outlines a totally different path and one that can be used by many based on individual achievement.
Cook breaks down much of the information into chapters about innovation, leadership, and a host of characteristics that are common among the most famous entrepreneurs of our time.
Some of the more profound ideas examine universal patterns of thinking. People around the globe are educated through similar methodologies. For instance in public schools, we are taught to be reproductive. Homework is a repetitive reproductive practice.
Creative people think productively, not reproductively. Globally we are a mass production society that grew out of an industrial age. Creative people produce mass quantities of work in order to engender single masterpieces without a cookie cutter mentality. Einstein, for example, is most well-known for his paper on relativity though he wrote some 250 academic documents. Shakespeare, Bach, and Mozart were prolific in their art forms. Some of their work, Cook points out, is actually frivolous compared to the genius we find in those pieces known the world over.
According to the laws of nature, the most distinguished characteristic of genus is productivity. Mastering a craft takes productive practice. Practice allows a person to immediately fit into a given situation with ease, being remarkable when called to do so. Innovation is what separates leaders from followers.
The most interesting concept taken away from Cook’s book is the idea there is no such thing as failure. It’s a man made construct. Further, mistakes are necessary in order for us to succeed. It’s healthy to make mistakes, yet each of us has been well-educated to fear failure and deny our missteps. We aren’t born fearing failure. If that were true the human race would not walk, but crawl. Babies learn to walk, talk, eat, and a million other things through trial and error. To illustrate more fully, I recently saw a quote that says faith and fear demand you believe in something you cannot see. Our natural instinct is to succeed without a shred of evidence that we can. It’s purely innate and all about doing.
Failure is a judgment others hang on patterns of behavior they see in someone else. So the idea of failure is really a powerfully crippling control mechanism and has nothing to do with us. Until we dismiss the idea of failure altogether we may never recognize the pattern of success. It is not success when the doing is for approval, or wealth or fame. Success is turning ideas into reality and continuing to create tangible things that resonate universally, then ultimately a scalable model of innovation and leadership.
Most of us live a soft existence where a great deal of comfort is a requirement. For many, comfort is the very measure of success. Most of the greatest innovative breakthroughs come from environments where comfort is not possible. The music business is fraught with gossip by people who are deathly afraid of being taken advantage of which is perceived as a social discomfort. If you think you are going to coast uphill into a perfect situation you should rethink your entire game plan because business isn’t for those who play to lose. The equation for meaningful innovation does not include comfort, hand holding, or polite behavior necessarily.
Here’s a list of of common qualities among the most notable innovators of all time:
They do things differently
They are often abrasive
They are unconstrained by the past
They act on intuition
They take larger risks than those who merely adapt to normal circumstances
Herein lies a great lesson for those who want to be successful in the music business, though, it should be noted the era of pop/rock stardom is reportedly over and will likely never come again.
Be an innovator. First and foremost continue creating within a productive routine. Be prepared when called upon to be remarkable. Don’t listen to gossip among your peers who warn you against the behavior of innovative gatekeepers in this business. They have earned the reputation of being gatekeepers for a reason. Those who want to adapt to a certain substandard of mastery, a substandard style of behavior, with a substandard set of expectations will constantly rail against the qualities innovators have no fear of.
Adapters will fit neatly into manufactured boxes fearing failure and talking about the failure of others. Innovators are too busy to engage in this and will never fit neatly into anything as uniform as a box, or a measurable pattern.
They are off the creative charts where mediocrity is the yardstick.