Some may believe that being a rock star doesn’t involve much brains and intellect however if you really think about it, being able to make music is something that requires ample creativity, motivation and determination. These three ingredients are also key to becoming a successful businessman and entrepreneur.
Here are 10 musicians/bands who, in addition to faring well in the brave new world of the 21st century music industry, all have a gift for making good business decisions.
In 1977, lite cowboy and cocaine rockers the Eagles went to court to gain control of their music publishing from their former manager and Asylum Records label head David Geffen. From the very beginning of their career, Eagles founders drummer Don Henley and guitarist Glenn Frey never pretended to be anything but ambitious, and they backed up their ambitions with a string of hit singles and albums. By the mid-’70s, the Eagles were selling one million albums a month, and playing hardball with their label and live concert promoters, receiving whatever they demanded as a percentage of gate ticket sales.
The Eagles won their suit against Geffen and regained control of their publishing, worth tens of millions of dollars. But success has had its cost. The band’s cynicism about the music business, not to mention women and their own fans, comes through loud and clear in the lyrics to several of their hit songs. And while Eagles continue to tour, selling out stadiums is difficult to do thanks in part to our current economy.
A child of the Marcy Houses housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, Shawn Carter, better known as “Jay-Z,” went from releasing his first recordings on his own label, to becoming one of the most successful hip-hop artist entrepreneurs of all time. Jay-Z’s empire includes stakes in the 40/40 club chain, the New Jersey Nets basketball team, the clothing line Rocawear, and the Roc Nation label.
He recently launched a lifestyle website, Life + Times, to help perpetuate the notion of Jay-Z as a brand. “My brands are an extension of me,” Jay-Z has said. “They’re close to me. It’s not like running GM, where there’s no emotional attachment.”
Nine Inch Nails, formerly on Interscope Records, are among a handful of top-selling artists, who have recently chosen to manage and release their music themselves instead of under the auspices of a major label. Nine Inch Nails front man and mastermind Trent Reznor is currently exploring a variety of ways to finance and perpetuate the Nine Inch Nails “brand,” including allowing fans to video tape concerts, and releasing recordings, sometimes for free or pay what you will, under a Creative Commons license, allowing for remixes of the material.
“There’s a lot of opportunities I think to make money,” says Reznor with regard to Nine Inch Nails and its website. “But it shouldn’t always be about just making money.”
Madonna’s net worth has been estimated to be between $525 million and $600 million. Early on in her career, she had a strong sense for business and, perhaps more importantly, took care of herself physically by exercising and avoiding drugs and alcohol. The scope of her talents, which include singing, songwriting, fashion designing, dancing, and acting, is mind blowing, linking her to other great multifaceted female entertainers, like Josephine Baker, Judy Holiday, and Marilyn Monroe.
However, in spite of her reputation and skill at artistic appropriation, Madonna’s accomplishments in the music industry as a woman, including creative and financial control of her brand, are unprecedented.
It’s safe to say that without Madonna, there would be no Katy Perry, although the two so far have yet to collaborate or, perhaps more surprisingly, share a smooch or two. Perry’s estimated net worth, $44 million, seems a paltry sum compared to the Material Girl’s moola.
However, according to Vanity Fair, Perry “reinvests money in her concert production, thinks before chartering a private plane, and isn’t frivolous about buying clothes…” As a singer, songwriter, entrepreneur (she has her own line of perfume), and once again (thankfully) single woman, Perry is only just getting started.
One recurring character in the lives of successful rock musicians is an aggressive, bullish manager, and for singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, Al Grossman was exactly that kind of a manager. Grossman began managing Dylan after he’d already achieved significant success in the folk music community. But Dylan had ambitions bigger than being the world’s best-loved folk singer.
In his book, The Mansion on the Hill, Fred Goodman writes, “Grossman’s greatest achievement … was creating a commercial environment in which his clients could make a lot of money but preserve their integrity.” Dylan has since continued to successfully navigate the world of business and art, recording and touring at a pace of a musician half his age.
The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead have always understood and cultivated the power of visual branding, although the band members would like you to believe otherwise. “You didn’t want to turn the Dead into a knickknack trinket business,” drummer Mickey Hart said when asked about past proposals for merchandising.
In the coming years, Grateful Dead logos will appear on several new merchandise items, including coffee mugs, luggage tags, lunch boxes, and skateboards. Their upcoming merchandising blitz, which includes an elaborate online video game, will give birth to a new generation of Deadheads.
OK, so Parton isn’t a rock musician, but country and early rock and roll are close like kissing cousins, so we think she belongs on this list. Parton’s business acumen is formidable, and probably underestimated, perhaps because of her blond, bubbly, and buxom public image. She has been called the wealthiest country music star, with an estimated net worth of $450 million dollars. Her songwriting has yielded huge hits, including “I Will Always Love You,” sung memorably by the late Whitney Houston.
Dolly Parton’s business ventures include a film and television production company and the Dollywood theme park, located in Tennessee, which hosts approximately three million visitors annually. Not bad for someone who grew up “dirt poor” in a one-room cabin.
When Arcade Fire took home the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year, plenty of people watching the televised broadcast wondered aloud, “Who the hell is Arcade Fire?” This still relatively young band, lead by the husband and wife duo of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, remains signed to Merge Records, an independent label that supported them from the very beginning. “In the mainstream music business,” says music executive Danny Goldberg. “Merge is widely respected, not only because they signed Arcade Fire, but because they held on to them.”
Arcade Fire has achieved unprecedented success for a so-called “indie-rock band” by keeping their overhead manageable, retaining control of their music and masters, and using the Internet to promote their music and connect to their fanbase.
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, drummer, actor, and producer (whew!) Jack White is another example of a young musician operating successfully outside the major record label model. At 15, White, who in addition to playing guitar had seriously considered entering a seminary, began an apprenticeship upholstering furniture.
Jack White’s eye for design and creative marketing would serve him as one half of the duo The White Stripes, known for their red, white, and black color schemes, as well as for their Detroit-inspired interpretations of rural and electric blues. White’s Nashville-located Third Man Records is home to a vinyl record store, a photo studio and dark room, and a live venue with an analog recording booth. Its website boasts that Third Man Records “strives to bring a spontaneous and tangible aesthetic back into the record business.” Amen, brother!
Article By: Roxanne McAnne
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