Tag Archives: Music


I started playing the guitar when I was 11. At the time, learning how to play the riff from “Satisfaction” or “Day Tripper” felt like a big deal. A few years later, along came Jimi Hendrix, and what I thought of as playing lead guitar changed completely. Sure, Clapton was still my idol (I mean, the “Crossroads” solo on Wheels Of Fire. Has it ever been better?) but Hendrix opened my ears to the possibilities the instrument contained.

I played guitar in bands through middle school, high school, and college. I was rarely alone in my room without a guitar in my hands. I couldn’t really emulate the Claptons and Hendrixs of the world but at least I understood what they were doing. Then, in February of 1978, along came Eddie.

With the release of “Eruption,” Eddie Van Halen redefined the guitar. It’s the solo that changed guitar forever and blew the minds of anyone who ever picked up the instrument with serious intent. In 102 seconds, I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about something I’d been playing for over a dozen years. How was he doing that? It was so far beyond even what Hendrix had done.

What amazed me the most wasn’t just his use of a technique I’d never seen before. It was how grounded in musicality his playing was. Beautiful arpeggios that just soared. Yes, as I came to find out, others had been using the techniques Eddie was using, but what made Eddie’s playing stand out was how despite the feedback and squeals, it was very musical. You might not have known that Eddie learned music early on and won a piano competition. He learned Bach and Mozart and not just Lennon and McCartney. There’s a business point there.

Too many of us jump into business thinking that we’re going to change everything. There’s nothing wrong with that. But learn from Eddie, who really did change everything. Before he did so, he was grounded in the fundamentals. He studied the masters. He learned to play Clapton note for note and mixed up Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Hendrix. He melodized, perfected, and popularized the techniques he learned from them and from others. Oh – and he always seemed to be having fun while he was doing his job.

We can learn a lot more from Eddie than just how to handle a fretboard and even if you’re not a fan. I’m sorry he’s gone. You?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Music, Thinking Aloud


Did you play in your school’s band or orchestra? Maybe you sang in the chorus? I did all of those as well as in the school’s jazz band. If you did, you came face to face with a conductor. For those of you unfamiliar with how a conductor operates, I’ll spend a few words on the topic. For those of you already familiar, please keep reading because those hours spent under their baton can tell you a lot about business.

Whether you played in an ensemble or just listened, you’ve seen a conductor at work. Their right hand, usually the one holding the baton, keeps time. Their left hand, the far more expressive one, serves many purposes; among them cueing various instruments, helping the musicians understand the dynamic you want to project or the phrasing you’re after.

One of my childhood memories is of seeing Leonard Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic. He conducted the orchestra in a way that was a cross between dancing as a listener and working hard as a musician. There is no doubt, if you watch old videos of him, what he is trying the get from his musicians. That’s not true of all conductors.

What you probably never thought of is how anticipatory conducting really is. It begins in rehearsal, where the conductor will often stop and explain what he or she is after. The musicians are learning what each gesture means and they get a sense of the speed and phrasing the conductor wants. It’s assumed the musicians already know the notes and heaven help the musician who causes the conductor to stop and demand the musician play a phrase the conductor heard as wrong. It also means the conductor is a few beats ahead of his musicians so he can cue them, hopefully in a way that also tells them how he wants the upcoming music played.

What does this have to do with business? A lot. I always looked at my role as being similar to an orchestra leader. My job was to bring coherence to a large, diverse group of executives who played very different roles. I kept time with one hand, meaning that I set goals for the entire group and established how we’d get there. With the other hand, I let individual elements within the group know when to speak up. Most importantly, we rehearsed. No, I didn’t have my group do things just for the sake of doing them. I did, however, ask them a lot of questions to make sure they knew the music and that when it came time for them to be front and center they would shine. I was careful to be clear about what I wanted and about what I meant when I asked for something. I was also a few beats ahead at all times.

Watch some of the great conductors. Bernstein, Loren Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, and others. There are some great business lessons there, don’t you think?

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud

Tribute Bands And Your Business

Over the weekend I saw the Dark Star Orchestra. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they’re one of the leading tribute bands out there and they play the music of The Grateful Dead. I’ve seen them several times and oddly enough each time I do it reminds me of a few business thoughts.

I played in several bands as I was growing up. We always felt we were a cover band. We were playing someone else’s songs but doing so in our own way. Most tribute bands go beyond that and attempt to recreate the sounds and often the appearance of the original artists. If you’re any sort of fan of The Dead you know that their performances were very hit or miss. The DSO is way more consistent and they sound just like The Dead on a great night each and every time. So what does this have to do with business?

I think imitation is more than just the sincerest form of flattery. I think in many ways it’s better than innovation despite the fact that we often hear of the “first mover advantage.” Innovation is great, but by not being first the flaws in the original product or service become way more clear. The fact that you’re building later lets you correct for those flaws and get beyond the original. That usually is something you can do much more cost-effectively too.

What do I mean? The iPod was not the first music player, just the most successful. Anyone who looks at Instagram knows both that they weren’t the first of their kind and that most of their “new” features these days come right from Snapchat. You could video chat someone long before Skype came around and Amazon was not the first retailer on the web. Each of those companies, and other such as Spotify and eBay, were not first movers. They were imitators – tribute bands if you will, who took the best of the pioneers and made it better.

Is it easier to get funding for a copycat? Probably – the business model has been proven and, therefore, investor risk is reduced. Japan, and now China, built economiesĀ on imitating successful products and making them better and/or cheaper. A tribute band has a pre-built fan base. If you’re a Beatles fan or an Oasis fan or a fan of The Band, you have no chance to see the original but you can spend a night with their music. If you’re a business, you don’t have to be the original if you can make the originalĀ better and capitalize on their fan base. The DSO do it brilliantly. Can you?

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Filed under Consulting, Music, Thinking Aloud