8 Albums, 5 Band Members and 3 Business Lessons

Let’s not beat around the drum kit, the band in question are probably the most successful and requested rock band of our generation, like them or not, you will definitely know their name.

Dave Grohl started his career perfectly poised on the best seat in any rock concert, right in between the bass and electric guitar. No one really knew him by name, but fans often referred to him as “that crazy drummer” from Nirvana. Fast forward to 1994, a few months after the tragic death of Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain and you will discover a 14 track album, recorded in a tiny studio titled, “Foo Fighters”, of which Dave Grohl manned every instrument and annunciated every self-written lyric. All in 5 days by the way.

Since then, the Foo Fighter’s name has traveled the world, sold out bars, halls, venues and stadiums and inspired millions. As you can tell, I am a bit of a fan.

So what can the nicest guy in rock ‘n roll, and arguably this generation’s biggest rock band, teach us about running a business? The obvious lessons might be about how they turned a brand, the Foo Fighters, into a global phenomenon known and supported by millions. Or how they transformed their passion and talent into a never-ending cash flow waterfall?

But that would mean that I would have some experience about running my own business, which, by the way, I have none. Where I can offer some value is from my knowledge and time spent working for multiple companies, agencies and industries, on 2 different continents. Based on that, here are a few, less obvious lessons, that I have picked up from Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters.

Lesson 1: You want talent, but what you actually need are relationships:

Apart from hunting down the most talented people, it is a better option to find a group of individuals that bring out the best in each other and then providing them with space and capacity to create, produce, manufacture and grow.

When you separate each member of the Foo Fighters from the band, you will discover that after every album, each musician takes some time to pursue something different. Taylor Hawkins is the lead vocalist for two other bands. Lead guitarist Chris Shiflett has a number of country solo projects. Bassist Nate Mendel has just launched his solo album Lieutenant and Pat Smear has a musical resume longer than most countries’ written constitutions. Then, there is Dave Grohl, who “occasionally” drums, records, produces, writes and directs for a multitude of bands, projects, documentaries and movies.

As a business owner, this doesn’t mean that you should get your staff to work rival agencies in the hope that they will return. The lesson here is to provide an environment where employees are encouraged to learn, explore and develop new and multiple skill sets. Skills and knowledge that will add value to your business and provide much needed personal growth and value.

Lesson 2: Sometimes, you need to be a dick:

Am I accusing Dave Grohl, the nicest guy in rock ‘n roll, of being a dick? Well, yes! Back in 1997, the Foo Fighters were busy recording their first album as a band “The Colour and the Shape”.

Once again, Dave wrote all of the songs, while the rest of the band collaborated on the arrangements. With the sessions nearly complete, Dave took the rough mixes with him to L.A. to finish up the vocals and guitar pieces.

While working on the final mix, Dave was unsatisfied with William Goldsmith’s drumming on one or two songs. So he decided to re-record the drum pieces on his own. This soon became 3 songs, then 4, then 5. Dave re-recorded all, but 2 songs on the entire album, without consulting William.

Ask any creative, their most valuable and precious asset is the work that they produce. If one unintentionally insults that body of work, it can be absolutely devastating and detrimental to that creative self-confidence and worth.

Dave never intended to personally insult William Goldsmith’s work or talent. He simply made a business decision, a decision that affected the quality of end product. A decision that ultimately affected Dave’s and William’s working relationship.

Now, I am not saying that you should be a dick when it comes to important business decisions. What I am saying is that sometimes there is a better way to approach a difficult situation.

Lesson 3: Listen to your audience:

This might sound like the most obvious lesson for any business, but it is amazing how often an audience will take the time to communicate with a brand, yet this line of communication ends up being one-way traffic. It is important to not just listen but react to your audience. In business terms, this is called customer relationship management.

What do you need to do, as a business, to build a positive relationship with your audience? In simple rock ‘n roll terms, you need to do something cool.

In 2014, a handful of Foo Fighters fans decided that it would be a great idea for the Foo Fighters to play in Richmond Virginia since the band had not toured there for almost 9 years. How did they get the bands attention? The concert was completely crowd-funded, with a total of 1,500 tickets already sold without the band’s consent or any plans of touring to Richmond. Dave’s response to this guerilla tactic? “Well, I guess we’re playing a show in Richmond.” The band could not ignore their fans effort and commitment, so they played 23 songs for just under 3 hours to 1,500 adoring fans from their home state.

OK, sure, this was easy for the Foo Fighters as the band were originally formed in the state of Virginia, so it was pretty much a homecoming concert.

Well, earlier this year (2015), 1,000 passionate Italians decided to jab a giant pin on the Foo Fighter’s tour map. Orchestrated by Fabio Zaffagnini and 9 other people, the team held an 11-month audition to create 1 super group of 1,000 rockers that would play 1 Foo Fighters song:  Learn to Fly.

The event was held in a field in Cesena, Italy and the video was the stickiest piece of content on the internet, topping 18 million views on YouTube in 1 week. The purpose of the event, a video invite to the Foo Fighters to come to Cesena. A movement that took 11 months to create received a response in just a few days, directly from Dave and the band via Twitter: “The band will be seeing you soon.” The Foo Fighters performed on the 3rd November 2015, at Cesena’s Carisport venue.

When you are part of a large organisation, it is very easy to overlook any message from your audience, even if it is the same message from 1,000 people. By taking the time to listen to your audience and acting on a number of realistic requests, you might just line up your brand or business to do “something cool” for a change.

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