Punks and Nerds Shall Inherit The Earth….
It has been an interesting month in the entertainment industry. We saw Instragram sell for a billion dollars and the abrupt departure of Brian Dunn as CEO of Best Buy. What’s interesting isn’t Facebook’s need to spend so much money on Instagram, or Mr. Dunn’s personal conduct. It’s the fact that Facebook has a billion to burn, and Best Buy a $1.23 Billion loss (-3.36 per share). It’s more proof that the nerds and punks have gotten it right….. again.
Across all generations, we’ve participated in or witnessed subcultures that work against the popular grain. Two subcultures that continue to have significant impact on us today are the punks and the nerds of the 1980s. They were outcasts during their time, and, you know what…. they didn’t really care. They focused on their values and passions – no matter how much taunting, mocking, and beatings they endured, their response was “this is what I like, and this is what I want to do”. As a result, the music or code they created was vibrant and alive – and all of us still reap the benefits of their rebellion!
Punks and nerds were brave and committed to their cause during the 80s when the mainstream derided and dismissed. The mainstream glorified conformity – you only have to watch Sixteen Candles to gain a glimpse into the mainstream youth psyche of the time. Mainstream messages reinforced the need to wear the right shirt, sport the right shoes, drive the right car – to conform, to fit in or to be cast out. While it might have felt idyllic at the time, this mantra proved disastrous for business today as the mainstream generation of the 80’s was brought up afraid to stand out and question or take a risk. I’d argue that the 80s conformist culture decks the halls of today’s music industry executives who hide behind group thought and decision by committee – analytics over intuition or quarterly results over risk and vision. My question is… how can we attain greatness without risk, innovate without fresh thinking, or experiment without discovery?
Subcultures have the potential to deflect the mainstream, and send us down a new path, when individuals, driven by passion and vision, finally assert their influence. They make decisions and stand by them. Regardless. No waiting. No delay. Steve Jobs relied on his instinct to change how we consume entertainment. Bands such as Bad Religion are still successful after 30 years because they started a label, controlled their business, and never gave up. Companies that continued to sell buggy whips at the turn of the 20th century faded fast. Companies today who refuse to adopt new business practices that leverage new technologies to address an engaged and innovative consumer are destined to the same fate.
If the past is any indication, independent efforts lead to permanent change. It happened at the turn of the last century with Edison and it happened at the turn of this century with Jobs. While the major labels had been creative and blossomed in the 60s and for much of the 70s, much of that was gone by the 80s. The race to the bottom line garnered too many artists playing too much of the same things, with nothing challenging or creative standing out. Thankfully, punks arrived on the scene. They brought us real alternatives like The Clash and The Ramones and so much more. Punks didn’t care about the music being polished and produced, and no one cared for mainstream artists like Christopher Cross. They did it themselves, started their own counterculture bands and figured out how to do things their way. Against all odds, punk bands like Social Distortion and DOA figured out new ways to get their music out and tour the world. They organized their own promotion and distribution channels and began to cross-market through magazines like Thrasher and videos like Bones Brigade. Punk bands worked together to create touring networks. This DIY (do it yourself) ethos was their way of deflecting the mainstream and blazing new paths.
Record companies had total control of the industry. But while record labels made minor adjustments, the rest of the industry went down a new path towards a more independent world. College radio changed mainstream radio programming. Independent touring networks changed record distribution. Independent bands and record releases defined new subcultures and built new business networks. Options for touring expanded as local promoters garnered reputations for taste and quality. Cool music being stocked in our local record stores and cool bands performing in our towns became a reality. New bands were spawned because passion, vision and drive for original music was possible
Following the advent of personal computers and C++, we benefited from the extraordinary growth in computing and personal electronics. Since the late 1980s music, coding, and technology have developed in lockstep with one spurring on development in one another. Music fans adopted new technologies rapidly, discovering new music and artist along the way. In the past 10 years, every aspect of the music industry has seen sustained growth, except one. The mainstream record industry struggled to remain in control and challenged the legitimacy of new formats and platforms – MP3s, peer-to-peer file sharing, portable devices, etc. Instead of embracing, it’s been a fight that went badly.
Music fans are excited by technology. It makes it easy. It engages them. Innovators have pushed the boundaries of computers, smart phones, and tablets through VOD, digital radio, fashion, art, and music. It’s nerds being punks and punks being nerds. We risk regression though, especially if our conformist execs continue to blindly support controlling policies like ACTA, SOPA, and PIPA. The world can only give so many examples for their folly. Business has to understand that the customer is always right and reacting to their needs has to be thoughtful, but swift and fluid at the same time.
The documentary Art & Copy features a great quote by famous ad man Lee Clow (Apple ads)… “Trained… left brain… MBA minded… process driven people that basically are the bedrock of so many companies…. There’s no creativity, there’s no intuition, there’s no trust, there’s no bravery.” The ad mans lament of his industry reminds us that we need to celebrate our risk takers, experimenters, and dreamers. The punks and nerds have created the music and technology industry as we know it today. They were right, and conformity has been oh so wrong. So, am I really surprised that Instragram sold for a billion? …not really.
No related posts.