Celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week: Decibel’s 10 Favourite Musicians/Entrepreneurs


Decibel blog approached TMV about reposting this article and we thought what a great idea examining successful artists who have also made it as entrepreneurs in numerous different business ventures. Happy reading folks!

Successful musicians are thought to have the mindset of entrepreneurs. Some of them have taken this skill to a whole new level, becoming not only entrepreneurial musicians, but also entrepreneurs in their own right. Joining the celebrations for this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, Decibel introduces some of our favourite entrepreneurial pursuits by musicians.

Besides the nice job of fronting U2 for the past three decades and the even nicer job of being a philanthropist and political activist (he was named the most politically effective celebrity of all time by the National Journal and received numerous awards for raising money and making a difference all over the world), Bono has proved to be quite the entrepreneur. In 1992, Bono, along with band-mate Edge, bought The Clarence; a two-star Dublin hotel, which they completely refurbished and turned into a five-star luxury accommodation. This was only the beginning though.

In 2004, Bono joined business professionals Roger McNamee, Marc Bodnick, Fred Anderson and John Riccitiello on the board of Elevation Partners, a private equity firm investing in intellectual property and media and entertainment. The firm invested in Forbes Media LLC, company encompassing Forbes magazine, the Forbes.com website, as well as other assets, with reports stating that the stake was worth about US$ 250m). Because of a string of unlucky investments in Palm, Move.com and Yelp, the online publication 24/7 Wall Street named Elevation Partners “arguably the worst run institutional fund of any size in the United States.” But things seem to be picking up some speed for Bono and his partners. In 2010, the firm purchased a 1.5% stake in Facebook; Bono’s stake is currently valued at approximately US$ 1 billion.

Also, Bono is by far our favourite social entrepreneur. In 2005, together with his wife Ali Hewson, and Irish fashion designer Rogan Gregory, Bono unveiled EDUN, a line of blazers, t-shirts and jeans manufactured in factories from Africa. EDUN’s goal was to create a business model based on providing fair wages to local workers, and thus encouraging ethical investment in developing nations.

Jack White
In 2001, Jack White started Third Man Records. Originally based in Detroit, MI, in 2009 it changed its location to Nashville, TN. The label reissued the first three White Stripes albums: The White Stripes, De Stijl and White Blood Cells, and is now home to The White Stripes, Jack White’s own solo releases as well as his other bands, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. TMR also released material from other critically-acclaimed artists, including Laura Marling, First Aid Kit, Wanda Jackson, Karen Elson, Beck, Alabama Shakes, Drive-By Truckers, Tom Jones, and go figure, Conan O’Brien and John C. Reilly.

Almost all of the records are recorded, printed and pressed in Nashville and produced by Jack White. Currently, TMR is comprised of a record store, record label offices, a photo studio, a dark room and a live venue with analog recording booth.

What we think is really cool about Jack White’s label is the love for vinyls and the dedication the TRM team puts into design and artwork. In line with the TMR belief that “Your Turntable’s Not Dead”, the label strives to bring the vinyl aestethic back into the record business by producing beautifully-crafted vinyl releases, some of them in limited quantity.

Celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week: Decibels 10 Favourite Musicians/EntrepreneursIn 2002, Moby and his then girlfriend Kelly Tisdale, opened the TeaNY café, located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. The café, known for its wide assortment of teas, veggie/vegan menu and unique décor (mostly designed by Moby himself) eventually became an attraction for New Yorkers and tourists alike. The venture expanded by partnering with White Knight Beverages for creating a line of bottled iced tea. Although Moby is no longer part of the café, he is still involved in the TeaNY line of beverages. It’s true that Moby wouldn’t make any other list of skillful entrepreneurs, but he made ours because, well, his intentions are 100% nice as well!

Justin Timberlake
Dear Jessica Biel, the girls in our office hate you. With Justin, you’ve got the full package: handsome, talented, funny (Saturday Night Live, everyone!), smart and rich. Mostly famous for his multi-platinum recording career which began in 1998, Justin is also very business-oriented. In 2005, Timberlake founded the fashion label William Rast, together with lifelong friend Trace Ayala. Sold exclusively through Bloomingdales, the label makes estimated retail sales of US$ 50 million each year.

The Memphis native is also the co-creator of the concept for the successful Southern Hospitality restaurant, opened in 2007 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which has a 30-store franchise agenda. Wanting to bring South-style BBQ and ribs to the New York marketplace, Justin was actively involved in the design, menu offering and musical format of the restaurant. While Justin is not a partner in this venture (contrary to various press speculations, his friend Eytan Sugarman primarily owns and operates the restaurant) he continues to provide his ideas and promotion … so who knows? Justin might open his own soon, now that he’s a family man.

And guess what? He’s a golf enthusiast as well. This just keeps getting better and better. In 2007, Justin purchased the Big Creek Golf Course in Millington, Tennessee, which he redeveloped into the environmentally friendly Mirimichi Golf Course, spending around $US 16 million. In October 2011, Timberlake received the Futures Award at the Environmental Media Awards for his eco-conscious golf course.

Fortunately, we’re not even nearly done. Justin is also a distiller of tequila. And no, not in a Saturday Night Live sketch. In 2009, he launched a high-end brand of tequila named 901, after the area code in his home town Memphis. The product actually took bartenders and tequila experts by surprise, with its richness and smooth finish. And the consumers seem to like it as well: sales for 901 tripled in 2010.

We can’t overlook his extensive activity as a celebrity endorser for some very big brands (including Sony, Audi, Givenchy, McDonalds, MySpace) and surprising acting skills (especially the roles in Alpha Dog and The Social Network). Actually, it seems Justin took with him some of the interests of Napster founder Sean Parker, whom he portrayed in The Social Network, and applied them in real life through investments in start-ups Miso Media, a music education software company and Stipple, an online photo labeling and advertising tool.

And of course Justin is also the founder of a record label: created in May 2007 as a joint venture with Interscope Records, Tennman Records proved to be quite forward thinking ever since its start. The first artist the label signed was Dutch YouTube sensation Esmée Denters.

In June 2011, Justin bought MySpace, together with media tycoons Chris and Tim Vanderhook. Yes, that sinking ship: MySpace. A few days ago, Justin unveiled the new MySpace, reconceptualized as an artist-centric service, but currently in a test invite-only version. The question in everybody’s mind is: can Justin make MySpace cool again? We surely hope so. In the meantime, we can see him at the end of this month, starring in The Trouble With the Curve, with Academy Award darlings Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams.

Phew, we’re done with Justin, but if he makes our list next year we might need to do an exclusive “Justin Timberlake – Mr Sexy Back Entrepreneur“ piece.

Paul McCartney
Multi-talented Sir James Paul McCartney (singer-songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, entrepreneur, record and film producer, poet, painter, and animal rights and peace activist) is the “most successful musician and composer in popular music history”, according to Guiness World Records. Responsible for selling millions of records, both as a band member (with The Beatles and Wings) and as a solo artist, Sir Paul is one of the few billionaire musicians – in 2009 his fortune was estimated at US$1.2 billion … and counting. He didn’t spread his entrepreneurial skills too far from the music industry, and that’s why we like him: because he’s still making lots of money out of what he knows best. His company, MPL Communications, owns more than 25,000 copyrights, including all the songs written by Buddy Holly, and the publishing rights to musicals such as Guys and Dolls, A Chorus Line or Grease. MPL is also an umbrella company for several other publishing companies acquired over time. In Sir Paul’s own wise words: “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,/ Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung/Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game/It’s easy.”

David Bowie
Hands down, David Bowie deserves a special mention as the most visionary entrepreneur on our list. Not only was he ahead of his time as a musician, but he was also a very perceptive businessman, foreseeing the game-changing powers of the Internet. In 1998, he founded the technology company Ultrastar and his own Internet service provider, BowieNet, in partnership with World Wide Web developer Nettmedia.

His 2002 comeback album “Heathen” was the first release produced by Bowie’s own record company, ISO Records, distributed through Sony Music. A former art school student himself, Bowie also runs bowieart.com, a website that helps promising art students sell their works without paying the fees of traditional art galleries.

In a 2002 interview with the New York Times, Bowie would go on to make one of the smartest predictions about what would become of the music industry: ”I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don’t think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way,” he said. ”The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen. […] Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity.” Keep in mind that it was 2002, a year after Apple had released the iPod, and people were excited about the idea of carrying their entire music collection on a tiny device. And here we are, in 2012, with Apple’s iTunes losing audiences in favour of hugely successful streaming services like Spotify.

So, Mr Bowie, any thoughts on the cure for cancer and the world economy? Or maybe let’s start with something easier, say the next US president?

Jared Leto
Ah, Jared! That beautiful … mind! Featured in Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business 2012”, acclaimed actor/rocker and world record holder Jared Leto (in 2011, his band 30 Seconds To Mars set the Guinness World Record for the “Longest Concert Tour by a Rock Band” after playing 309 shows across more than 60 countries in two years) has recently added the title of entrepreneur next to his name. So far, he founded three start-ups: The Hive, a social media management and digital marketing company for musicians (its client portfolio includes names such as Jessie J and Semi Precious Weapons), The One and Only Golden Tickets, offering fan VIP experiences in the form of backstage or recording-studio access, and Vyrt, a service which sells digital tickets to live-stream concerts for up to $14.99.

In an interview with What’s Trending, he confessed to always having had an entrepreneurial spirit: “It’s kind of a sink or swim thing these days. You have a collapsing industry … and if you care about having some responsibility and control, and some input, then it’s probably a smart thing to do.” “The future of music is really exciting,” he says in another interview, “especially if you’re interested in a proactive, innovative experience.”

Jared is a very busy man at the moment. He’s filming a new movie, The Dallas Buyers Club alongside Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner, he’s working on a new album with 30 Seconds to Mars which is set to be released in 2015, and he’s developing another business venture: “a social theater to share content, but without advertising”. We don’t really know what he means by that, but we’re sure it’s gonna be good. Until then, we’re keeping an eye on Jared on Twitter, Facebook, and nowadays, the tech news sites.

Willie Nelson
1223 bio willie 390×220 Celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week: Decibels 10 Favourite Musicians/Entrepreneurs

Willie Nelson is such a likeable character, ain’t he? And not only for country music audiences: his broad smile and his proactive nature have won everybody over. Apart from being a popular outlaw country singer-songwriter, poet, author and actor, he’s also an activist for the legalization of marijuana and the use of biofuels. Although he can’t exactly turn his former chosen cause into an honest business, he actually decided to go one step further with the latter, launching the BioWillie Biodiesel brand in 2005.

A year earlier, when his wife bought a Volkswagen Jetta fueled with biodiesel, Nelson saw a business opportunity and a way to “put five million farmers back on the land growing fuel”. Nelson licensed Earth Biofuels Inc., a Texas-based company, to sell BioWillie, a biodiesel fuel made out of soybean and other vegetable oils.

Despite becoming quite popular among American truck drivers, Willie’s brand didn’t end up making much profit, but the Red Headed Stranger is still fighting ardently for his cause. In 2007, he published a book on biodiesel: “On the Clean Road Again: Biodiesel and the Future of the Family Farm”, including a chapter titled “To All the Oils I’ve Loved Before”, as well as a comparison between the recipe for petroleum (Mother Earth’s Recipe) and the recipe for biodiesel (Willie’s Blender Biodiesel). He is also an Honorary Chairman of the Board for the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, a non-profit organization founded by his wife Annie, biodiesel pioneer Kelly King, and actress/filmmaker Daryl Hannah. Isn’t he a nice folk, y’all?

Dexter Holland
Get ready for some surprises with this one. Dexter is the vocalist, rhythm guitarist and songwriter for the punk rock band The Offspring. Nothing new so far. Well, Dexter was the class valedictorian at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, California, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology, both from the University of Southern California, and was a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology. He decided to postpone his Ph.D. though in order to focus on The Offspring instead. It started sounding like The Dexter’s Lab, didn’t it?

Eventually, he focused on a bit more than his band. In 1994, he started his own independent punk label, Nitro Records, together with Offspring bassist Greg Kriegel. Dexter also created his own brand of hot sauce, Gringo Bandito, available for purchase online or in grocery stores across California.

This venture might have seemed funny when it first started in 2006, but it’s serious business now. As in: ‘seriously successful’. The image of the blond, spiky-haired Dexter wearing a sombrero and holding revolvers is still funny. “I realize the inherent contradiction,” he says, in a 2010 interview with OC Weekly. “It’s unlikely. It’s unexpected. It was wrong to make it, and that’s the fun of it. It’s a challenge.” And the risk is paying off. Gringo Bandito is gradually conquering more US states and it won two Scovie Awards in 2009, one of the longest-running hot-sauce contests in the country.

Oh, and as a fun fact, Dexter is a licensed Airline Transport Pilot, a certified flight instructor, and has made a solo trip around the world in 10 days. Just sayin’.

We just had to have a rapper in our list. However you go about it, one can’t deny that hip-hop artists have turned out to be very business savvy, mostly because of the skills they picked up while young and hustling. And they’re quite admirable for managing to clean up their act. Our favourite is definitely Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay-Z. Growing up in Brooklyn, he dealt drugs and went to high school with rap legend Notorious BIG. Turning to music to escape his “hard knock life”, Jay-Z eventually became hugely successful and appreciated as an artist: Rolling Stones included 3 of his albums in their “500 Greatest Albums of All Times” list (The Black Album, The Blueprint, Reasonable Doubt), and in 2008 he headlined Glastonbury. A rock festival. The biggest rock festival.

After releasing The Black Album in 2003, announced as his last solo record (although he would return to the music scene in 2006), Jay-Z directed his attention towards business. Having sold his stake in Roc-A-Fella records, which he founded in 1996 and made very successful, Jay-Z became President and CEO of Def Jam Recordings. While at Def Jam, Jay-Z signed Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Young Jeezy and helped Kanye West make the transition from producer to bestselling recording artist.

Jay-Z’s other business ventures include the highly popular clothing line Rocawear (with annual sales of $700 million) and Roc-a-Fella Films. In 2007, Jay-Z sold the rights to the Rocawear brand to Iconix Brand Group for US$ 204 million; he still retains a stake in the company and supervises the marketing, licensing and product development. He also owns the 40/40 Club, a fancy sports bar with locations in New York and Atlantic City, and is part owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. In 2008, Jay-Z signed a US$ 150 million contract with the concert promotion company Live Nation for creating Roc Nation, an entertainment company that handles nearly all aspects of its artists’ careers.

Because Jay-Z embodies the essence of the much hailed American entrepreneurial spirit, his inspiring story was turned into the subject of a book, “Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office”, written by Forbes staff writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg and released in 2011. The author describes Jay-Z’s life story as “the American dream in its purest form, a model for any entrepreneur looking to build a commercial empire. […] His background prepared him in another way too: When you’re used to operating under the intense pressure of the streets, where anything could go wrong and your life is on the line, going into a boardroom with a bunch of guys in suits is a lot less intimidating.”

So, entrepreneurs all over the world, gather around Jay-Z and learn. “I’m not a businessman/I’m a business, man”. Preach it, Jay!


Jakomi Mathews – Founder & Editor, The Music Void

Leave A Reply