Dead advice: Give something away and earn money on the peripheryI was never a Deadhead but the MBA in me perked up at this article’s title in The Atlantic. Not one to tinker with perfection, I kept it for this blog post.

Who knew?

The Dead incorporated and pulled board members  from the band, its road crew and other members of their organization. They rotated the CEO position.

The ran a profitable merchandising division and “peace and love notwithstanding did not hesitate to sue those who violated their copyrights.”

They made the strategic decision to let fans tape their shows, which on one hand gave away recording revenues, but on the other, widened their audience. They figured (rightly) that “a ban would be unenforceable, and anyone inclined to tape a show would probably spend money elsewhere, such as on merchandise or tickets.”

A management professor quoted in the story called the Dead’s approach “strategic improvisation,” and observed that people are eager to attend his lectures on the band. “People are just so tired of hearing about GE and Southwest Airlines.”

It’s one of the most profitable bands of all time.

John Perry Barlow, the group’s lyricist cum-Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, observed

What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back then — the important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value…if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced.

So perhaps it’s karma, not just deliciousness, that made Wavy Gravy and Cherry Garcia bestsellers for Ben & Jerry’s?

Prompts for Professionals

  • If you’ve read this far, it probably has something to do with the novel nature of the subject. Try something refreshing for your next blog post or newsletter.
  • The article said that the band pioneered ideas and practices that have been embraced by corporate America, most famously the Dead’s intense focus on its most loyal fans. Ask your blog or newsletter readers  what they would like you to do in addition to or instead of what you’re doing for them now. If you don’t, someone else will.
  • The University of California at Santa Cruz is curating the band’s archive of commercial recordings, videos, press clippings, stage sets, business records and correspondence using a form of crowdsourcing. They’ll post as much as possible online and let Deadheads contribute what they know about the items. If you don’t have a blog, get one and start crowdsourcing best practices, war stories, whatever. If you work at it, your blog could become the go-to place for existing and prospective clients to search for answers and community.  I do this with my occasional posting of WORST communications practices by financial professionals — people inevitably chime in.