Leading vs. following

Last night I went to see RAIN, a Beatles tribute band, with my friend and neighbor Jeff.  If you haven’t been to one, tribute bands/shows are kind of odd: on the one hand, typically technically/musically perfect (the tribute band can play the entire catalog of the original band flawlessly); and on the other hand, the vibe is strange: it’s a band pretending to be a band, so it doesn’t have any original energy or punch.

As I was watching the show I kept thinking about this.  What is the difference between being a Beatle and being a musician that can play the Beatles catalog perfectly, in character?  

Perhaps the answer is obvious, but it still got me thinking.  I believe the answer is part creativity and part risk.  Creativity because, of course, half of being the Beatles is actually inventing the music, not just playing it.  Probably more than half the challenge.

And on risk: playing new music, music that has not been played before, or “digested” and understood by the general public, is hugely risky.  People won’t “get it” right away, or worse may simply hate it (whether on the merits or just for being new and different).

On a broader level, it got me thinking about the difference between being a leader and a follower.  Once the creative work is done, and the opportunity is de-risked, it is relatively easy to look at something and copy the execution.  But it takes creativity and balls to do it on your own the first time. 

This applies to all things — music, art, writing, a startup, investing, restaurants, etc.  I have seen it particularly first hand in the startup and investing world, where a “lead” investor not only has the foresight and conviction to back an early team, but they have the leadership to bring other investors along. 

Courage and conviction are contagious.

7 comments on “Leading vs. following”

it’s a band pretending to be a band, so it doesn’t have any original energy or punch.

The ‘original punch’ is what I would term ‘the party in your brain’. That is a factor that adds to what you see, hear or feel’ that has little to do with the actual product.

For example a woman might have a brilliant ring but if it’s not a diamond (say it’s CZ) not going to cut it.

However I am not sure that music (which provokes emotions) is the same. I get plenty of thrill from watching cover videos. Some of the cover videos (I have hundreds of links to them) are actually a better experience than the real thing. The performances are better. Beatles might be an exception because they are iconic.

People won’t “get it” right away, or worse may simply hate it (whether on the merits or just for being new and different).

Sure but if something is good then it’s good. It shouldn’t need some past reputation to make it good. Of course the same joke by Seinfeld (as I like to say) sounds funnier. But why should it?

as josh said on twitter there is a big difference between covers and tributes. covers take the song and add new musical ideas. tributes are to-the-detail copies.

on risk and getting it — i think it’s just more that, when something is new, it takes more balls to put it out there in public and pioneer the idea, rather than re-drive through those established tracks later

A tribute band is analogue distribution 2.0, and runs on the venue and ticketing layer of the music *industry* stack. When the original band disbands there’s a void to fill, and it gets filled. Mature ecosystems are very efficient at extracting value.

Is there a link through to views on classical music here i wonder? Mozart, Beethoven, et.c., they composed, but they did not perform. Their works were originally performed by illustrious orchestras across Europe, but at a time when musical performances could not be recorded. If we go to a contemporary orchestral concert we don’t feel that it’s a lesser or unsatisfactory experience. If every recording the Beatles ever made disappeared then RAIN might be celebrated. Technology, and the way it can ‘intervene’, is so very interesting.

Yes, the Beatles were immensely polarizing at first. Any kid whose hair touched his collar was ordered by the school to get it cut. I bunked out of orchestra practice to see the Fab Four arrive in town and was told by the conductor never to come back. Pioneering has its price!

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