7 Business Lessons I’ve Learned From Autobiographies

September 4, 2013By
Duff McKagan Book

Duff McKagan and the other guys in GNR wanted to be different.

If you catch me during a quiet moment at home or on the couch in the office I’ll likely be reading an e-book on my phone.

I guess it’s a little quirky to read books on a phone, but I like it.

The books I read are business books like Good To Great and Rework, but there are some other favorites of mine that have parallels with the business world.

The books I really enjoy reading are music autobiographies.

I particularly like rock star biographies. I’m not really sure why. I do know that I like reading about the creative process. The inspiration artists get before they write amazing songs or the process they go through to record music or to go on tour.

I know everyone thinks they work hard, but it seems like musicians are constantly on the go when it comes to their careers. There is a lot of pressure on them to turn out music and these people are some of the hardest working you’ll ever find. It’s probably why so many of them burn out after a few years in the spotlight.

What I see with musicians is they have both creative and business senses. It’s an interesting combination that I think many successful entrepreneurs also have.

Here are some things I’ve learned from reading autobiographies.

1. No Overnight Success

There are no overnight successes in the music industry.

A theme throughout these rock autobiographies is that the musician will work their entire life from the point they become interested in music until they breakthrough to become a star.

The longest was probably Michael Bolton. He struggled and struggled until he was nearly 40 before he had a huge hit on the charts. Most people would have given up and most people do.

That’s what happens in business. It takes a while to figure things out. Most give up, but those that truly love the challenge and stick with it are the ones that seem to find success.

2. It’s Always About The Product

Musicians have an obsessions with good songs. Some write their own while others work with the best songwriters in the business to find only the best songs available.

With a few exceptions they know that they’re only as good as their next single. They have an obsession with finding good songs.

Companies need new products and services in order to survive. What go you to where you are today won’t get to where you want to go in the future. It won’t even help you maintain your level of success.

Once the hits stop coming your career will slowly fade away.

3. Different Gets You Far

Each of the superstar artists that I read about had plans to do something really different. I specifically remember Duff McKagan’s book when he was talking about Guns ‘N Roses.

Each of the guys in the band wanted to do something different. They wanted to jump ahead of where popular rock was at the time to create something different that would blow people away.

The resulting album turned out to be Appetite For Destruction, which is currently just ahead of Boston’s debut album as the best selling debut album of all time for any artist.

Steve Jobs often talked about jumping ahead of the current status quo as well. It’s common in business for people to follow the leader. It can work well, but if you want to go further you need to jump ahead and be different.

4. Sacrifices

This one is a little controversial. Especially in the early days there is always sacrifice.

Nearly all of the artists that made it big in the music business were taken away from their families. In fact, they didn’t really spend time with their families if they had families.

Some were able to raise a family in semi-retirement after the big success was over, but even then they felt the pull of the go-go-go music industry.

I think this is a question you have to ask regarding your business. If you want to grow a huge business you have to sacrifice something. In the music industry it was family.

5. Don’t Over Think It

Sometimes you can churn out hit after hit by just getting to work. In fact, most of the time you’re going to be working hard mentally and physically to make something a reality.

But in the early stages of creativity you need some time to just be with your thoughts not forcing anything. This is when artists will get inspiration for a great song. They don’t force anything. They just sit back and observe.

Once they have the basic idea they get behind the idea and make it a reality.

Taking time off is important. Give your brain time to rest and just exist in the world so it can observe what’s happening. That’s where initial inspiration happens.

6. Collaborations Grow Your Audience

There are a few stories of artists that have built their careers on their own, but for the most part they all needed to tap into existing audiences to build their own audience.

Musicians work as opening acts. They partner with those that are popular to just get access to existing audiences. Even as artists mature into the industry they look to collaborate to grow their current audience.

This concept is especially important in the business world today as a result of online marketing. In order to grow your business you have to collaborate with other businesses if you want to grow.

Find ways you can work together to create something better that both of your audiences will want.

7. You Can’t Do It Alone

Every artist I read about had a team of people working behind them. They might have done a lot of the work, but as their careers took off they had to create systems that other people could follow.

They brought in people to handle all the jobs that it takes to create music and to go on tour. Some try to control it all, but they burn themselves out.

In order to get to a large scale you have to create systems that other people can follow.

There’s no way around  this one.

I love reading autobiographies. My next one is going to be Don Felder’s (former guitarist for the Eagles). I’m sure some of the same things will be in that biography.

There’s always something interesting to learn and it usually correlates well with the business world.

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