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We continue our journey through my book “The Music of Business” with some insights on business strategy from one of the biggest rock sensations of all time. None other than Led Zeppelin. I am grateful to Steve Mostyn for this contribution.
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Chris Welch’s obituary of Peter Grant in The Independent newspaper stated his achievements well.
“It was Grant who arranged their deal with Atlantic Records in 1968, then hailed as one of the biggest in industry history. He never interfered with their music but was a ‘hands-on’ manager who travelled the world with his charges to ensure their financial and physical well-being.
Led Zeppelin became extremely wealthy from the sales of millions of albums and concert tickets during their 12-year reign from 1968 to 1980”.
Behind the myth of Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant is evidence of management thinking and action that gives the 21st-century manager some new insights.
In 1966 Jimmy Page joined The Yardbirds. With his childhood friend Jeff Beck, touring sold out venues across America. Touring success but financial failure left the band wondering how to even meet food bills.
Poor management was to blame. Beck left the group leaving Page to assume control of the frustrated outfit. The band’s management duties were passed on to Grant and by 1968 the pre-cursor to Led Zeppelin, The New Yardbirds were formed.
Grant’s management transformed the band. So what did Grant do that we can learn from?
Grow and support talent
The first role of a manager of creative people is to grow and develop talent, nurturing and most importantly getting out of the way of the creative process. Grant’s obsessive support for the band was outstanding, from ensuring the member’s financial wellbeing to ensuring that they were always ready to wow their audience on a demanding 45 shows as part of a 50-day tour.
He also created a close team of publicity, security, sound engineers, roadies and financial managers that were the core support team to the band’s success. Grant deliberately refocused attention on the needs of the artists, often at the expense of the record companies, tour promoters and other agents.
Challenge accepted business processes
Grant’s paradoxical PR and publicity strategy created a genuine grassroots mass underground following. His refusal for TV appearances of the band and refusal to release singles were key to Led Zeppelin’s word of mouth rise and ongoing media mystique. Coupled with this was his radical re-negotiating of promoters’ fees from 90% to 10% of door revenue. Grant quoted by Welch.
“The days of the promoter giving a few quid to the group against the money take on the door are gone. Managers, agents, and promoters ran the business when the funny thing is it’s the groups who bring the people in. I thought the musicians would be the people who get the wages”.
Editor’s note: The 90:10 approach is still alive and well as I write this book, with many young bands assuming that they must pay to play, and that exploitation of artists is a normal part of the music business.
Grant’s approach to marketing would not be out of place in the 21st century where crowdsourcing and customer experience and engagement are the watchwords of business. Today it is recognised that profits come from well-managed live performances as opposed to music sales.
Grant laid the foundation stones that Beyonce to U2 have benefited from. Promoters’ assumptions about margin had well and truly been challenged. The creation of Swan Song record label in the 1970’s was a further act of controlling market access.
Inspire a shared vision
Grant’s insistence that Led Zeppelin could (and would) be the world’s greatest Rock’n’Roll act was the push and belief that allowed Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones to do their best.
The leverage behind the Atlantic Records deal in 1968 was evidence of that. Atlantic Records granted them a $200,000 advance before Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun had even seen the band.
Let leaders lead
The paradox of management is the confusion of leadership and management. Both are key to organisation success. In a Rock’n’Roll band the band leader is almost never the manager. Grant allowed distributed leadership to develop within the band, from founder Jimmy Page, ‘frontman’ Robert Plant, with the world’s leading drummer John Bonham to intellectual philosopher and bass leader John Paul Jones.
Create and enforce governance
Governance is the often-overlooked duller part of the manager’s toolkit. Once Grant established copyright, he was renowned for his frequent personal enforcement of fake merchandisers and bootleggers. Welch comments:
“People were terrified of him. He rode roughshod over anyone who tried to get in his way and he wasn’t scared of anyone, police, promoters or officials”.
In the 1970’s Led Zeppelin was the most profitable band in rock history. Grant’s attention to detail was also noted, from his assessment of the quality of PA equipment to lighting sequences to the attention to the fine detail of his accountant’s profit and loss accounts and tax status advice.
Led Zeppelin’s management by Peter Grant is a classic tale with directly transferable lessons for business leaders and change managers.
- Talent management and good HR practice.
- Competitive strategy by daring to be different.
- Using visionary approaches to leadership to create.
- Allowing for distributed leadership within the enterprise.
- Ensuring that intellectual property is valued and guarded.
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