Sound Business Advice from Jerry Garcia

Grateful_Dead_-_Jerry_Garcia
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

Today would have been Jerry Garcia’s 68th birthday. Musically, politically, emotionally and spiritually, he has probably had more of an impact on me than any other human being whom I never knew personally.

As I was perusing YouTube today looking for some footage of him that I hadn’t seen already, I found that he was a pretty sage businessman as well. In his 1982 appearance (with Bob Weir) on The Letterman Show (full video embedded below), David asked him why he allows taping of his live shows when it obviously leads to fewer commercial sales of their official recordings. His response?

The shows are never the same. Ever. And when we’re done with it, they can have it.

Jerry was the not the creative force behind the lyrics of most of the music he played. Of their 420 original songs, only maybe 75 or 80% were truly originals; many others were adaptations of traditional bluegrass, folk or blues songs (in much the same fashion as Led Zeppelin, at least as it pertains to the blues). On the remaining originals, poet/lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the words and Jerry composed the music.

However, Jerry really did have an uncanny efficiency with his words, packing in multiple meanings into short, pithy phrases. In his response to Letterman, he’s really saying (at least) all of the following:

    1. No, it’s not impacting our record sales negatively
    2. The experience of seeing The Dead live is dramatically different each time
    3. I don’t own the music once I have released it from my being; rather, by playing it live, I set it free to be enjoyed by whomever is listening
    4. In many ways, this philosophy actually results in more record sales
    5. No price tag can be assigned to the value of the community of fans that has grown organically around our music and our culture

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zFbjus3X18

These lessons are raft with really important business advice, especially since we’re living in the age of social media. In many ways, Facebook, Twitter, et. al. have created communities that are just like the traveling circus of hippies that followed The Dead (and, later, other jam bands like Phish) on their tours, perhaps without as many drugs nor as much free love nor rock’n’roll and certainly a bit more personal hygiene. Okay, so maybe they’re not really that much alike.

But the sense of belonging to something larger than oneself is the same.

How else can account for the explosive growth of Deadheads, the community around Burning Man and social sites like Facebook?

So, in this age of social media and utter disregard for things like “copyright” and End User License Agreements, how can musicians/bands, restaurant owners and other small businesses still manage to make “good bread” (as they called it in the 60s and 70s) in this age of the internet where everyone feels entitled to get nearly everything — music, software, etc. — for free?

The answer lies in Jerry’s response to Letterman.

Give away as much as you can.

Think of the community around your business as a empty field. It needs to be tilled, seeded, watered and fertilized before you can reap the benefits of the harvest. Giving your products away for free is akin to planting your seeds. Engaging with your online community is akin tending to your crops. Selling your products and services is akin to harvesting your fields and selling the goods at the farmer’s market.

But you can’t get to the farmer’s market if you’re not taking good care of your farm.

I’ve heard this argument before. Someone told me once that consultants should take a page out of the professional chef’s playbook (pardon the mixed metaphor). Take for instance, Hawaiian master chef Roy Yamaguchi, the creative force behind Roy’s restaurants. If you buy his cookbook, you will have nearly all of Roy’s recipes, free for you to make at home any time you want. But will you still eat at his restaurant? You betcha!

So what do you think? How does this apply to your business? Can you think of ways that you could give away the goods and still make money? I’d love to hear stories of how you’ve tried this and it has worked for you (or hasn’t), so please leave a comment if you’d like to share.