I have a framed record on my wall. Iron Maiden, Number of the Beast. Most people don’t comment on it. Every now and then a student will just say, Yea! I’m guess those that don’t like it keep it to themselves. But it’s there for a reason…
My son framed it for me after we saw them live. On the surface it was one of those great father / son moments. Getting to share a piece of my youth with my kid. But it sparked a really cool conversation that continues to resonate with me.
When I was younger Iron Maiden was a very edgy band. Parents and authorities didn’t like the vivid imagery the band used. My framed album was roundly criticized (and even burned!) in the 80s as an example of satanic symbols and devil worship. I’m sure my mom said a prayer for me here and there as the title track blasted out of my stereo.
But when my son and I saw them 20 years later, it was more like a family fair day. Middle-aged couples and their kids were all over the arena in $50 band t-shirts. The band was sober and played the most awesome set. Compared to other more contemporary bands, the lyrics were pretty tame. Iron Maiden had gone from 80s shock act to a something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to take your middle-schooler to.
At this point, Iron Maiden is a nostalgia act. They have new music, but people show up to hear Number of the Beast and The Trooper. Their encore song comes off an album that was released in 1980. They leverage their classics to play a few new songs here and there.
On the way home we had a great conversation about how fluid the music industry has to be. Unlike a band that now appeals to nostalgia, if music (and the people that make it!) doesn’t change with the tastes and needs of the audience, then bands are really just making art for their own consumption. Professional musicians, the people that make a living from making music, have to create something that strikes a balance between what is in demand by their fans and fulfills their need to create art that is new.
That means artists that want to have any kind of longevity can’t just put out the same song with different words. They have to be willing to explore. Take risks. Maybe put out something that their fans don’t like. Maybe put out something the critics don’t like.
But they all change. They have to in order to grow.
Why should you care? Because business is the same way. Products and services evolve. Technology that used to take years to develop now changes overnight. Software can replace jobs. Even the needs that drive the products and services offered are fluid. Timelines compress and competition comes from unexpected places.
Like musicians, business people need to be nimble. They have to be smart. They have to be willing to risk failure instead of waiting for certainty. Urgency and grit are just as important as marketing and a distribution chain. The second band to do something will always be seen as a follower wanting to be like the innovator, not THE innovator.
Which brings us home…Universities are usually insulated from market forces that drive business changes by bureaucracy and tradition. Any new initiative is started by forming a committee. That committee will usually start its work by gathering participants and talking about what we think about the subject. We aren’t nimble.
Which is what makes our College’s focus on engagement and professional development unique. In a few short years we’ve gone from accepting the anonymity lecture capture offered our students to calling for it to retire (https://pauljarley.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/lecture-capture-has-to-die/). We’re working through our concept album to get us to that next stage. We’ll try new instruments and production techniques. Some band members will choose to leave. Some fans will move on. Maybe go back to what was comfortable. That’s ok.
I have to admit, after Somewhere In Time, I kinda lost interest in Iron Maiden. Steve Harris’s galloping bass line was replaced by…dare I say it…progressive orchestrations. UGH!! It wasn’t Run to the Hills again. It wasn’t even Aces High. But everyone does it. Everyone has to do it or risk becoming irrelevant. In the end, Metallica had their Black Album. Rancid had And Out Come the Wolves. Green Day had American Idiot. Less Than Jake had Hello Rockview. They worked through the need to change and produced the album that blew stuff up. Did they sell out to be successful? I think recording their first album for a 4th or 5th time would be selling out.
Next time you come in my office and see Eddie grinning at you, throw up the horns and know that you’re not part of a nostalgia act, you’re part of what will be our greatest hit!