“Bands are known for drink, drugs and dust-ups. But beyond the debauchery lie four models for how to run a business.”


For your approbation, owing primarily to the great opening story about Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts. It’s a good read, on the glib side but instructive. I’ve seen similar models at work during my time in the brewing business. Maybe I’ll tell those stories someday when I write my autobiography: “What I Remember.”

Thanks for the title, Phil.

A rocker’s guide to management (in 1843, sister magazine to The Economist)

Bands are known for drink, drugs and dust-ups. But beyond the debauchery lie four models for how to run a business

In his languidly titled autobiography, “Life”, Keith Richards tells a story that captures something about the workplace culture of the Rolling Stones and his decades as the band’s guitarist. It’s 1984 and the Stones are in Amsterdam for a meeting (yes, even Keith Richards attends meetings). That night, Richards and Mick Jagger go out for a drink and return to their hotel in the early hours, by which time Jagger is somewhat the worse for wear. “Give Mick a couple of glasses, he’s gone,” Richards writes, scornfully.

Jagger decides that he wants to see Charlie Watts, who has already gone to bed. He picks up the phone, calls Watts’s room and says, “Where’s my drummer?” There is no response from the other end of the line. Jagger and Richards have a few more drinks. Twenty minutes later, there’s a knock at the door. It is Watts, dressed in one of his Savile Row suits, freshly shaved and cologned. He seizes Jagger and shouts “Never call me your drummer again,” and delivers a sharp right hook to the singer’s chin.*

Rock stars sometimes seem to exist in a completely different world to our own. It is easy to forget that they, too, are subject to office politics. Watts was the drummer, and Jagger was the leader, or co-leader, of the band. It was Jagger who commanded stages around the world and took responsibility for the band’s major business decisions. But by calling Watts my drummer, Jagger had upset the delicate balance of deference and respect that sustains the relationships between co-workers in any workplace. Of course, there aren’t many offices in which the principals take industrial quantities of artificial stimulants and launch themselves into fistfights. (Imagine being the HR director for the Stones – the paperwork!) But the dynamics of an incident like this are familiar to anyone who has ever felt compelled to request that their boss get over themselves.

The notion that bands should make music for the love of it was always romantic and now seems positively quaint. Rock groups are mini-corporations (some of them not so mini). Bands such as Coldplay or Kings of Leon operate sophisticated corporate machines that are responsible for multiple revenue streams; at a recent conference, Metallica’s drummer spoke about the importance of using the right customer-engagement software. Yet the music machine ultimately depends on a small group of talented individuals working closely together to create something magical. Once members of a group decide that they can’t stand to be in the same room as each other, the magic stops and the money dries up.

If rock groups are businesses, businesses are getting more like rock bands. Workplaces are far more informal than they used to be, with less emphasis on protocol, rank and authority. Many firms try to cultivate the creativity that can come from close collaboration. Employers attempt to engineer personal chemistry, hiring coaches to fine-tune team dynamics and sending staff on team-building exercises. Employees are encouraged to share lunch, play table tennis and generally hang out. As the founder of Hubble, a London office-space company, put it, “We hope that our team will become friends first, and colleagues second” …

* Wikipedia relays the tale a tad differently:

One anecdote relates that in the mid-1980s, an intoxicated Jagger phoned Watts’ hotel room in the middle of the night asking “Where’s my drummer?”. Watts reportedly got up, shaved, dressed in a suit, put on a tie and freshly shined shoes, descended the stairs, and punched Jagger in the face, saying: “Don’t ever call me your drummer again. You’re my fucking singer!”