Prince, Bowie and Martin: The Innovators of Sound

princeThe way things are going, 2016 will be known as the “year the music died”. We have already seen losses in the music world of great stars such as Prince, David Bowie and George Martin. They were innovators in their own rights: George Martin was the mastermind behind the Beatles in the 60s; David Bowie, the chameleon-man that defined the glam-rock in the 70s; and, finally, Prince, who inherited the lessons of the 60s and 70s, and defined the 80s and 90s as a multi instrumentalist, arranger, composer, and magnificent performer.

George Martin was, indeed, the fifth Beatle, in my opinion. He saw in those raw rockers from Liverpool the drive and quality that others hadn’t seen, and that’s a basic feature in an innovator: vision. He gave the Beatles a chance. In a sense, he was a key VC (venture capitalist) in the Beatles enterprise (Brian Epstein was the other one). Another important role of George Martin was his openness to McCartney and Lennon’s ideas. He didn’t want to impose his experience upon them, and little by little they, together, the Beatles and their producer pushed the envelope on the studios ability to deliver the best pop songs ever. Martin was surrounded by creativity and he allowed creativity to blossom.

David Bowie always dreamt to be a star, but fame is not only the title of one of his songs, but a very slippery rock. Bowie struggled for almost 10 years before achieving stardom. He started very early, at the age of 15, achieving some success in 1969 with “Space Oddity”, but it was only with Ziggy Stardust, in 1972, that his career really took off. After that, Bowie’s contribution to pop music is remarkable, with continuous acts of rebellion and re-invention, sonic and visually. Bowie was an innovator with a sense of mission, confident in his talents and in the power of ch-ch-change.

Prince was not an innovator, per se, as much of his musical style drawn on several appropriations of previous idols (or benchmarks, if we want to speak the language of management). From the 60s, Jimi Hendrix is his reference as guitar player; from the 70s, Sly and Family Stone are a decisive influence in his funky-let´s-go-crazy-style. What Prince brought as new, and fresh, was the attitude and the ability to shape a distinct image in the overcrowded space of pop music. He also put the author back to the control room, and he was audacious enough to use a symbol for quite a long time as an expression of himself (a very risky move). Prince teaches us that a brand (being a name, a symbol, a colour or an attitude) is essential to create the intended perception of distinctiveness that he achieved: a human icon. His Royal Purpleness: R.I.P.

In summary, an innovator needs to have George Martin’s vision to recognise an opportunity for innovation (The Beatles), support this opportunity and let creativity do the rest. It´s about David Bowie’s persistence and faith, in permanent re-invention, despite all the risks. And, finally, an innovator needs to have Prince’s competence in building an original narrative in people’s minds so it can be universally acknowledged as a genius.

But, in the end, all these examples have one thing in common: you need to have a lot of self-confidence in yourself or in your ideas in order to be a truly innovator. That´s  a new kind of “Innovators´s dilemma”: do you have what it takes to be an innovator?

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