Posts Tagged ‘Sony’

Music Is Free–Let It Loose… and Reap the Benefits. PART II

March 11, 2011

This is what the Grateful Dead’s sound system looked like in 1973, from an article in Rolling Stone entitled A New Life for the Dead: Jerry Garcia is Checking Cash Flow Charts.

The Dead was a growing enterprise as the scale of this, their very own sound system in 1973 indicates. The ballroom days are long gone now.

It was a monster — state-of-the-art in those days. This hippie band was really taking off even then, as the 1960’s, the decade of their birth was now long gone. The Woodstock Festival in 1969 showed the world that rock music had an enormous audience and in 1973 that potential was becoming realized. The music business was now a big, big business!

The ballroom scene that featured multi-night engagements in small intimate halls with capacities of up to a thousand or so, described in Part I, was over. The capacity of these venues was not enough to sustain the escalating costs and fees of touring artists any more.

And we all know that things were to get bigger yet.

What is clear, as the last posting suggested, is that the Dead were riding the wave… and were now in control of their business and destiny. Consciously or not, they were also creating best practice marketing, building an ever-larger base of community support and demand for their product – improvised music that reflected the moment, the connection with a co-creating audience, that was different each and every night.

If we rewind just a couple of years earlier back to 1969, I can share how it looked on the ground as some of this was developing. Imagine we are at Boston’s top rock club, the Boston Tea Party, formerly The Ark, a venue that could hold an audience of 1,500 or thereabouts. It’s New Year’s Eve 1969/70 and strangely enough, the Dead are playing in Boston, instead of their home base in San Francisco. What a way to end that action packed decade.

I am helping the band’s road crew load in. Lot’s of gear to move, and extra hands help. There is one fellow that stands out. He is dressed in western gear with a couple of leather bandoliers strung across his chest, looking like a space-age cowboy outlaw. Instead of bullets, however, the bandoliers are filled with little bottles of liquid, containing what I do not know.

Introducing, The Bear, aka Augustus Stanley Owsley, the Dead’s sound guy and from what I could see, much, much more. He is overseeing the PA system he designed, making sure everything is unloaded safely, placed where it needed to be and in the process of getting hooked up properly.

I had met Bear before and was nervous at first. His reputation preceded him and I knew he was very, very smart. Plus I was just a teenager and Owsley (let alone the whole band) were in their mid-twenties at least and much older than I was, so it was easy to feel intimidated. I was around grown ups, legends already thanks to Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, numerous articles in the early version of Rolling Stone, and Herb Greene’s iconic photos.

But Bear was cool. Maybe because I was helping out, I don’t know for sure, but I found he was very approachable and very friendly… he also exuded an air of authority, confidence and hipness just by his being. He didn’t need to talk too much.

The Sony 770 Portable Tape Recorder was state of art in the late '60s and as Owsley told me, a triumph of miniaturization. Check out the soundboard tapes from the era and you can hear just how good these machines... and the band were!

Two things I also noticed as we loaded in and set up for this New Year’s run. First, Owsley was carrying around, I remember this clearly, a couple of state-of-the-art Sony, I think they were Model 770, portable reel-to-reel tape decks. He used them to record each and every show right from a stage-side hook up.

They were sleek, portable devices, Sony’s top-of-the-line decks. The way Owsley talked about them, their bass response, wow and flutter and other such features, these machines were a triumph of miniaturization. I remember the price too. I lusted after one but the price was way out of reach, something like $800, which was a small fortune in those days.

The second thing I noticed happened right before show time. The Dead always took sound seriously and their monitor system, the speakers placed on stage so they could hear each other play, was very important to them.

I gather this was one of Owsley’s PA responsibilities and he would always reveal himself to the crowd as he adjusted things at the soundboard by the stage. He would bring one of those Sony tape decks (or two) down with him and plug them in to a junction box type of device.

Then something funny would happen. Every once in a while a fan would go up to him with a tape machine and ask if they could patch in. And it usually happened in one of two ways… some would ask nicely. And you could see it, if they did he would smile and help patch some of them in.

Others would demand this opportunity. These folks would be ignored. The pushier they got the more he ignored them, and at a certain point a burly member of the road crew would wander by and “gently” escort this individual away, without the sought after connection made.

What did it all mean?

Looking back, I now realize what I was seeing. This was an early version of band-accepted tape sharing at close range. And Jerry wasn’t the guy, nor was Phil or other band members. And it wasn’t the road crew either. At this point in time it was Mr. Bear himself.

At the time I didn’t understand what I was experiencing exactly, except that this was something different. After all no other band that I was aware of tolerated in any way, shape or form, fans taping “their” shows like this right off the soundboard, ever. Club maybe… fans, no way.

Whether it was by intent or lucky accident, now I know I was seeing what today marketers call Positioning in action.

Winning Hearts and Minds…

In simple English, Positioning is all about addressing the questions “How Are You Different?” and  “Why Should I Care?” in a clear and direct manner that cuts through the filters we all employ to drown out the marketing “noise” we are all exposed to each and every day. It is the key that opens the door to a customer/company/product relationship and a community interaction.

Differentiation is the “Mind” element of Positioning, and the Dead were different in all respects, including the music, which, since it was improvised, was indeed different each and every night.

The “Heart” side in this case is the connection audiences had and still have with the band’s music, the feeling it created in millions of fans all over the world that listened to and loved it then and do to this very day.

Sharing, whether by design or accident, supercharged this connection, this sense of Belonging and Community that are cornerstones to effective use of Social Media today.

The Dead, somehow found a way to position themselves to win both the Hearts and Minds of the people, and I saw it begin to happen right in front of me, in a hall that maybe held 1,500 folks with the person at the center of the whole thing, a couple of feet away.

That’s what Positioning is all about. It is not a battle as many think, but connecting in human terms the mental and emotional connections we have with people, with information, with products and services we let in through our filters and then, in the end, act on.

No box here!!! Courtesy of NASA.

We have all heard the expression, supposedly coined by Apple’s Steve Jobs, “In the box, out of the box doesn’t matter because, actually there is no box.” From what I can tell, Owsley had nothing to do with boxes and the results of how this helped drive the ever-expanding Grateful Dead community at that time, speaks for itself.

Luck, accident, invention? Conscious, strategic intent? Who can say? It was so long ago after all. However, there were real things going on. And one thing is sure, today we have the opportunity with the luxury of 20/20 hindsight to identify goodness where we find it, and the Dead is fertile soil that offers useful info, even marketing information that we can use today. Who knew? Now we do.

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