5 Musical Innovations Proving That Great Musicians Are Entrepreneurs

MMusicians and the people who build successful companies might seem, on the surface, miles apart—in the field of innovation, however, great musicians are essentially entrepreneurs.

Innovation is a defining quality among successful entrepreneurs, being the spark that precedes blockbuster approaches and inventions. Many musicians don’t think of themselves as businesspeople or entrepreneurs but, if they’re worth their salt, they innovate. As such, the best artists are natural entrepreneurs, even if they don’t know it.

If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at the top five examples of entrepreneurial music-making.

1. Richard Wright Finds New in the Old

As Richard Wright, late keyboard player of Pink Floyd explains in the video above, part of the unmistakably dreamy, sultry yet powerful ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ sound is down to Miles Davis.

Wright describes how, in the song ‘Breathe’, to move from the chorus back to the verse (from a chord of G to E minor), the natural thing to do would be to go via B, making a perfect cadence back to E. Wright, however, remembered a chord progression on Miles Davis’ album, ‘Kind of Blue’, (with an added sharp 9th and 7th), leading to the unforgettable transition D7#9 – D7b9 – E minor.

This is a fantastic example of using great ideas that are already well-known to generate a totally new direction. For a business example, think iPhone. There were already sophisticated phones with internet and cameras, but what set iPhone apart was the use of the ‘multi-touch’ screen.

As MacWorld reports, multi-touch has been around in its current form since 2003–Apple’s advance didn’t come through invention, but through innovative combination of existing technologies that drastically improved user experience.

2. Beethoven Will not Compromise

You have to be a team player in business, right? Not always: there are some rare occasions, especially as an entrepreneur, when your vision will not suffer compromise.

This was frequently the case with Beethoven, a composer whose music is of scale, power and form that is rarely rivalled. One of the purest examples is the last movement of his ‘Hammerkalvier’ Sonata, a single movement of around 10 minutes, of which more than seven minutes consist of a colossal fugue. The video above shows the last movement, the fugue starts at 2:40.


Beethoven—Composer; Entrepreneur?

This fugue is pre-eminent, not just for the dexterity and stamina that is required of a single musician, but for its tonal structure and thematic brilliance. To this day, it is only playable on certain pianos by a select few pianists–had Beethoven compromised on just one of his vision’s many excesses, music would’ve lost one of its greatest works.

Compare this the vision of Elon Musk and others, charged by Tesla to create an electric car that looks great, is fun to drive, and has decent range when, before this point, electric vehicles were so often curiosities rather than cars. Not compromising on this vision is what enabled Tesla Motors to create their Roadster and truly break ground.

3. Anthrax and Public Enemy Combine to Push the Envelope

Who invented rap-metal? Rage Against the Machine? No–Public Enemy and Anthrax. Without counting Anthrax’s ‘I’m the Man’ (a parody), arguably, the first rap-metal song is ‘Bring the Noise’, resulting from Anthrax and Public Enemy teaming up to remake the Public Enemy song of the same name. Cross-pollination between rap and metal wasn’t unheard of, but this is the first time that a rap outfit and Thrash Metal band came together to make a truly new sound.

It’s temping, especially in heavy genres like Thrash, to go deeper and deeper into a certain sound when creating music, but Anthrax and Public Enemy had the foresight to really push the envelope by combining their respective genres to create something new. ‘Bring the Noise’ helped spawn a whole subgenre, featuring other innovative acts like Rage Against the Machine and Body Count.

For a business analogue, see HTC and Google’s decision to combine their products in HTC phones. Before this point, without an operating system of its own, HTC had used Windows Mobile. When it released the HTC dream (T-Mobile G1 in the US) in 2008, it shipped with Android, the very first phone to do so.

HTC took a chance with a hot of the press operating system, moving away from a long-standing relationship with Microsoft, and sold a million phones, as CNET reported at the time.

4. David Gilmour Utilizes a Mistake

Sonic pioneer and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour contributed one of the most strange and mysterious noises on the band’s sound odyssey, ‘Echoes’. Gilmour’s guitar tone sounds something like a mixture of a seagull’s cry and whale song.

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

This tone, he explains, was produced when he accidentally plugged in his wah-pedal backwards. Rather than discarding the mistake, he incorporated it into the music, creating a new sound from an instrument that is always in danger of becoming hackneyed. Gilmour uses the tone after 12:00 of the video above.

Making use of mistakes is a must for any entrepreneur; for a great example see Ichiro Endo, an engineer at Cannon. According to Business Insider, Endo accidentally rested his soldering iron on his pen, and ink spurted out moments later. Rather than regarding his incident as a mess, Endo used the principle to propose the first inkjet printer.

5. Trent Reznor Does It Alone

Trent Reznor, musical mastermind of Nine Inch Nails found, when he first started making music, that no one really shared his approach. So, to produce his début, ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, he played all the instruments himself. Not a multi-instrumentalist in the Prince or Dave Grol vein, Reznor achieved this feat using computers, sampling and other forms of ‘electronic trickery’, while actually learning new instruments.

It sounds like it, too – the guitar, which Reznor worked out for the album, is rudimentary (as in ‘Head Like a Hole’, the video above), but this is what gives the album its unity and edge, which would be lost had Reznor compromised and got a guitar hero who could actually play their instrument. If you’re wondering, ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ was the first ever independent album to go Platinum, according to Stereogum.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is probably the best example of this as an entrepreneur. Like Reznor, he had help, but was the only person who saw the company from foundation to profit. Bezos, stubbornly sticking to his glow growth and reinvestment plan, was thus able to weather the dotcom bubble and create one of the world’s top companies, according to Income. Without a truly singular leadership plan, Amazon may well have been culled like so many other companies when the bubble burst.

Oliver Cox is a contributing writer for SplashFlood, a music promotion app. He writes freelance for a number of sites and brands, specializing in music. Coming from a musical family, Oliver loves to combine is interest in music with writing, to explore how the modern musician can find success.