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March 4, 2013 4:25 pm
This will freak your mind,” promises Dave Stewart as he sends me a Tweet from his Los Angeles office, where he is chief executive of Weapons Of Mass Entertainment, his own media business.
One half of the 1980s pop duo Eurythmics, Mr Stewart is a singer-songwriter and producer who has recently collaborated with artists such as singers Joss Stone and Martina McBride. The Tweet in question, a demonstration of a new interactive ecommerce platform currently in beta development, is one of a slate of ventures being developed by his company.
Mr Stewart is one of many creatives mixing performing with starting a business. Realising their star will not always be in the ascendant, they are typically seeking to maximise their brand value or scratch an entrepreneurial itch. Record producer and rapper Dr Dre is chief executive of Beats Electronics, a manufacturer of audio products and accessories, while the English model Lily Cole recently founded Impossible, an online social platform. They are all applying lessons they learnt in the spotlight to running their own businesses.
At Weapons Of Mass Entertainment, a 12-strong business with clients including film studios Paramount and DreamWorks, Mr Stewart is developing a portfolio of creative projects that includes a concept for a television series and a web collaboration with Google and YouTube. The musician says his experience playing guitar has helped him as an entrepreneur, and points to his ability to “jam” as valuable in business. “Jamming needs a different way of thinking,” he says. “You are using both sides of the brain and allowing in real time absolute collaboration. Like musicians in a jam session, a group of businesspeople can take an idea, challenge one another’s imagination and produce an entirely new set of possibilities,” he says.
Whether it is as a songwriter, producer or CEO, Mr Stewart is used to creating and managing projects. While in Eurythmics, he would impress his record company boss by stating the exact day the album would be delivered, even though he had not begun writing the songs.
That experience informs his business style. Not only does the jamming mindset help develop a business in a time of uncertainty; it has also informed the working practices in his organisation where success often relies on improvisation. Mr Stewart explains that he runs the business like a jam session from 11am-1pm each day; then after lunch the rest of the team focus on their particular contributions to the project in hand before assembling at the end of the day to transform the idea into something more tangible. “It’s a bit like making an album, except there are no restraints on what the product might be,” he says.
● Gaming apps: British television presenter Jonathan Ross recently launched a gaming app ‘Catcha Catcha Aliens!’ assisted by his 18-year-old son.
● Aircraft maintenance: Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden and a qualified pilot, joined two partners to turn a Welsh RAF airbase into Cardiff Aviation, which specialises in maintenance of Airbus and Boeing commercial aircraft.
● Vitamin water to headphones: Rapper 50 Cent has developed a portfolio of ventures: he was an investor in Vitamin Water-maker Glacéau, which was sold to Coca-Cola, and his latest business venture is headphone and audio accessories brand SMS Audio.
● Tea: Dance music pioneer Moby co-founded Teany, a New York café and drinks distributor specialising in tea. The café was put up for sale last year, but he continues to be involved in an iced-tea distribution business.
● Vintage clothing: Singer Lily Allen set up Lucy In Disguise with sister Sarah Owen; the business trades via a shop in London’s Soho and online.
The rapper Jay-Z – real name Shawn Carter – has demonstrated entrepreneurial flair that has manifested itself in a number of lucrative joint ventures in sportswear, sneakers and fragrance products alongside investments in the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, a restaurant and nightclub. Zack O’Malley Greenburg, author of Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office, says Mr Carter learnt important business lessons as a recording artist. For example, his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, appealed only to devoted hip-hop fans and achieved modest commercial success. So he ensured that his next album – a collaboration with rapper/producer P. Diddy – was more accessible for a mainstream audience. It worked – the album reached number three in the US charts. As he sang in Moment Of Clarity about that decision: “I dumb down for my audience. And double my dollars”.
That tactic seems to have paid off for him as an entrepreneur: in his business deals and brand endorsements he manages to balance his credibility as an artist with maximising commercial opportunities.
Mr Carter is not only selective about those brand partnerships, but also often strikes joint-venture deals. When he agreed to endorse a Duracell product, not only did he take a fee, he became an investor in the venture. Mr Greenburg believes it is this thinking that sets the rapper apart as an entrepreneur. Revealing the rapper had at one point been in discussion with Chrysler about a co-branded Jeep, Mr Greenburg adds: “You wouldn’t have thought you’d have a car branded after a rapper – that kind of thinking has enabled him to elevate himself to where he is now.”
Back in Los Angeles, model and actress Jessica Alba was inspired to launch her company when pregnant with her first daughter. Frustrated that so many household and baby products contained chemicals, she co-founded The Honest Company to provide eco-friendly alternatives.
Ms Alba says that her experiences of appearing in marketing campaigns for consumer products helped her when it came to positioning her own products. “I’ve learnt a lot about what consumers in specific demographics are looking for and the creative narratives that speak to them. This helped inform our communication strategies at Honest,” she says.
Understanding consumer demographics could not be further from the mind of Tim Burgess, lead singer of The Charlatans, a band that grew out of the Manchester music scene of the 1990s. After asking his Twitter followers who wanted (virtual) coffee one morning, the reaction he received inspired him to start Tim Peaks, a coffee company that partners with a fair trade producer in Costa Rica. The brand is now sold at music festivals, in selected coffee shops and online.
Having started by accident, Mr Burgess says he took inspiration from his experience making albums: regardless of how many years a musician spends perfecting a sound, an album can either endure for years or end up in the bargain bin.
“Once it’s out there it takes on a life of its own,” he says. “And I suppose the coffee is the same. I can make as much noise about it as possible but if it doesn’t taste good then nobody would tell their friends or keep on buying it.”
This year the Tim Peaks online shop has broadened from coffee beans to include branded mugs and T-shirts. But Mr Burgess confesses he has had no big plan or marketing strategy – it all happened serendipitously. “Before we knew what was happening, we were selling it all over the world. So, I think that if something is really good quality and it’s what they want, then sales will be good,” he says.
“I’ll not be on The Apprentice anytime soon but it’s been a groovy little story so far.”
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