March 6, 2011 11:59 pm

Rock and roll and research

 

Tony C (left) and Julien F, members of the experimental rock band Chevreuil

Lost love, fast cars and easy living are all well-known themes for rock bands. But French experimental rock group Chevreuil are adopting a different tack. They have used the research of strategy professor Rodolphe Durand as the basis for their latest release.

Their musical oeuvre, The Pirate Organisation, is being funded from royalties from Prof Durand and co-author Jean-Philippe Vergne’s book on piracy – The Pirate Organisation: An essay on the Evolution of Capitalism. The jagged drums and guitar riffs have been uploaded on to the internet where all-comers can download the track and make it their own.

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The inspiration for their open-innovation approach to music comes from Prof Durand’s research into pirate online communities and the music industry in an attempt to make sense of the contemporary relationship between piracy and capitalism.

Business students should be thinking about these issues, Prof Durand says – and not just when deciding where to source music for their iPods. He has already started teaching about piracy, in an interdisciplinary HEC course titled “Managing for Private or Public Interests”, which also looks at issues raised by public-private partnerships and self-regulation in professions such as accounting.

Business – and business academics – need to watch how organisations cruise within the “pirate” space, he insists. He cites the example of the rise of online gambling in Europe: what is now a big industry began as an offshore activity, illegal in states where customers were gambling. Only later were rules reframed to allow a legitimate industry to thrive, he says.

Prof Durand, who teaches strategy and organisational theory at HEC Paris and who is a visiting professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, started jotting notes about pirate organisations in 2003. The discovery that Mr Vergne, one of his PhD students, and now an assistant professor at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, had written a thesis on 18th century pirates spurred them to collaborate further.

Mr Vergne met the band, whose members call themselves simply Tony C and Julien F, at a concert in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when he and the professor were researching informal organisations. It is the kind of district where musicians are more motivated by the buzz of performance and creativity than by money.

Chevreuil have been developing their “evolutionary” music and a cult following since 1998. Their trademark performances often rely on a guitar plugged into four amplifiers and recently a hybrid magnetic guitar.

So when Mr Vergne began discussing alternative ways of organising creativity and the interplay with capitalism, they came up with the idea of collaborating to turn the book’s ideas into a multi-media package.

Academics are used to collaborating in informal, non-commercial projects, the professor says, though rarely with musicians. So the website www.organisationpirate.com is exploring new territory, becoming a forum for debate about the research and ideas about pirate organisations as well as remixing music. Business education, but not as we know it.

Prof Durand says giving the band the book royalties was “a way of giving something back” and “generating the unexpected variations from which culture and capitalism can blossom”.

At heart, the conflict is about property rights, he says, although values can also play a role. “Some online hackers are defending free expression and battling against copyright,” says Prof Durand.

In the music arena, the online battle is between those who want to access music for free and companies that want to charge for it. Music download company Napster started as a free file-sharing service, switched to a paid-for business model after lawsuits and was acquired by Roxio in 2002, he points out.

The intersection between business and modern piracy is clearly a fruitful source of study, although Prof Durand does not claim to be at the cutting edge of technology. He still swaps music with friends, buys CDs and attends music events ranging from the opera to Chevreuil.

But Prof Durand also draws inspiration from his surroundings and experiences. A previous study of his looked into the organisational causes of the modernisation of French cuisine, and last year he won the European Academy of Management/Imagination Lab award for innovative scholarship.

This article is subject to a correction and has been amended.

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