Phish: Innovation in Music

I was in that crowd

I was in that crowd

The band Phish has returned to the music scene this past weekend.  After nearly five years off they have reunited (not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I was at their last show before the break), and they have made quite a splash around the web.

To someone like me, who likes the band and also pays attention to music blogs and the social web in general, it appears that the band is getting a lot of hype.  But the truth is, probably 90% of people in the country haven’t heard a word about Phish’s comeback, if they have ever even heard of Phish in the first place.  That’s because the band, in no way, has never really been considered a commercial success.

But there is a reason for that.  You might say, it’s on purpose.  The band has always been one that combines a wide variety of musical styles, carries out extended jams in the middle of and in between songs, and varies the songs they play, the order they play them, and the way that they play them from night to night.  They produce music that is a constant stream of innovation.  And that is not for everybody.

The thing is, unlike most bands today, they are not trying to make music for everybody.  If you asked them, they would probably tell you that they are not trying to make music for anybody…other than themselves that is.  And so they attract people like them, people with similar musical tastes.  And then, because they stay true to themselves and the style, they create a cult-like following among their fans.

Phish, along with other bands like them, could claim that they have some of the most loyal fans in the music industry.  They get consistent crowds of over 50,000 people traveling all over the country to see them.  People beg, borrow, and work for tickets to every single show possible.

So, why bother selling to the masses? If you are Phish, and you can continue to do what you love, make money off of it, and interact with “customers” who truly love and respect what you do, why bother doing anything differently?

Seth Godin will tell you Phish has created a Tribe.  And he is right.  Companies everywhere can look to Phish and copy their business model.  Here is a band that can sell out 3 nights of concerts in under 3 minutes, in the middle of a recession, after being away for 5 years, and when most people have never even heard of them.  Sounds like a pretty good model to follow to me.

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