Monthly Archives: January 2013

Innovation lessons from the world of music – part 2

One of the areas of musical innovation that has interested me the most over the years has been the fusion of Rock music and the world of the Orchestra. And what makes this really interesting is that the pioneers of the 60’s and 70’s are still doing it today!   One of the early adopters in this was of course Deep Purple who performed their epic “Concerto for Group and Orchestra 1969” – here’s the 3rd movement of this. The opening of this movement wouldn’t be out-of-place in an Orchestral concert today – love the Horns!



It’s a real shame the sound quality doesn’t make it obvious but 30 years later, they are still using an Orchestra – the “Smoke on the Water” riff is perfect for the brass:



One band though that found you couldn’t make much money out of this was Pink Floyd whose “Atom Heat Mother” is still a favourite of mine, probably because of the huge use of brass! Touring with a brass section and a choir wasn’t cost-effective and in recent times, some of the band members themselves have thought it was rubbish anyway! (see – I like it though hence its inclusion here!



One of the down sides to this kind of work is that you are unlikely to have the same resources available from one gig to another – and that can impact on the quality of the performance. Back in the day, I used to do a lot of work at local clubs backing whichever ex-celeb was in town this week. They never knew what they were getting from one night to the next and this was one of the issues that Floyd faced.


One band that did make a big commercial success out of using an Orchestra was Procul Harum – there won’t be too many record collections from that era that don’t include “Live at Edmonton” with The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. And they are still doing it today – here’s Gary Booker’s distinctive voice with Procul Harum and The Danish National Concert Orchestra with “A Salty Dog” from 2006.



Amongst the many lessons we can draw from all of this, there is one that sticks out:


  • Don’t create a service if you can’t control the quality of the localised resources that you may need to deliver it.

I also can’t ignore my all time favourite band: “Yes”. I first saw them live in 1974 at Queens Park Rangers FC, Loftus Road, London – the first tour post Wakeman with new boy Patrick Moraz and the “Relayer” album. Much of the 70’s prog rock use of the Mellotron, which sampled strings, could have been done using the real thing  – so why not do that!?  Enjoy the superb slide guitar of Steve Howe in “Soon” from the Relayer album, performed with the European Festival Orchestra in 2001.



And to finish, I just love this Bill Bailey item from his “Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra” – as if Ron Grainger and the Radiophonic Workshop weren’t innovative enough, Bill discovers the “Dr. Who” theme could easily have been Belgian Jazz! (The original video posted here was removed from YouTube due to copyright reasons – however, Bill has used this sketch before as can be seen in this alternative version).



Innovation lessons from the world of music

It’s been a while since my last blog as I’ve been busy getting stuck into my new job. One of the benefits of my travel schedule though is the amount of time I now have sat in hotel rooms!


Today’s blog is not only a follow-up to my earlier post “Succession Planning lessons from the world of Rock Music!”  but has been inspired by discussions with Peter Cook of “The Academy of Rock”  (check out his new book “The Music of Business”) who has made some great links between Rock and Roll and the Business world. It turns out that Peter was heavily involved in the Open University’s “Creativity, Innovation & Change” module which I did as part of my MBA and much of my thinking about Social Learning & Knowledge Management has its roots in that course and the OU Knowledge Management  course.


One of the key ways to get innovation in the workplace is to ensure that staff have access to data & information from both inside and outside of the organisation – yet I still hear of companies that do not allow staff access to the Internet from inside the firewall! Taking an existing idea and adding to it with influence and fresh ideas from outside of the organisation can refresh an old product and gain new customers but of course, that’s nothing new to us musicians! Take The Beatles – great songs, presented in a way that can’t be bettered. Or can they? Many would argue that Earth Wind & Fire did a much better version of “Got to get you into my life”:



And whilst many more might disagree, The Carpenters had a knack of taking a sad song and making it better! Not, not that song, but this one:



But if you are looking for radical change, then look at what happens when multiple external ideas get put together: Led Zeppelin, Reggae and an Elvis impersonator shouldn’t work – but it sort of does! And even Robert Plant likes these guys:



My final example comes from a different genre altogether – the world of Shakespeare and “Romeo & Juliet”. This one never had music and wasn’t even an original idea! According to Wikipedia, Shakespeare borrowed heavily from 2 earlier works The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567. 


But what none of those people would ever have come up with was moving the tale to mid 1950’s New York – the writing of Arthur Laurents, the lyrics of Steven Sondheim and the musical genius that is Leonard Bernstein. So, texts first written in the 1500’s are still producing income today! This clip takes one of those songs, Maria, into yet another new plane – the stratospheric trumpet playing of one of my hero’s, the late, great, Maynard Ferguson:



The world of music is great at innovation – we see it around us constantly with new slants on an old tune, adaptations of music to the stage (Mama Mia), taking the stage to the big screen (Les Miserables) through to Paul Anka making Nirvana swing! Some thoughts for our business life:


  • Old products needn’t just die – adapt them to new uses or even simply re-package them. (Lots of re-issue CD’s have “bonus tracks” to make them just slightly different for example).
  • There may be audiences for your product that aren’t yet aware of it because you are marketing it to a particluar niche customer base.
  • Licence products you can’t change to someone who can still make money out them. Royal Enfield motorcycles still live on, now manufactured in India for example.
  • Years after its demise, the Stylophone came back! A bit like the tribute acts, don’t forget that there may sometimes still be life in an old product! (and even Vinyl is making a small comeback).

And finally, speaking of Rolf, here’s another slant on Led Zeppelin – enjoy!