The Train Is Coming

The minstrel warned us that the train is coming.

On an oppressively hot June night in Chicago, Robert Plant sang 13 songs of longing, joy, and carnality with a voice that has grown sweeter and softer over 69 years. His concert was mostly a joyous celebration of life. But if you listened closely as he dipped into his rich songbook, you could hear the minstrel conjuring narrators who contemplated aging, loss, and mortality. Midway through the evening, Plant assumed the voice of a man about to be executed, pleading for the hangman to give him a little more time in “Gallows Pole”:

Hangman, hangman, turn your head awhile

I think I see my sister coming, riding many mile, mile, mile

Sister, I implore you, take him by the hand

Take him to some shady bower

Save me from the wrath of this man

On “The May Queen,” an aging celebrant sang of time’s passage:

A heart that never falters

A love that never dies

I linger in the shadows

The dimming of my light

An old blues man gazed at death in “Fixin’ to Die”:

Feeling funny in my mind, Lord

I believe I’m fixin’ to die

Feeling funny in my mind, Lord

I believe I’m fixin’ to die

Well, I don’t mind dying

But I hate to leave my children crying

The older you get the more likely you will learn what it is to experience the effects of age, if not on yourself then on someone in your life. In his 69 years, Robert Plant has faced the loss of close family and friends, and nearly the loss of his muse when he almost quit singing after the death of his son, Karac, in 1977. But he is not one to dwell on the past. Since the break-up of Led Zeppelin in 1980 following the death of drummer John Bonham, Robert Plant has record 14 albums, six of them after he turned 50. He scoffs at those who would question how he stays inspired at an age when many have retired from their work, and he writes songs that celebrate living, not losing. Continue reading

Led Zeppelin Invades Record Store Day

They come from the land of the ice and snow, invading Record Store Day April 21 like land-grabbing Visigoths of Yore: Led Zeppelin recently announced its first-ever Record Store Day release, a 7-inch single consisting of unheard mixes of “Rock and Roll” and “Friends.” Both mixes, produced by Jimmy Page, have elevated Record Store Day from a celebration of vinyl to a homecoming as the band emerges from the mists of Avalon to celebrate its 50th Anniversary.

“Rock and Roll” is the better known of the two songs, with its rousing opening drums and anthemic power. But “Friends” has always intrigued me more than “Rock and Roll.”

Whereas “Rock and Roll” is powerful a call to arms, “Friends” is a more subtle, evocative song that rewards repeated listening. The second song on Led Zeppelin III, “Friends” captures the mystery, adventure, and musical versatility that has always set Led Zeppelin apart from hard rock bands such as Deep Purple. The song, employing strings and bongo drums, a folk acoustic turn from Jimmy Page, and a piercing Robert Plant vocal, imparts a distinct Middle Eastern vibe that is even more pronounced in the stunning live version that Page and Plant recorded with an Egyptian orchestra in 1994.

A version recorded with the Bombay Orchestra was released as part of the deluxe edition of Coda in 2015, which features a more dissolute vocal from Plant.

When you experience “Friends” in its three most popular versions — the original, the Coda reissue, and the collaboration with the Egyptian orchestra — you can hear the foundation that Led Zeppelin was building for “Kashmir,” five years later. “Friends” stands alone as psychedelic, cross-cultural masterpiece.

How Lana Del Rey Could Beat Radiohead in Court

Did she or didn’t she?

On January 7, Lana Del Rey said on Twitter that Radiohead has sued her for copyright infringement because of the similarities between her song “Get Free” (released in 2017) and Radiohead’s “Creep” (released in 1993).

She tweeted, “Although I know my song wasn’t inspired by Creep, Radiohead feel it was and want 100% of the publishing – I offered up to 40 over the last few months but they will only accept 100. Their lawyers have been relentless, so we will deal with it in court.”

At issue are similarities between the chord progressions in both songs (although the lyrical content is not a matter of dispute):

According to attorneys quoted in a Variety article, Radiohead has the upper hand in the argument for two reasons:

  • The songs sound too similar. As Bill Hochberg, an attorney at Greenberg Glusker, said, “I would say this case does cross the line. This Lana Del Rey song is way too close to what is a rather unusual set of chord changes and a very distinctive melody line.”
  • Lana Del Rey’s willingness to offer up to 40 percent of the publishing revenues out of court suggests she recognizes that the songs are too similar. “I don’t think you would offer 40% of your publishing if you believed the claim was frivolous,” said James Sammataro, an attorney at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.

But anything can happen when music copyright cases are decided by a jury of everyday people, especially when the dispute occurs over something as subjective as the way a song sounds as opposed to the lyrics used. Case in point: Led Zeppelin. Throughout Led Continue reading

Why Ed Sheeran Might Need to Pay up in Copyright Infringement Lawsuits

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Ed Sheeran is having a tough summer. In June, the writers of Matt Cardle’s single “Amazing” slapped Sheeran with a $20 million copyright infringement lawsuit, claiming that Sheeran’s 2014 song “Photograph,” from his album X, copied “note-for-note” Cardle’s “Amazing,” written in 2009. On August 10, Sheeran was hit with another copyright infringement lawsuit, this time by the heirs of Ed Townsend, who composed and co-wrote the lyrics for Marvin Gaye’s classic song “Let’s Get It On” in 1973. The latest lawsuit claims that Sheeran’s song “Thinking Out Loud” (Sheeran’s first Number One single, also from from X) possesses melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements that are “substantially and/or strikingly similar” to “Let’s Get It On.” It’s anyone’s guess as to how these lawsuits are settled, but an unfavorable verdict against Sheeran could have ramifications on songwriters everywhere.

In both cases, Sheeran is being sued because, in essence, the musical structure of his songs is too similar to someone else’s. For instance, the “Photograph” lawsuit alleges “The chorus sections of Amazing and the infringing Photograph share 39 identical notes – meaning the notes are identical in pitch, rhythmic duration, and placement in the measure.”

These types of cases, which come down to musical, as opposed to lyrical, similarities, seem to be up for grabs. In 2015, attorney Richard Busch, who is representing the writers of Matt Cardle’s “Amazing,” successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams in a copyright infringement case that claimed Thicke’s and Williams’s song “Blurred Lines” was too similar in musical structure to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” A judge awarded Marvin Gaye’s family $5.3 million and a share of future royalties. On the other hand, in June, Led Zeppelin successfully defended itself in a copyright infringement lawsuit that claimed the opening chords to Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” plagiarized guitar chords in Spirit’s song “Taurus.”

Why did Led Zeppelin emerge victorious over musical infringement but Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams did not? The answer will determine whether Sheeran is liable for millions of dollars in damages. And, as I blogged recently, the matter is a murky one. These factors will likely decide the outcome:

  • How integral is the music to the entire song? This issue will likely determine whether Sheeran wins or loses. Thicke and Williams were successfully sued because the recurring backbeat and chorus that form the structure of “Blurred Lines” was too similar to that of “Got to Give It Up.” On the other hand, although the opening chord progression of “Stairway to Heaven” is similar to a guitar part in “Taurus,” the resemblance lasts but a few seconds. Thicke and Williams might have emerged victorious had a jury believed the same was true with “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up.” In Sheeran’s case, the lawsuits are basically arguing that Sheeran stole the foundation upon which he built his songs, as opposed to nicking just a few elements here and there. Based on the outcome of the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit, Sheeran is definitely in a tough position with both his lawsuits. He may very well need pay up.
  • How original is the music in question? Team Led Zeppelin argued that the songs “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” were based on common chord progressions that date back to the 17th Century and can be heard in songs such as the Beatles’ “Michelle.” In other words, the musicians were adapting music that is in the public domain, and any similarity to other songs was entirely coincidental. On the other hand, in the 1970s, George Harrison was successfully sued for copyright infringement because his song “My Sweet Lord” was too similar to a very distinctive, original melody in the Chiffons song “He’s So Fine.” Team Sheeran may find themselves needing to prove that the songs in question are not entirely original — an argument that comes down to successful homework and producing musicologists who sound convincing enough. But this point can be difficult for a defendant to successfully argue. With “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven,” a jury determined that despite Team Led Zeppelin’s arguments, “Taurus” was original enough to justify Spirit owning its copyright.

In any event, songwriters have been put on notice: attorneys are watching your every move. What you determine to be creative inspiration could land you in court. And you might not possess Led Zeppelin’s deep pockets to defend yourself. The band paid $800,000 in legal fees in the “Stairway” case. Your creative reputation could come down a judge, a jury with zero musical knowledge, and a whole lot of money.

The “Stairway to Heaven” Lawsuit: How Permanent a Victory?

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Led Zeppelin’s successful defense of “Stairway to Heaven” against an accusation of copyright infringement over the song “Taurus” is a victory for creativity — but how permanent a victory?

The opening notes of “Stairway to Heaven” share, at best, a passing similarity to a brief chord progression in “Taurus,” written by singer Randy Wolfe, who performed with the band Spirit. (Compare “Taurus” at the 45 second mark to the opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven.”)

Had a jury found that Zeppelin plagiarized “Taurus,” songwriters would have another good reason reason to second-guess themselves as they create new music (and I’m not referring to lyric writing). The next David Bowie might not write the next “Starman” for fear of sounding too much like someone else’s work (in fact, Bowie based the chorus for “Starman” on “Somewhere over the Rainbow”). But the victory was by no means a slam dunk. Over the years, a number of other high-profile plagiarism cases similar to this one have gone against defendants. For instance:

  • In 2015, the family of Marvin Gaye successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for infringing upon Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” when Thicke and Williams wrote “Blurred Lines.” Gaye’s family was awarded $7.4 million (a judge reduced the award to $5.3 million; Thicke and Williams are appealing).
  • Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood of the Hollies successfully sued Radiohead over similarities between Radiohead’s “Creep” and the Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe.” As a result, Hammond and Hazlewood now share royalties and songwriting credits for “Creep.”
  • In the 1980s, Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr. for plagiarism because Lewis felt that the melody for Parker’s 1984 hit “Ghostbusters” was too similar to Lewis’s “I Want a New Drug.” The two parties settled out of court.
  • In 1976, a judge determined that George Harrison had committed “subconscious plagiarism” in writing his 1970 hit “My Sweet Lord,” whose melody is similar to that of the 1962 song “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons. Harrison was liable for nearly $600,000.
  • In the 1960s, the Kinks successfully sued the Doors over similarities between the sound of the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” and the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You.” Consequently, the Kinks and Doors share songwriting credit for “Hello, I Love You” in the United Kingdom.

Why did Led Zeppelin prevail with “Stairway” when other musicians in similar situations did not? I don’t think anyone knows for sure, which speaks to the subjective nature of these cases. From what I can tell, the following two factors seem to influence the outcome of these cases:

  • How distinctive is the music in question? This issue doomed “My Sweet Lord.” The melody for “He’s So Fine,” while forming only a small part of the song, is so distinctive that even casual listeners could recognize its similarity to “My Sweet Lord.” And the judge decided that being distinctive means being original.
  • How integral is the music to the entire song? In the case of the Hollies suing Radiohead, at issue was the overall similarity between the two songs’ compositions as opposed to a single melody that acted as a smoking gun, if you will. The same holds true for “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up.” The recurring backbeat and chorus that underpin both songs were deemed to be too similar.

On the other hand, copyright infringement cases due not need to prove that the defendant knowingly stole the music to find the defendant liable, as the George Harrison “unconscious plagiarism” ruling shows.

Of course, all kinds of intangibles can come into play. For instance, did the appearance of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin the courtroom wow the defendants with a bit of celebrity firepower? Robert Plant in particular was said to be especially charming and engaging as a witness.

In the case of “Stairway,” the jury ruled that “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” are not similar enough to justify the plaintiff’s argument that Led Zeppelin was guilty of plagiarism. I don’t know what was going through the minds of the juries — but I suspect the two issues of how distinctive and integral the music informed their decision. To wit:

  • The disputed portion of “Stairway to Heaven,” while sounding similar to “Taurus,” consists of only a few fleeting seconds — so the passage was not integral to the overall feel of the seven-minute plus “Stairway.”
  • Both the plaintiff and the defendant produced musicologists who argued about the distinctive nature of the disputed music. Team Led Zeppelin argued that the musical progressions date back to the 1600s, thus attacking how distinctive the riff in “Taurus” and “Stairway” really are. Team Spirit produced technical evidence arguing that “Taurus” uses a distinctive structure.

Ultimately, the arguments of Team Spirit around those two issues did not convince the jury.

In the context of the “Stairway” lawsuit, it will be interesting to see how the copyright infringement lawsuit against Ed Sheeran’s song “Photograph” plays out, as well as one against Justin Bieber for his song “Sorry.” Sheeran has been sued for $20 million by songwriters Martin Harrington and Tom Leonard. Harrington and Leonard claim “Photograph” has a “striking similarity” to the song “Amazing” which they wrote for a onetime winner of The X Factor, Matt Cardle.

Harrington and Leonard assert that the chorus of Sheeran’s “Photograph” and Cardle’s “Amazing” share 39 identical notes, and that the two songs utilize similar overall structures, melodic rhythms, and harmonies.

Given the murky history of song plagiarism lawsuits and subjective nature of their outcomes, the long-term impact of Led Zeppelin’s successful defense remains to be seen. Meanwhile, songwriters would do well to heed the advice of producer and blogger Bobby Owsinski:

“[S]ongwriters beware, there’s nothing new under the sun given the 12 note scale that western musicians use, so you’re probably copying a previous song without even knowing it. And today, that’s enough to get you sued.”

Related:

Consequences of Sound, “10 Famous Cases of Musical Plagiarism,” by Matt Melis and Michael Roffman, May 29, 2016.

The Daily Beast, “If Led Zeppelin Goes Down, We All Burn,” by Aram Sinnreich, June 17, 2016.

The New Yorker, “The Unoriginal Originality of Led Zeppelin,” by Alex Ross, April 14, 2016.

Time, “11 Suspiciously Sound-Alike Songs,” by Melissa Locker, August 21, 2013.

WatchMojo.com, “The Top 10 Rip-off Songs,” May 17, 2014.

How I Fell in Love with Rock & Roll

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Led Zeppelin turned me on to rock and roll 40 years ago.

In 1976, I was 13 years old. My family had settled into a new home in Wheaton, Illinois, after moving from Battle Creek, Michigan, the year before. Music figured large in our lives. My older sister Karen enjoyed disco. I dealt with the loneliness of being a new kid in town by immersing myself in books and music. I was a huge fan of soul (especially Al Green), funk, R&B, and jazz (especially George Benson). Everything I knew about rock was based on what I could hear on singles-friendly AM radio, which meant a lot of soft rock along the lines of “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns.

I knew who Led Zeppelin was because my older brother, Dan, owned all their albums. But Dan listened to music in the privacy of his bedroom, lost in a world defined by his collection of rock albums, black felt posters, and books about World War II fighter planes, and, it seemed, secrets I would never know. We lived in the same house but in two different rooms on different floors of the house, our doors always shut to each other.

My life changed one day when Dan and I were the only ones in the house. I was in my own room reading a book about baseball when I heard this strange, exotic, powerful tune wafting up from our family room downstairs. It sounded as though a collection of Middle Eastern musicians had decided to entertain themselves in our home. I tried to focus on studying baseball statistics. But the song just kept rising into my room like a dust storm from the desert. The tension built with each refrain, as strings, guitar, and a distorted drum complemented a man’s voice crying with angst.

I put down my book and cautiously walked downstairs. With each step toward the family room, I felt the rush of drums, guitars, and strings engulf me. Dan stood before me, his eyes locked on the vinyl record spinning on our family console stereo, a monolithic beast that housed my dad’s collection of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

“What is this?” I asked.

Without turning his head, he replied, “Kashmir.”

We spoke no words after that exchange. We just stood together and immersed ourselves in the song.

Afterward, Dan wordlessly shared with me the album that had produced the song, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, which had been released the year before. I was accustomed to album jackets that contained one simple pocket. Physical Graffiti was something completely different: a sepia-tinged photo of a New York tenement building with the name of the album formed by die-cut letters peeking from behind different windows. The jacket housed two albums protected by their own sleeves fashioned to look like the cover. The tenement windows were adorned with a hodgepodge of images including band members, Queen Elizabeth, a bomb dropping, and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. And the music inside would turn out to be a revelation.

I began to explore the band my brother loved. Physical Graffiti was an excellent introduction because the album destroyed every stereotype I held about the band. I had assumed Led Zeppelin was a group of heavy metal rockers, and I was quickly disabused of that notion. “Custard Pie” made me want to dance. “In My Time of Dying” felt like gospel. “Trampled Under Foot” resonated with my love of funk and soul, and the bucolic “Down by the Seaside” was certainly nothing close to hard rock. Listening to “Kashmir,” on the other hand, was like journeying to another land and time.

As a showcase of the many sides of Led Zeppelin, the album opened up my eyes to the diverse nature of album-oriented rock in the 1970s. As it turned out, my brother’s world was not as private as I thought it had been. Although he did not exactly encourage me to hang out in his room, he didn’t discourage me, either. Crucially, he allowed me to explore his album collection, including all the classics: The Dark Side of the Moon, Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next, and Fragile just for starters.

Rock and roll would loom large in my life from that point forward. I got caught up in the Doors revival of the early 1980s and visited Père Lachaise Cemetery on the 10th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death. The music of Pink Floyd helped me endure some of life’s ups and downs and created more moments of bonding with Dan, as I discussed with the leading Pink Floyd fan website, Brain Damage. I edited a book about the history of rock and roll and began writing about music extensively on my own blog. Rock has become a lifelong passion, and I can trace that passion all the way back to the moment when my older brother and I shared Led Zeppelin for the first time.

Related:

The Golden Shaman: Robert Plant’s Journey,” September 28, 2015

Would Led Zeppelin Succeed Today? ” August 3, 2015

Three Lessons I Learned from Jim Morrison,” July 3, 2015

The Marketing Genius of ‘Led Zeppelin IV,'” August 29, 2011

How a Janitor and ‘Hotel California’ Shaped Me,” July 8, 2011

The Golden Shaman: Robert Plant’s Journey

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Photo credit: Ed Miles

A Robert Plant concert sends you on a journey. On September 23, his concert at Northerly Island took me to the mountains of Appalachia, the plains of the Mississippi Delta, and the west coast of Africa. Great artists always challenge you to leave your comfort zone and follow them, even if the audience is not along for the ride.

The 90-minute concert was populated by many drunk baby boomers apparently obsessed with reliving their past glories of watching Led Zeppelin 40 years ago. But Plant was not catering to the stoned hordes. For those who were paying attention, he was like a musical professor romping through a global songbook that spanned African-tinged material from his new album, Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar, his Led Zeppelin catalog, and American blues. If you were paying attention, you could learn a lot, for instance:

  • Africa speaks the language of the blues. He and his band, the Sensational Space Shifters, introduced me to the power of the ritti, a one-string violin played by Fula-tribe in Africa. The ritti produces a high-pitched sound that Plant’s band mate Juldeh Camara played with a frenzied passion on songs such as “Little Maggie” and a reinterpretation of “Whole Lotta Love.” The ritti adds texture to Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar. In concert, Camara played the instrument like a lead guitar, commanding my attention and inspiring me to learn more about the instrument after the concert was over. I found an excellent article that explains the ritti (spelled riti in the article) in context of the evolution of the blues fiddle. The connection between African music and American blues reminded me of something Robert Plant once said onstage when I saw him in 2011: “you can find the origin of the American blues in the Atlas mountains of north Africa.”
  • The spiritual and the carnal are two sides of the same coin. Plant sang with the same passion and bite on sexually charged standards like “Black Dog” as he did on “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” a traditional song from the Carolinas that Plant reinterpreted on his album Band of Joy. Through his sensual body English and growling voice, he made no distinctions between the lustful narrator of “Black Dog” who vows to make a woman sweat and the defiant preacher who spits at Satan. During “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” he segued into “In My Time of Dying,” another traditional song that Led Zeppelin famously adapted on Physical Graffiti. One moment, Plant was wailing, “I heard the voice of Jesus say Satan, your kingdom must come down,” and then suddenly he was singing, “Meet me, Jesus, meet me. Meet me in the middle of the air/If my wings should fail me, Lord. Please meet me with another pair” from “In My Time of Dying.” Robert Plant, at age 67, is undoubtedly aware of his mortality. But he recorded “In My Time of Dying” when he was 26. Hearing the two songs together made me think of Plant in a new light: a man on a spiritual journey. “Stairway to Heaven” isn’t just an epic song but a signpost on the road. Plant is to rock what Al Green is to soul: he comfortably embraces the sensual world while he reaches for something deeper and otherworldly. I am eager to re-listen to his musical catalog in this new context.
  • Bukka White was a badass. I have a fairly decent understanding of most of the blues greats, but Robert Plant reminded me of how little I really know when he called on the ghost of Bukka White during the concert. If you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, you have heard Bukka White even if you don’t know it. White was one of those old-time blues guitarists who lived in the Mississippi Delta, and his recording of “Fixin’ to Die Blues” was covered by Bob Dylan in the early 1960s. Led Zeppelin referred to his song “Shake ‘Em on Down” in “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” and “Custard Pie.” Plant recorded a version of “Fixin’ to Die Blues” on his 2002 album Dreamland, and he showcased the sad, mournful power of the song during his concert at Northerly Island. For many Chicagoans, the blues begins and ends with Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, but Robert Plant reminded us that the Mississippi Delta produced a mother lode of influential musicians who sang of hard times and impending death, which was always around the corner for them. Amid his onstage patter, Plant name-checked Bukka White as he paid tribute to the blues giants who shaped his own career. Then Plant stopped talking and let his singing tell the story as he whispered the lyrics, “Feelin funny in my mind lord I believe I’m fixin to die,” and channeled the sense of mortality and spiritual longing that White introduced in 1940. Plant mentioned long-forgotten artists such as Bukka White and the Stanley Brothers of Appalachia, laughingly comparing their popularity to that of Journey while making it clear he worships the ground the old guard walked on.

The golden god of the 1970s has become a golden shaman, dancing on a stage as he extends his hands and invites you to experience what Plant described as a “benediction of spirit and soul.” If you are willing to join him, Robert Plant enriches your life long after he is done singing.

 

 

 

Would Led Zeppelin Succeed Today?

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Led Zeppelin. The name evokes the hammer of the gods, hypnotic music forged in the mists of Mordor and the mountains of Kashmir, and the heavy gravitas of legend. Here is a band whose place in rock history is secure. Five of its albums are listed in Rolling Stone‘s ranking of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and Led Zeppelin’s music is so influential and powerful that it resonates with generation after generation of fans. But Led Zeppelin achieved renown at a different time, when the music industry played by different rules, and artists made their mark through an art form — the record album — that has become anachronistic. If Led Zeppelin were just starting out today as an unknown group, would the band break through and succeed? I believe Led Zeppelin would indeed become a household name — but only by adapting its game plan to play by today’s rules:

Rule 1: Make Great Music

Let’s first look at an obvious ingredient for success: artists must produce consistently great music. It sounds obvious, but musicians possess zero margin for error in the here-today, gone-tomorrow environment that characterizes the music industry. Groups are competing against distractions that did not exist in the 1970s: the Internet, mobile apps, video games, and a proliferation of television channels, to name a few. A sensation such as Psy can create a massive breakthrough with “Gangnam Style” only to be tossed on the dust heap of one-hit wonders if he lacks a compelling follow-through. But bands anxious about generating the next hit also have to exercise caution: the proliferation of digital channels such as SoundCloud makes it too easy for artists to release music that is not ready for prime time. Good bands must resist the temptation to release music too early; they also must transcend the blizzard of white noise emanating from multiple channels.

Assessing the quality of an artist’s music is entirely subjective, but I believe Zeppelin’s style would resonate even in today’s climate, where an explosion of music formats such as electronic dance music and hip-hop have diluted rock music’s influence. The band’s music defied categorization. Certainly songs such as “Kashmir” and “Dancing Days” were exotic and versatile enough to appeal to listeners beyond rock. In fact, Led Zeppelin’s music has been sampled heavily by hip-hop artists such as Dr. Dre and Eminem, with “When the Levee Breaks” alone sampled numerous times. All Led Zeppelin’s music was carefully developed under the exacting standards of Jimmy Page, who had the unusual role of lead guitarist, co-writer, and producer. That the group has won so many accolades such as the Kennedy Center Honors is a testament to its attention to detail. Even Led Zeppelin’s rough works in progress from the slew of deluxe editions issued in recent months are better than much of what passes for polished material that you find on SoundCloud.

Continue reading

How Robert Plant Reinvented Himself

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One of the consequences of fame is being pigeonholed. McDonald’s is so well known for serving burgers, fries, and milkshakes that the fast-food giant has struggled to become a credible alternative for salads and smoothies. Sean Connery found it difficult to transition his acting career beyond James Bond. And then there’s the case of Robert Plant. The story of Plant’s solo career reads like a case straight out of Harvard Business School: his audience was changing, he was aging, and the legacy he created with Led Zeppelin threatened to trap him in the past. In my new guest blog post for innovation consultancy BeyondCurious, I discuss how Robert Plant reinvented himself and the lessons that businesses can learn from his journey. As Plant’s career demonstrates, changing your brand requires being adaptable, having patience, and telling your story openly. What brands have successfully changed in your view?

Jimmy Page Shares Three Lessons for Content Marketers

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Jimmy Page: legendary guitarist, producer, all-around rock god . . . and a marketing teacher. Yes, the guitar magus knows marketing in addition to music. He not only founded Led Zeppelin but also influenced the band’s image, down to crucial details such as the choice of album artwork (most famously for Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album) and Led Zeppelin’s visual presentation in concert. Of course Led Zeppelin became one of the most successful rock groups ever. So when Page conducted an exclusive interview with the Berklee College of Music to discuss his career, as a marketer I watched the video interview closely. I listened to his ideas through the lens of content marketing given the nature of much of my own professional work. Even though marketing was not the focus of the conversation, Page is so image-savvy that he shared some useful marketing advice even when he wasn’t trying — especially about the importance of over delivering to your audience, being eclectic, and always learning.

1. Over deliver to your audience

In the interview, Page recounts the time when, early in its career, Led Zeppelin began building a loyal fan following by playing explosive concerts that could stretch for as long as three hours — even though the band had only one album’s worth of material under its belt.

Recalling the first time the band ever played a three-hour show, he says, “In the very early days we had only one album out, and the audience just wouldn’t let us go — they wanted more, and more, and more. In the end, we exhausted anything that any of us knew individually or collectively.”

In due course, Led Zeppelin would become renowned for performing mind-blowing shows, combining the power of the band’s music with a flair for the theatrical (as evidenced with Page’s choice of exotic stage garb). The band’s dedication paid off: by 1973, Led Zeppelin was playing to more than 56,000 people at Tampa Stadium, breaking an attendance record set by the Beatles at Shea Stadium.

Do you over deliver to your audience with your content marketing? Chipotle Mexican Grill certainly does. Content Marketing expert Joe Pulizzi says that Chipotle takes a “24/7” approach to branded content. For instance, in 2013, Chipotle created a digital video and game, The Scarecrow, to spark a consumer conversation about industrial farming. Chipotle pulled out all the Continue reading