Musical Teamwork / by Ryan Newman

For years, the allegory of the team has been used by business leaders as a means of representing their inter-cultural goals and the ideal ways their businesses should run. This concept of a “TEAM” has moved beyond sports and other competitive events and permeated its way into the world of business. As a member of a company, we practice “teamwork,” how to be a “team player” and eventually how to lead our team to success. This is a relatable model and one that we have been learning since the first time we played soccer as young children. We weren’t there to become the world's next soccer stars or to win the big championship; we were there to learn those same skills we are practicing today: teamwork, being a team player, and following direction to success. The problem with this is that the definition of "achievement on the field" and "success in the field" varies and begins to render the team model inapplicable.

No matter what the sport, the “rules of the game” serve to dictate the goals and definitions of success that work within each team. One team may have a different strategy than another, but the overall structure of both the game and the team model only allow for so much derivation. Perhaps business was at one time that predictable and consistent, but today the rules change on a daily basis and companies seem to be spending less time seeking to defeat the competition and more time redefining themselves in such a way that there is no contest. The market has grown to such a scale that when we perfect our approach and define our strategy, another team has rewritten the rules and won the metaphorical "Super Bowl" while we were not looking.


But this isn’t about Super Bowls. Success has been redefined. A successful business is a successful brand... less like a team, more like a band. A band who is interdependent. Cohesive from the inside out. We've always heard there is no “I” in "TEAM," but that is not always the case. Teams have ridden on the shoulders of individuals for years and, undoubtedly, bands have as well. But members of a music group rely on each other in a different way than those on a team do. Bands are only as successful as their fan base. Teams have fans built in. The success of a team is an independent function from their fan base; one doesn’t have to look beyond Ohio to know that's true (Cleveland Browns). If a band puts out a bad album or two their fan base dissolves and, as such, they do as well. When a fan goes to a show, they are there for the sound and the experience. One person may be able to drive the experience, but it takes the whole band playing together, in time, with a smooth sound for the show to go as planned. A group seeks to break the basic top down, coach-guided team structure and works to achieve one harmonious sound. A sound fans return for over and over again.

Wilco fits as a perfect example of this structure. Jeff Tweedy has led the group as the creative engine for years and, for the casual listener, is what makes Wilco who they are. If you were to ask him, though, he would say you've got it all wrong. As it stands today, only two of the current members (one of which being Tweedy) are members of the original group that started in 1994.

“There’s a widely held belief among musicians, and maybe artists in general, that there’s some zero-sum game being played, that it’s a compromise even to think about business as being a part of what you do,” Tweedy says. “I think our approach is that there’s another way to be creative. How we run our business is another thing to think about creatively.”

- Jeff Tweedy

The music industry was not always this way - record labels acted as the coaches and used a predictable market as their cited source for a band's direction. Technology has broken that predictability as music has come to be consumed in more ways than ever imagined. Record labels, like coaches, combined knowledge of the “rules of the game” and worked offensively against the strategies of their competition. The industry worked with the same type of structure a football team does, replacing wins with record sales. When the records stopped selling, though, the structure was shattered. Labels had to adjust or risk becoming outdated and overrun. Bands like Wilco saw this trend and sought to build their structure from within rather than on the shoulders of their label. What resulted was a much stronger and cohesive group that despite conflict and personnel change, has created one of the most consistent fan bases in music today. They may not sell the most records in the industry, and their music is not played on radio stations across the country, but it only takes attending one show to see the power Jeff Tweedy’s creative vision has had.



1. There is no such thing as the “best” member of the band. Each person plays a different instrument and has a different role. You being the best drummer doesn’t directly help me become the best bassist. Each has their moment in the spotlight, and the overall sound is the result of each person's individual talents and successes. That sound is only ever as strong as the weakest link.

2. A good band leader knows when to use their resources. The bass player may not be the best in town but you know he’s got the best tone; Knowing each person's strengths and when to use them is critical.

3. What your members do outside the band is as important as what they do in the band. What can each person bring to the table? True collaboration requires independence. If every member of the group goes home and listens to the same music, their inspirations will be limited and the resulting sound will not push the boundaries it should.

4. Fans need something relatable and revolutionary all at the same time. When a band releases new material, fans want to be reminded of what brought them to the sound in the first place, but are simultaneously searching for the unexpected next step that further deepens their connection to the band. Consumers are notorious creatures of habit, but if you keep giving them the same sound, the fan base doesn’t grow. The goal is to create something that is relatable for those with prior knowledge and acts as a stepping stone for those who have never heard you before. Don’t get stuck in the same rut - keep pushing boundaries while relying on what you know.

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