5 Business Lessons from the Rolling Stones’ 61-Year Career
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The Rolling Stones are, in my humble opinion, the greatest rock band of all time. There is no better rock song than their soaring 1969 anthem, “Gimme Shelter.” But really, their whole catalog is full of hits and fan favorites, including their latest release — and 26th album — Hackney Diamonds.
It’s no wonder I’ve been to more than 17 Rolling Stones shows. I even had front-row seats during the limited five-concert tour they did to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It was amazing!
But there’s another reason I admire the Stones so much.
I’d say that although their songwriting, unique sound and style, Mick Jagger’s swagger and his unique interplay with guitarist Keith Richards and bassist Ron Wood had everything to do with their enduring success, they would not have lasted so long without business savvy.
The way they’ve conducted themselves as a business in their 61 years as a band can teach us so much about how to run our own ventures.
Here are five business lessons learned from the Rolling Stones:
There is no substitute for putting in the work
In their early days, the Stones had to make do with “cheap” instruments and equipment as they played their first live shows and recorded their first singles. They even all lived together in a grimy apartment with little furniture.
They focused on rehearsing, mastering their instruments, writing songs, convincing club owners to give them gigs and the like. In other words, they put in the work.
It’s like that with a business.
It’s tempting to think that if you get a shiny new computer, fancy office furniture, expensive software programs and a sleek website, then pour a ton of money into ad campaigns, your success is just around the corner.
But the truth is that the most critical part of business success is understanding your target market, creating a product you think will resonate, testing it and trying different marketing approaches to see what sticks.
Find out what works while spending as little money as possible. Once you have some wins under your belt and a proven marketing strategy, you can start investing money into ramping up the business. Only then should you consider getting that fancy office chair.
Your intellectual property matters — and you should protect it
Like many bands of the era, the Rolling Stones did get a bit taken advantage of. Their
accountant in the 1960s managed to take ownership of songs they wrote before 1971 — and cashed in on some of their biggest hits without writing a note of them.
But the Stones learned their lesson. They pivoted to creating spectacular live shows that toured stadiums and arenas worldwide for decades to come — and were huge moneymakers. They were also sure to take ownership of their subsequent songs and other creations.
The Stones also vigorously defend their trademarks and copyrights. Their famous mouth and tongue logo, for example, is often ripped off for bootleg posters, t-shirts and other merch by others trying to cash in on the band’s fame. They are quick to sue anybody who does so.
You must defend your hard-earned IP as well. Use copyright and trademark protections to make sure nobody can cash in on anything you create in conjunction with your business, like logos, slogans, your company name, product names and more. In some cases, filing an infringement claim with the online platform where the violator is using it or their web hosting provider is enough. In other cases, you might need to take further legal action, like a cease and desist or even a lawsuit.
Build your unique brand, and people will become your biggest fans
In the 1960s, there was a tremendous rivalry between the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. They were both part of the British Invasion and had drawn influences from blues, as well as early rock-n-roll and R&B.
One of the ways the Stones differentiated themselves from this competitor was by building a unique brand. They became the “bad boys” to the Beatles’ more clean-cut image in how they talked to the press, dressed, performed and the like — especially with their harder-edged and more “rockin'” songs.
As a result, many people started choosing to become Stones guys or gals or Beatles guys or gals. Something about either group resonated with those fans. By clearly showcasing their unique approach to music and their lifestyle, the Rolling Stones were able to cultivate a fervent fanbase for decades to come, with many of the original fans among the most dedicated.
The lesson here: Don’t be like everybody else in your niche. You might draw inspiration from the same places, but you have to find what sets you apart and emphasize that in your approach to product creation, branding and marketing.
Pay attention to your legal and tax obligations
As I mentioned, one of the Rolling Stones’ accountants somehow managed to own the rights to many of their early songs. It was simply a matter of them focusing on being rock stars and not paying attention to the nuts and bolts of the business behind it all.
Around the same time, the Stones also had some tax troubles. It turns out whoever was in charge hadn’t been paying taxes properly in their home country, the UK, for years. As a result, they had a huge bill come due unexpectedly. They decided to decamp overseas to officially reside in tax havens to protect their income, where they have remained ever since.
I’m not advocating that you dodge taxes or anything. But as your business grows, you have to keep up with your paperwork and play by the rules, so to speak.
- Hire an experienced accountant to help you legally pay as little tax as possible. This might mean creating a specific business structure, for example.
- You should also ensure that all your copyrights and trademarks are kept up to date — and that you protect your creations and stay vigilant against violations.
- Keep an eye on renewal dates for web hosting and other online services you use. You don’t want your website to go offline or have somebody else grab your domain!
- Familiarize yourself with the laws regarding your business and follow them. If you are in the natural health space, for example, you should know what the Federal Trade Commission allows you to say in your marketing. If you are an influencer working on Instagram, you should understand how you must disclose your paid relationships with brands in your posts.
Keep on rockin’
Don’t stop creating, innovating and growing. The Rolling Stones released their latest album in October 2023. The surviving band members are well into their 70s. For a band to have longevity like this is almost unprecedented.
Most of it does have to do with the incredible music that has enthralled multiple generations of fans. How many bands can you say that grandparents and grandkids — maybe even great-grandkids — love to jam out to?
But you can bet that without paying attention to the business side of things, the Rolling Stones would probably not have had such an outsized impact on the world.