Songs You Know By Heart

23 10 2010

I grew up in the late-60s and early-70s. During this time the Viet Nam War was claiming lives and front page headlines, Nixon was busy corrupting the White House, and rock music was driving parents crazy. “Those people won’t live to see 40,” critics would decry.

Promoting a lifestyle of decadence, demoralization and disestablishmentarianism (oh, the alliteration!), it was easy to see why the status quo would be so quick to dismiss these renegade chargers of the rock brigade.

Or maybe it was just wishful thinking.

As it turns out, rock never died, and there were in fact some incredibly astute businesspeople among the cohort. People who saw a career in their music. People who cultivated customer relation management long before CRM was a buzzword. And people who realized they could build a brand around their music and persona.

People like Jimmy Buffett.

Now almost 64, Buffett started as a country musician but quickly found his pop sensibilities. Advocating what has come to be known as an “island lifestyle,” Buffett’s songs often focused on fun, games, storytelling, and drinking sticky concoctions.

And tonight I get to fill a box on my bucket list when I see him and his Coral Reefer Band perform in Las Vegas.

To say that Buffett is a businessman is really an understatement. No, he is the consummate marketer. With two restaurant chains built around his songs (Margaritaville and Cheeseburger In Paradise), Buffett has found a way to keep fans plugged in even when there are no concerts for months or many miles. His lucrative licensing arrangement with Anheuser-Busch allows his Landshark Lager to be available nationwide, not just in his restaurants. In his spare time, he has written three #1 best-sellers. Merchandising puts shirts on the backs of millions of adoring fans. Toss in 20-30 concert performances throughout the year and you have the formula for a man earning $100 million every 12 pages of the calendar.

And were it not for the magical powers of the whimsical Margaritaville in 1977, none of this would have happened.

Maybe it is because Buffett sings of escape. Relaxation. Reality. Whatever the pop hook that snags in your mental craw, Buffett’s music has resonated not just with his aging generation, but also their kids and grandkids.

So when my family and I find our way to our seats tonight, I expect to see the stands filled with bald heads and beer bellies, youthful vim and vigor, and even kids for whom the subject of that hit song is not even close to being on their radar.

To be fair, Buffett is not the only rock or pop star to leverage his brand. The Rolling Stones have done a remarkable job through the years (although without restaurants). Sammy Hagar has proven himself to be a successful bar and cafe owner (although on a smaller scale).

If Buffett has begun to sound like a marketing machine rather than just minstrel and musician, you are right. It took attention to detail, an intuition that he had something far more than just number 1 hits, and a vision to monetize it all.

Not bad for a fellow who seemingly would rather spend his time contemplating the contents of a blender.

Dr “Sobering Reality” Gerlich


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