This Spring includes a tour of a revamped E Street Band backing up Bruce Springsteen (the Boss). For those that are not fans, the band has lost two members due to deaths over the last few years. One of the losses was a “key member” of the band, Clarence Clemons, the saxophone player that Bruce often used as a “foil” in the live shows and provided a compelling “character” on stage. The tour has recently played dates in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York City. Future dates include Boston, West Coast dates and then international performances.
Clearly, the loss of bandmates who were very much “a part of the act” and a well-known contributor to the joy of the performances can be devastating. More than just musicians, the band members of the E Street Band were/are critical components of the stage show and were integral to the entire experience. Far from interchangeable parts, the members of the band were unique contributors.
The challenge confronted by the band is to:
- Acknowledge the loss of the performers. To ignore it would create a dissonance among fans who clearly are aware of their deaths and recognize they are no longer with the band on stage.
- How to avoid becoming a “nostalgia act” and just playing the old songs – but with different musicians.
- Bridge to the fans’ acceptance of the new members of the band, and highlight/spotlight their abilities.
- Create a product (recorded music and stage performances) that is familiar enough to maintain the loyalty of existing fans and still innovative or new enough to attract new fans. Staying close enough to the “core” of the band’s mission – and at the same time moving forward.
The reviews for the show are uniformally positive. While still playing many of the familiar songs of previous tours, there is also a fair amount of time devoted to new songs with new arrangements. For a rock and roll musician, Bruce has managed to incorporate a song that includes rap, and other songs that borrow heavily from Irish melodies, a few folk songs re-worked, even a soul music medley. He and the band work hard to avoid becoming stuck in the rut of doing the same things over and over (because it was once successful).
- Similar to bands, many businesses are built around charismatic members of management. Whether talking about a Steve Jobs of Apple, or the founder of the local insurance agency in town – the success of the company on an ongoing basis will often be determined by the ability to put a succession plan in place. While it is doubtful that there was thought ahead of time about how to replace the sax player; in short order the band had reformed around a different composition that allows the band to explore even more versatile forms of music. Key Man insurance may compensate financially for the loss of an executive; but it will not allow for the ongoing maintenance of the performance post-death. For that, a succession plan is needed.
- Rather than stay in place, the band has recorded “new music” that leverages the use of different musicians and additional functionality. A whole horn section (as opposed to a single sax player) is now part of the band and back-up singers permit exploration of more gospel and soul songs. In comparison, a business must change to meet the burgeoning needs of new consumers. While recognizable as the band of old, it also has evolved into a new version of itself. Far from standing still, it is evolved and morphed.
- The core of the band and the performances have not changed. Still energetic, anthemic songs, frequent interplay on stage between the performers, and well choreographed routines are incorporated. For businesses, the analogy would be whether that means product offerings or doing business through social media; remaining devoted to the old ways will not succeed. However, at the same time; the brand or company must still be familiar to the shopper/customer to retain the loyal following.
While the concert is a three hour journey through song, it is also instructive to recognize that it is not simply a good time (if one is looking at the experience from a student of business perspective). Rather, it is an example of how businesses can withstand a loss and still move forward productively.