• DATE August 21, 2013
  • URL oneinstitute.com/tile/risk-and-reward/

Risk and Reward

Lessons from Jeff Tweedy about rock music and business sense

Some might say the business world is the farthest thing from rock ’n’ roll, but Jeff Tweedy of the alt-rock band Wilco would beg to differ. With Tweedy at the helm, Wilco has won two Grammys and has been hailed by Rolling Stone as “America’s foremost rock impressionists.”

But Tweedy is more than a rock star. He’s also a savvy businessman and entrepreneur.

Though Wilco is still perceived by fans to be a quintessentially “indie” band, it has actually become a multi-million dollar enterprise – and this at a time of diminishing returns and overall upheaval in the music industry at large. Tweedy explains why this doesn’t compromise the band’s musical integrity:

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 to even think about business as being a part of what you do. 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.

As Keith Griffith writes about entrepreneur Tweedy in Chicago Grid, “Forging independence has meant learning to fire friends, eschew hefty advances, and build out infrastructures for touring, marketing and merchandising.” Tweedy has also learned to fire the band’s record label and various other middlemen in order to streamline the operation and forge a sustainable path forward.

Entrepreneurs of every kind – ranging from those in tech companies to those in alt-rock bands – are well acquainted with the dynamic relationship between risk and reward. While business-as-usual entailed less risk for Wilco, it also ultimately limited the reward. And for Tweedy, embracing both risk and reward has resulted in an opportunity to redefine rock ‘n’ roll itself.