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Role Models of Reinvention: How Musicians Lead the Way

Guest Feature: Michael Hendrix


Over the past several years I’ve interviewed artists, producers and managers for my book, Two Beats Ahead: What Musical Minds Teach Us About Innovation. While Grohl’s story of resilience is exceptional, it’s certainly not the exception. I’ve learned first hand that musicians, and the music industry, are role models for reinvention. Sometimes this constant change is a choice. Think: Miles Davis, David Bowie, or Lady GaGa. And sometimes the change is forced upon us. Think Gloria Estefan’s bus accident or Dave Grohl breaking his leg. Or perhaps you’re thinking of yourself during this pandemic. Whatever your mental model, I’m certain it’s a story of trial and success. Why? Because that has been the story of this industry.


CDs didn’t kill music. Naptster didn’t kill music. Spotify didn’t kill music. COVID won’t kill music. The well-honed creativity that writes the songs and plays the songs, is the same creativity that drives the industry to adapt and overcome. We each have this gift inside.

In 2015, during a concert in Sweden, Dave Grohl, the frontman of Foo Fighters, and former Nirvana drummer, got so carried away in his performance that he fell off the stage and broke his leg. Despite this, he finished the set in a chair with a paramedic holding his ankle in place and finally went to the hospital when the show was over. At the hospital, Grohl sketched an outrageous rock and roll throne set atop a massive speaker with guitar necks fanning out from the sides. He was determined to keep performing as the King of Rock. Two weeks later in Washington D.C., Grohl held court at the Foo Fighters’ 20th anniversary show, sat front and center in a giant prescription drug induced chair his road crew made so that the show could go on.


Surprisingly this throne hasn't been mothballed. After Grohl was healed it was borrowed by Axl Rose for the Guns N Roses world tour in 2016. Rose had fractured his foot during rehearsal of the reunion tour. It was his turn to reign as the king. Then in 2019, Matthew Ramsey, guitarist for country band, Old Dominion needed leg surgery for an old injury. Determined to continue with the bands, "Make It Sweet Tour," the throne went back to work. Ramsey said, “So many jokes were thrown around about using Dave Grohl’s throne, finally we just decided to ask and see what happened. I’m sure Dave didn’t know that when he created this thing, everyone would want to use it. But, it has been an honor to sit on, and more importantly, it’s allowing us to keep the show on the road. Our fans are truly grateful. We owe him big for that.”


But even the King of Rock couldn’t keep the tour going after Coronavirus hit. The Foo Fighters had to cancel their 2020 shows like the rest of the industry and he found himself separated from his fans and the passion he loved. Like many artists, he used that time to work on a new record. And then, as if the rock gods themselves threw a merciful bolt of pure joy from the heavens, along came 10-year-old Nandi Bushell. Nandi had posted YouTube videos of herself playing drums for several years but in the fall of 2020 she took it up a notch and challenged Grohl to a virtual drum battle. Word got to Grohl and the video volley began, each time each musician upping the ante from cover song to cover song until each finally wrote a song for the other.


In an interview with the New York Times late last year, Grohl said of the experience, “What I realized was more than any sort of technical contest, this was something that was bringing people a lot of joy at a time where everyone could use a little bit. It actually changed the way I look at what my band does in this time.”

The connection to millions of fans was made despite all of us being separated, and the stage was set for launching the new Foo Fighters album.


Over the past several years I’ve interviewed artists, producers and managers for my book, Two Beats Ahead: What Musical Minds Teach Us About Innovation. While Grohl’s story of resilience is exceptional, it’s certainly not the exception. I’ve learned first hand that musicians, and the music industry, are role models for reinvention. Sometimes this constant change is a choice. Think: Miles Davis, David Bowie, or Lady GaGa. And sometimes the change is forced upon us. Think Gloria Estefan’s bus accident or Dave Grohl breaking his leg. Or perhaps you’re thinking of yourself during this pandemic. Whatever your mental model, I’m certain it’s a story of trial and success. Why? Because that has been the story of this industry.


CDs didn’t kill music. Naptster didn’t kill music. Spotify didn’t kill music. COVID won’t kill music. The well-honed creativity that writes the songs and plays the songs, is the same creativity that drives the industry to adapt and overcome. We each have this gift inside.


I began teaching a course about this idea at Berklee College of Music in 2015. The course had its own long and winding road, but eventually it got to a point where I and my co-author wanted to share it beyond Berklee. Two Beats Ahead is about helping musicians -- helping everyone -- develop the vocabulary and mindsets to apply their artistic creativity to any endeavor in their life. I’m pretty sure Dave Grohl doesn’t need to read this book. But for the rest of us that don’t sit on a rock god throne, it may be just the read you need to encourage you to hang in there and press on.

Two Beats Ahead shows us what the musical mind has to teach about innovation. We speak with Desmond Child about the importance of demoing and Jimmy Iovine about listening and knowing your audience. We share collaboration tips from Beyoncé and Pharrell. We talk to Justin Timberlake about “daring to suck.” We talk about the value of producing talent with T Bone Burnett and Hank Shocklee. This book equips any entrepreneur or innovative thinking with mindsets they can put into practices to thrive in this dynamic world.


About The Author:


Michael Hendrix is a designer, author and musician. His gigs include Global Design Director at IDEO, professor at Berklee College of Music, co-founder of the Open Music Initiative, and co-author of TWO BEATS AHEAD—What Musical Minds Teach Us About Innovation.

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