There is no doubt that rock stars can be creative entrepreneurs, just like entrepreneurs can be creative rock stars. One would say that it’s a far stretch to call Kurt Cobain, from the grudge rock band Nirvana, an entrepreneur. After all, he got buried by fame he ultimately took his own life to escape the pressure. The success of the album “Nevermind” was an accident of creativity by puck rockers who took the alternative rock music world by storm. Kurt Cobain was an average happy kid, who lived in Aberdeen, Washington.
Kurt’s aunt and uncle were both in the music field. Kurt’s uncle Chuck Fradenburg starred in a band called The Beachcombers. His Aunt Mari Earle played guitar and performed in bands. Kurt was also a very gifted artist at a young age. At age seven, Cobain’s parents had a divorce that had a profound effect on his life. The happy loving child became defiant and withdrawn. Kurt’s mother granted full custody to his father. Kurt quickly became a rebellious teen; his father passed him along to family and friends. During his sophomore year in high school, Cobain began living with his mother in Aberdeen.
Two week until graduation, Cobain dropped out after realizing he did not have enough credits to graduate. In high school, Nirvana started; that’s when Kurt Cobain started his journey of entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur is successful because his passion for an outcome leads him to organize available resources in new and more valuable ways. That is what Kurt Cobain did. He was going be a rock star. He didn’t want to be like all the other hair bands at the time. Ironically, Nirvana’s success quickly knocked the hair bands off commercial radio. The innovative mix of punk, pop hooks and 70? guitar rock allowed Nirvana to change the face of popular music forever. And even though it’s likely they never imagined how big it would get. Take a look at the three elements that propelled Nirvana to the top of the charts. To innovate in epic ways, the first step is to rebel against the status quo of the industry or community you belong to. In Nirvana’s case, the music scenes in Seattle and Olympia, Washington, were notoriously anti-commercial. Nirvana’s indie debut Bleach showed promise, but that abrasive, relatively unstructured noise rock was considered “acceptable” to the Pacific Northwest music scene.
Cobain wanted to create hybrid songs with pop elements—along the lines of the Pixies—but met resistance from the community and even from Sub Pop, the label he’d worshiped such a short time ago. So Nirvana made the heretical move of signing with a major label, releasing Nevermind with Geffen. Once Smells Like Teen Spirit broke through, the grunge gold rush began, and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains crossed over onto mainstream radio next. Cobain was a leader, not a follower. Most of the songs on Nevermind were written before the band went into the studio.
While the music is no way conventional, the tracks possess catchy hooks that are psychologically pleasing. In other words, Cobain’s desire to add pop hooks to punk compositions is a classic way to “organize available resources in new and more valuable ways. ” This is creative entrepreneurism at its finest, and Cobain got the rock star outcome he hoped for (be careful what you wish for, etc. ). The band chose producer Butch Vig, whose work with Sonic Youth Cobain admired, and selected Andy Wallace to mix the album.
The group walked a fine line by combining polished production with punk aesthetics, and they nailed it (even though Cobain complained years later that Nevermind was too polished). When Nirvana signed with Geffen Records, they got a tried-and-true marketing machine. Radio promotion and retail positioning had been boiled down to a science in the days before digital distribution turned music marketing on its head. The selection and release of singles was classic record-label strategy. Smells Like Teen Spirit would go first, which would introduce the band to radio listeners, DJs, and programming directors.
This would pave the way for Come as You Are, which would be the more likely hit. That’s where the plan fell apart. To say Smells Like Teen Spirit did better than expected is a monumental understatement. A song recorded in three takes with lyrics penned minutes before turned Cobain into the reluctant voice of Generation X. Geffen hoped that Nevermind would sell at least 250,000 copies, which is what the Vig-produced Sonic Youth album sold The selection and release of singles was classic record-label strategy.
Smells Like Teen Spirit would go first, which would introduce the band to radio listeners, DJs, and programming directors. This would pave the way for Come as You Are, which would be the more likely hit. That’s where the plan fell apart. To say Smells Like Teen Spirit did better than expected is a monumental understatement. A song recorded in three takes with lyrics penned minutes before turned Cobain into the reluctant voice of Generation X. Geffen hoped that Nevermind would sell at least 250,000 copies, which is what the Vig-produced Sonic Youth album sold.
Nevermind has sold over 10,000,000 copies to date, and is critically-regarded as one of the best rock albums in history, just as Smells Like Teen Spirit is considered one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded. In conclusion Kurt Cobain can definitely teach us things about starting our own business, whether big or small. He taught us; be a leader, not a follower. You’ll certainly annoy the status quo, but only until you’re reaping the rewards of the innovative pioneer, this is the fine line all creative entrepreneurs walk.
Ignore market desire and human psychology, and you fail. Diminish the innovative elements that set you apart, and you become another unremarkable “me too” effort, and these days, creative entrepreneurs of all stripes can use the Internet to spark their own viral success stories by creating remarkable products and services. Home runs like Nevermind are rare and unexpected, so you still need a smart marketing plan. Just know when to “get out of the way and duck” when the audience decides to market for you. Kurt Cobain was a great entrepreneur.