What Your Business Can Learn from an Unexpected Duet
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we do business, and for many of us, we are coming out of lockdown wondering how we can ever get back to where we were in early March. Will we ever fully recover? Will we ever see “normal” again, let alone growth?
If you take the advice of Aerosmith, your answer should be an emphatic yes!
By the mid-1980s, Aerosmith was spending more time in rehab than in a recording studio. Their hits of the 1970s were long behind them and infighting and addiction had nearly ripped the band apart multiple times. The industry had pretty much written them off. Nobody expected a comeback from Aerosmith, let alone a comeback fueled by a hip-hop act.
Run DMC was part of the burgeoning rap scene in New York, but rap had yet to burst into the public eye in a major way. Rap was very much an American thing, and it was mostly confined to the bigger cities. Pop music still dominated mainstream culture. But that was all about to change.
The guys in Run DMC (Jam Master Jay, Joseph Simmons, and Darryl McDaniels) would often use a drum section from Aerosmith’s 1976 hit “Walk This Way,” freestyling rap lyrics over a loop of the drums. They didn’t know or care who Aerosmith was, but they loved the drumbeat. Producer Rick Rubin suggested that they do a cover version of “Walk This Way” using the actual lyrics from the original. At first, the guys weren’t into the idea, fearing it would diminish their hip-hop credibility. Rubin insisted, and eventually, the trio agreed to recreate the classic rock song in rap form.
And then Rubin took the idea to an entirely new level.
He reached out to Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith and invited them to perform the song with Run DMC. The two rockers agreed, and for the first time in history, a classic rock band and a hip-hop brand collaborated. The result was game-changing. Not only did the remake of “Walk This Way” peak higher on the charts than the original, but it also paved the way for huge success for both hip-hop music and Aerosmith.
After “Walk This Way,” rap music became a global phenomenon. It wasn’t just a song… it was a cultural breakthrough, spreading the hip-hop sound to a fresh new audience around the world. In Europe and Asia, and in small cities and towns across the USA, rap music was finding an entirely new fan base.
Meanwhile, the remake of “Walk This Way” forever altered Aerosmith’s career. Tyler and Perry, freshly sober and reinvigorated, reunited the band and embarked on the most prolific and profitable phase of their career. Their next album Permanent Vacation was a huge success, due in large part to the incredible exposure the band got from collaborating with a rap act. In the ten years before they worked with Run DMC, Aerosmith had just two top 10 hits. In the decade after “Walk This Way” was released, the band scored an astonishing 14 top 20 hits and sold millions upon millions of albums.
Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC frequently gives motivational talks to high school students, and he recounts the lesson he learned from opening his mind to working with Aerosmith. “Always be open to trying new ideas,” says McDaniels. “The next thing you try might not only change you, but it might change the world.”
For business owners emerging from a deep recession, Aerosmith and Run DMC illustrate several vital lessons:
1. Always be open to trying new ideas, even (especially!) if they scare the hell out of you.
2. Find people who aren’t anything like you to work with and learn from.
3. Lean on those around you for help tell your story to a new audience of potential customers.
4. Look back into your past, like Aerosmith did with “Walk This Way”, and learn from what made you successful before trouble hit.
5. Never, ever give up on your band. Even in the darkest times, your most prolific and profitable days could be just around the corner.
For more lessons of rock legends, contact us to book Steve for your next live or virtual event! You will love his rock star studio!
Steve Jones is a music-biz insider who will change the way you think about business, marketing, creativity, and customer service. As the author of two highly-acclaimed business books, Steve draws upon his 30 years in the music industry to demonstrate how the essential lessons of business can be learned from the bands, songs, and albums we love.