Grateful Dead is an iconic rock band. They retained their popularity over three decades (till their talisman, Jerry Garcia died in 1995) and beyond. I am a rock aficionado and while Grateful Dead are not in my top 10 (and many DeadHeads rib me about that), there is no denying that Grateful Dead have, possibly, the most RABID set of followers of any band.
For those of you NOT aware of the Grateful Dead – and that’s a pity (!) – the band was formed in 1965 in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is very difficult to classify their music – it was a fusion of different genres of music and evolved over the thirty years of their existence. They were also masters of improvisation.
So what were the reasons for their longevity?
1. Obviously, a great product.
Their music was like no other, blending different genres into a sound that was uniquely Grateful Dead. More importantly, their live performances were brilliant based on a great deal of improvisation.
2. Die hard fans.
Their live acts were elaborate parties. Initially, they played in Ken Kesey and his Acid Tests where people listened to their music while dropping acid. The fans actively participated in the live shows and these shows became a uniquely collective experience. Overtime, the dedicated fans came to be called DeadHeads.
3. Bootleg Music.
Unlike most other bands, Grateful Dead encouraged fans to record their live performances; this led to a flourishing bootleg business where fan would share their Dead music with others. The fan base grew.
4. Merchandising Millions.
Hal Kart, their principal lawyer and general counsel – also called the ‘Czar’ – ensured that the band retained its intellectual property and merchandising rights. He also ensured that, unlike other bands, the Grateful Dead retained ownership of music masters and publishing rights. They made millions on these. The merchandising was unique and became collectibles.
In short, a great product and experience, a set of rabid consumers and some smart control and marketing created an almost mystical band that has endured. A lot can be learned from icons like the Grateful Dead, Harley Davidson, Apple and other such brands that people would just ‘die’ for.