When Michael Jackson's family and fans gathered in the courtyard of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in earlier this year and used his shoes to create footprints in cement, it was the King of Pop's legacy as a music icon that took center stage.
Music, however, wasn't Jackson's only talent. He was a sharp and polished entrepreneur who knew his audience and who, up until his death in 2009, was constantly trying to improve his product and refine his brand.
Music writer and University of Rochester instructor Joe Vogel, author of the new book "Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson" (Sterling, 2011), says Jackson's evolution as an artist and a person went beyond his talents as a musician.
In an exclusive interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Vogel talks about Jackson's legacy as an entertainer, businessman and innovator and what lessons he offered all of us.
BusinessNewsDaily: Michael Jackson was clearly more than just talented and more than just lucky. He must have had some other quality — some entrepreneur-like quality — that helped him on his road to become the King of Pop. Can you describe it?
Joe Vogel: One of Michael Jackson's greatest qualities was his ability to envision something in his mind – something bold and different and innovative – and then have the willpower and work ethic to realize it. He was constantly challenging himself and those around him to push beyond the ordinary. He often had friends and collaborators read "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," a fable about refusing to conform and striving for excellence. You see, even with his "This Is It" concerts at the age of 50, he wouldn't accept mediocrity. He wanted the shows to be unlike anything people had experienced before.
Do you think his decision to constantly reinvent himself was a conscious one in an effort to always become something new and exciting for his audience, or do you think he just naturally evolved as he got older?
Michael Jackson understood that stagnation for an artist was death. He hated the idea of simply repeating formulas. So he was constantly transforming, re-inventing his image and style and sound, keeping people guessing and wanting more.
But there are also continuities to his image/persona: certain symbols, trademarks and qualities. He is perhaps the only artist who can be represented in five to 10 different poses in silhouette and people know exactly who it is. He was very deliberate about his choices. One thing he always feared was overexposure. He knew that the magical aura associated with him, the excitement could be retained only by withholding from his audience. So, for example, he would never do a whole circuit of TV performances and interviews to promote an album the way most artists do today. He would do one show, and the buildup to it would be incredible.
How do you think he would have described the Michael Jackson brand? What was he trying to sell?
I think Michael was a lot like Steve Jobs in that each new product — whether an album or video or single — was an event. There was all kinds of hype and anticipation. So the brand was about that excitement, because you knew whatever he was releasing was going to be cutting-edge, unique and of the highest quality.
Did he make good business decisions? What were some of his best and worst?
Michael made very good business decisions for the first 10-15 years of his adult career, and very bad ones in his final 10-15 years. His smartest decision was to not only retain the rights to his own master recordings (before him, there was a long history of exploitation in the music industry, particularly of African-American artists), but to also actively acquire other publishing rights, including the Beatles catalog.
His worst decisions came when he had a lot of money and not much consistency or oversight. His management, beginning in the early '90s, became a revolving door. He became vulnerable to extortion, exploitation and excessive spending because he no longer had a trustworthy, vigilant, dedicated team around him.
What could any business owner or entrepreneur learn from Michael Jackson?
I think the main thing an entrepreneur or business owner could learn from Michael Jackson is that doing something great requires both vision and work. Michael approached each new project with boundless passion, and that energy was infectious to collaborators. But what really impressed those who worked with him was that he could bring his ideas to fruition. He dreamed big and then worked tirelessly until his dreams came to life.
Jeanette Mulvey has been the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily since its debut in 2010. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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