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Interview: Seth Godin On Tribes, Heretics & Music

Tribes Part 1 of 2:  Marketing guru Seth Godin is a prolific author (Permission Marketing, The Purple Cow and more) and the world's most read business blogger. His new book Tribes was not written about music or the music industry per se, but Godin is an enthusiastic fan and along the way offers important direction for both artists who care about their fans and a music industry in search of new ideas and leaders. 

Q: Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us" explores the power of committed groups and the need for people to lead them. Do you see fans as a tribes and artists as leaders?

Seth_godin GODIN: I think that when it works, that's exactly what is happening. Bob Dylan led a tribe. It's not clear that Rhiannon does. Artists of all stripes can entertain us, certainly, but when you create a movement, things change, a new force appears and the world becomes different.

Q: Not every artist feels comfortable as a leader.  What is the cost of avoiding leadership or can someone else lead their Tribe for them?

GODIN: I think being uncomfortable leading in the traditional sense is quite common. Your opinion on the financial crisis, or on gay marriage may be something you don't want to share. But if you're not willing to lead ARTISTICALLY...

, not willing to stand for something in your art, and go somewhere, and bring people with you, I'd argue you're not really an artist, you're an entertainer. Which is fine, but it's something different.

Q. Fans sometimes reject artists as sellouts when they become popular.  Is the notion of controlling a Tribe naïve or do they have a mind of their own?

Bill_monroe GODIN: You can't control a tribe, but you can definitely work to limit its size, to create insiders and outsiders, to engage or disengage in ways that influence what happens next. Talking Heads sold out, no doubt about it, but the new tribe was a tribe they enjoyed being with, even if it meant disillusioning the old tribe. On the other hand, Bill Monroe never 'sold out'. Bill Monroe organically grew his tribe, and while there were old-timers and newbies, the essence of the tribe was the same.

Q. Using the music business’s reaction to the digital age as an example of the dangers of a “persistent and resistant” status quo, you write, “Industries don’t die by surprise. It’s not as if you don’t know it’s coming…What’s missing is a leader (a heretic)…”.  How can music find its new leaders?  Do you have any favorite music industry heretics?

GODIN: I don't think music finds its leaders, I think leaders will find music. A smart organization can do all sorts of things to groom and anoint new leaders, but music is an industry, not just one organization.

The heretics in the music business range from Bob Lefsetz to individual artists like Kristen Hersh. The sad thing is that whenever the oligarchs in the music business encounter a heretic, they sue them, ignore them or work to undermine them.

Hypebot_faviconRead Part 2: Seth Godin On Music's Messy Future
RESOURCES: The Tribes Book on Squidoo.