Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk is a fearless leader. With a tank full of rocket fuel and an electrifying personality, these are many lessons musicians can follow from the self-proclaimed "Technoking of Tesla."
Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Musk was born to be an entrepreneur. He developed and sold his first video game, Blastar, at the age of 12. Musk became infatuated by inventions and innovation so much that his parents and doctors ordered hearing tests. He went on to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in economics and physics and then moved to California to pursue a Ph.D in energy physics, but dropped out to catch a wave during the internet boom.
Alongside his brother Kimbal, Musk in 1995 co-founded Zip2 Corporation, an online city guide providing content for The New York Times and Chicago Tribune. After selling the company for $307 million cash and $34 million in stock options, Musk then launched X.com, an online payment system. The enterprise eventually merged with Confinity and changed its name to PayPal.
Musk’s success hasn’t come easy. Through his leadership, successes, failures, and optimism, we’ve learned that persistence and tenacity—among other traits—are key.
Here are five important lessons the music industry should follow from Musk.
One of the most difficult things to do as a business owner and leader is to persist, especially when the going gets tough. Many will try to knock you down, discredit you, and tell everyone why you’re wrong. But you’re the expert, and others don’t like seeing you succeed. After all, pioneers get arrows in the back.
This has been a commonality for Musk, as he has been pushed out as CEO on numerous occasions and had to step down as the chairman of Tesla after he settled with the SEC. He was also removed as CEO from Zip2 Corporation and PayPal shortly after X.com merged with Confinity.
SpaceX and Tesla were on the verge of bankruptcy (he gave them a probability of less than 10% to succeed), but he persisted and rose above the ashes to see it through because he knew the importance of each company’s mission for the greater good of humankind. Musk consistently had financial and business experts doubt him and question whether or not he was the right leader.
The music industry has long been behind on technology. Artists continuously battle the corporations that dictate their livelihoods. Creators deep within get caught up in the game of numbers and oftentimes allow themselves to get taken advantage of by others who will happily take advantage of them.
These bouts of failure and reluctance aren't handed to artists who can’t handle it. These little slivers of your career should be taken as a hard lesson and learned from in order to move forward. Musicians are one of the strongest and most diligent type of professionals across any industry.
A person's leadership style is defined by "how they lead themselves and their team," according to Leaders.com. "In total, there are seven different ones: democratic leadership, autocratic leadership, transformational leadership, transactional leadership, laissez-faire leadership, charismatic leadership, and servant leadership. While a person can show traits in all of the leadership styles, one leadership style is usually more dominant than the others."
Musk falls into the category of transformational leadership. This type of leadership is when the leader lays out a clear path of how they want to change a particular problem. Then they rally people who align with their goals and work towards them as a unit.
“Really, the only thing that makes sense is to strive for greater collective enlightenment," Musk has been quoted.
Other experts and executives who fall into this category of leadership, according to Leaders.com, are Steve Jobs (Apple), Reed Hastings (Netflix), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Brian Chesky (Airbnb).
Music professionals are often in charge of their own or others’ careers. Artist managers oversee just about everything, from social media posts to tours to music releases. Tour managers oversee the operations of an artist or band’s tour. And the artist sometimes operates as their own manager, tour manager, and sync agent, among other functions.
The all-in approach has its pros and cons, but you’ll have to quickly learn how to work with other professionals within ancillary spaces, such as graphic design and marketing. Like Musk, laying the groundwork and seeing a project all the way through is a difficult skill to master. But the rewards are endless if done right.
2021 was highlighted by the success stories of artists and brands exploring the metaverse and NFTs, such as 3LAU, Beeple, and Sensorium Galaxy.
3LAU shattered records in 2021 with the sale of 33 NFTs for $11 million. He’s also been making strides with his new venture Royal, an innovative company that allows fans to purchase streaming rights for artists’ music and earn a portion of the royalties.
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Renowned, genre-bending visual artist Beeple sold a collection of art for a jaw-dropping $69 million, shocking the entire music industry as well as visual artists alike.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sensorium Galaxy is changing the way people interact with virtual entertainment by utilizing technology that can take musicians and fans to otherworldly digital environments to completely re-envision what events can be in VR.
This type of forward-thinking, technological mindset is vital for the advancement of the music industry. Without it, artists get the short end of the stick and fans begin to question why their favorite artists aren’t providing them with community-building opportunities.
When Musk set out to revolutionize the automotive industry with Tesla their goal was to inspire and encourage and educate others about the transition to sustainable energy. He has done a great job, and has sparked a global interest with little spent on marketing. When the Gigafactory in Berlin opened, Musk hosted a rave on the top of the building.
“Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport,” reads a 2014 blog post published by the company. "If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal."
Musk is also no stranger to public outcry because of his controversial tweets or comments on various topics. While he remains focused on his missions, the public oftentimes become biased and are quick to point out his flaws and failures.
Musk has been overly optimistic about Tesla’s Full Self-Driving functionality. He recently announced that the price of Full Self-Driving will be going up to $12,000 and has continually over-promised and under-delivered about the over-the-air updates, which has led numerous customers to become frustrated with him and Tesla. Highly intelligent people have numerous endeavors, and Musk is certainly no exception.
He isn’t just an engineer and meme lord—he’s a dance music producer too. His track, “Don’t Doubt Ur Vibe,” was released in 2020 and broke the top 10 on the platform's charts. The electronic music community went berserk after he released the song.
Before his highly publicized breakup with Canadian art-pop musician Grimes, Musk called out digital streaming platforms like Apple Music and Spotify on their low royalty payout rates. Such low payout rates are continuously being battled and fought amongst artists, record labels, and songwriters in courts and on social media. Artists struggle to survive—and are even considering leaving the music industry—on the royalties they’ve earned while the digital service providers thrive.
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor," Musk said.
Artists who stand strong alongside issues they take to heart become more relatable and personable to fans. It's one of the many reasons activism is so important today.
Standing firm on a particular topic or issue to later be proven wrong is a tough pill to swallow. But that is a commonality in the music business. With so many facets of music continuously changing, it would be unreasonable for artists to know everything about everything.
That’s why it’s vital to keep an open mind as you venture through your career as a musician.
Just days after Tesla hosted their “AI Day,” Musk tweeted that Full Self-Driving was “not great.” “FSD Beta 9.2 is actually not great [in my opinion], but Autopilot/AI team is rallying to improve as fast as possible,” his full statement read.
He then added, “Just drove FSD Beta 9.3 from Pasadena to LAX. Much improved!”
Tesla also settled for $1.5 million with customers for throttling the range of its Model S vehicles. “If we are wrong, we are wrong,” Musk stated at the time. “In this case, we were.”
Musk hosted Saturday Night Live back in May 2021 and made numerous jokes at his own expense, starting with his monotonous speaking style. He went on to state that he was the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL, “or at least the first person to admit it.”
Many critics objected to Musk hosting the show, and to that Musk responded: “To anyone who’s been offended, I just want to say I reinvented electric cars, and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?”
As musicians’ careers continue to grow and expand within their market, humility will become increasingly more important. Receiving feedback with an open mind and not pushing it away with an “I’m always right” attitude will garner many more opportunities for your career.