LEADING A CREATIVE BUSINESS:

LESSONS FROM EURYTHMICS CO-FOUNDER DAVE STEWART

 


 

By Ruth Blatt from Forbes

When Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox formed Eurythmics in 1981, they tried to prevent the interpersonal problems that had torn apart their previous band, The Tourists. They were also penniless.

Undeterred, Stewart walked into a bank and convinced the manager to grant them a loan of 7,000 pounds to start a business that they called D&A, for Dave and Annie. To realize their musical aspirations, they became entrepreneurs.

“When Annie and I decided to be a duo, Eurythmics, there was nobody else,” Stewart told me. “So I had to learn everything from how to record yourself, how to manage yourself to how to get a bank to give you money to buy equipment to make a record. Everything that an entrepreneur has to do for a start-up business I had to do for Eurythmics.” Since then, Stewart has infused all of his endeavors with business practices.

Such as a mission statement.

 

“Annie and I actually wrote a manifesto on the wall of the little tiny loft in a picture-framing factory where we were recording,” he said. “We separated likes and don’t likes or dos and don’ts, everything from music to how to present what we were doing. As soon as you do that, you’ve made yourself a path that you can follow.” They wanted to become successful on their terms, but to do that they had to define what those terms would be.

On the mission statement were their influences: Motown soul and European electronic music, two seemingly disparate musical traditions that, when combined, gave Eurythmics their unique sound. “It really is what ‘Sweet Dreams’ is, right? It’s electronic music with soul on top,” Stewart said.

Also on the manifesto was their commitment to an image and work ethic inspired by the British artists Gilbert & George. “They always worked together every day in the exactly the same suits and went to work as artists,” Stewart said, “They treated art like a job.” Dave & Annie spent part of their seed money on matching suits.

They may have taken a bank loan and wore suits to work, but Stewart and Lennox’s songs, their image and their videos were unlike anything the pop world had seen before. “My way of being an entrepreneur since 1981 is to be unique,” he said. “To look down the other end of the telescope and invent things.”

Stewart is a guitar player. But in Eurythmics he tackled keyboards. When Eurythmics ended, Stewart turned to other arenas. He took up photography and film, making a movie, Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads. “Once you’ve jumped off the cliff, you just dive into the unknown. It’s not so scary as you think.” Being an outsider let him identify gaps and opportunities in other disciplines that insiders didn’t see. “Things go flying by and people don’t see because they’re looking in this corridor of their own perception of how and who and they should be,” he said. “If you open the lens, then you see other things on the periphery.”

In the decades since then, Stewart has embarked on numerous artistic and business endeavors. Those include a management company, film production, a bank for artists, a members’ club for people in creative industries, and a company that connects artists with brands. He has also co-authored a business book, The Business Playground, with Mark Simmons, giving advice to business leaders on how to think more creatively.

With each new endeavor, he hires like an entrepreneur, surrounding himself with people who are experts in their domains and who can provide the knowledge he lacks about the new discipline. “I do the same trick as most entrepreneurs. I employee people who are much better than I am at doing what they do,” Stewart said, “rather than employing people who are yes men.”

Stewart thinks more artists should think like entrepreneurs. He coaches young artists in the concept of “sponsorability,” a play on “responsibility.” “Every brand has sponsorability,” said Stewart. “If the band Oasis at the very beginning had gone to the fish and chips shop and said ‘Hey will you sponsor us for a thousand pounds to make some demos to be our first tracks for Oasis?’ They’ve been the most famous fish and chips shop in the world.” Partnering with businesses can provide the funding that record labels used to provide to get new acts off the ground. “Is Ben and Jerry’s worse than EMI? It’s a business and EMI’s a business that used to make rockets and scud missiles and televisions,” he said. “All around us are possible connections between creatives and small businesses. I think that’s going to help get the creative world of back on track.”

At the same time, businesses can turn to creative people to help them succeed. At talenthouse.com, businesses pair up with artists to use their skills in ways that enhance their brands. Whether it’s a poster, a remix, or a shoe design, brands go to Talenthouse to bring in vibrancy and create a buzz around their products. The Hospital Club, a members club Stewart founded with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, provides numerous opportunities for creatives and technologists to interact, learn from each other and collaborate.

In the new era of blurred boundaries between art, science and commerce, these kinds of physical and virtual meeting places nurture businesses in which creativity is alive.