The P&L of the Beast: Four Business Lessons From Heavy Metal

I love metal. There’s something about the raw energy and the intensity that gets me going. I also enjoy the fun of rolling down the windows of my Prius with Slayer blaring at full volume. Especially at stoplights. In age-restricted neighborhoods. At 3 am.

But besides being an asshat, I also have other interests. Like business management, for example. I love taking a big picture goal and breaking it down into actionable tasks, and rallying the team to get those tasks done. I love turning behaviors into results. I love creating relationships, leveraging relationships for mutual benefit, and celebrating those wins.387971322_35b471aa3c_o

I think it’s not an accident that I like the music of angry marginalized folks, and the sport of the capitalist elite. They have a lot in common, believe it or not. So, I give you…Four business lessons from the brutal world of METAL!!!

1. Be precise. If you can’t be precise, be overpowering. But it’s better to be precise AND overpowering.

When you listen to metal, you’ll notice one of three things: the musicians are either incredibly technically precise, they are very distorted and loud, or ideally, both.

Technical precision is a big part of business. You’re paid to deliver exactly correct results, 100% on time. No one wants to listen to your garage band sloppily playing Smells Like Teen Spirit, except your mom. And she doesn’t actually want to listen, either, she just feels obligated.

Likewise, no customer wants to get inconsistent product from your business. Your boss doesn’t want things 30 minutes late, she wants them now. And don’t assume because they’re still buying from you, they’re happy about it. They may be actively shopping for your replacement.   Do exactly what you’re paid to do, when you’re paid to do it. You’re a pro, man. Play like one.

But when you can’t play as precisely as you should, overdeliver. Turn it up to 11 and crush everything in your path. That could mean pulling an all-nighter. It could mean rallying your troops with a bonus plan you pay for out of your bonus. It could mean flying to a meeting to be there in person when you could have done it via skype. Different jobs and different industries define “overdeliver” as different things. But the key is do significantly more, significantly more intensely, than would otherwise be expected.

But whenever possible, be technically precise AND overdeliver. Practice until you can’t get it wrong, turn your amps up as loud as they go, and be better AND louder than everyone else.

2. Don’t give a shit about what the masses say. Just be you. (Within accepted parameters).

One of my favorite things about metal is that the bands straight up do not care about what you think about how they look, their style, their sound, or their subject matter. Okay, that’s an overstatement…they don’t care about what you think, but they do care about what some people think, namely, their fans and occasionally, their label.

Want to crank out some angry yet melodic Viking tunes? Why not.

Want to write songs about serial killers, war and other scary stuff? You got it.

Want to sing love songs to Satan while wearing a pope costume? Sure. You might even win a Grammy!

Metal bands are unapologetically themselves…because being themselves gives them authenticity with their audiences, which breeds fierce loyalty.   Of course, if it wasn’t also monetarily viable (i.e. if their label didn’t make money off of them being themselves), that wouldn’t fly.

So it is in business. It absolutely pays to be yourself…as long as being yourself is monetarily viable for you and your bosses. In a world full of lame, cookie-cutter people (and music), find an environment where it’s economically wise to be you, then be you to the nth degree. Authenticity pays dividends in loyalty, which pays literal dividends in money.

3. Connect with your audience at a level most people won’t.

One really cool thing about the metal world is that the musicians are generally more accessible than other genres. It’s not uncommon for metal musicians to directly reply to tweets, to hang out with fans after shows, or to even jump directly into the pit at their concerts. Part of it is that the stars are fans, too, and they like mixing it up with people who like their work. But another part of it is that creating authentic connections with their fans deepens the loyalty of those fans. When fans feel like they kind of know the guys in the band, they’re more likely to buy merchandise or to see a second show on the same tour. And it works beyond the one-to-one…it creates a reputation of being cool, accessible, and down-to-earth…all of which equates to dollars, in the end.

As a person engaged in any kind of business, you have internal and external customers. Internal customers are the people in the company you owe deliverables to: your boss, your subordinates, people in other departments, whatever. External customers are the people who buy whatever it is your company makes. Get to know as many of them as you can, as well as you can. The more authentic relationships you can create, the better your reputation will be, and the more effective you will be.  So go jump in the middle of the accounting department’s cubicle farm and break some shit!*

4. If you’re not scaring a few moms, you’re not edgy enough.

 I remember when I was maybe 16 or so, I sat in my room one evening and played the opening riff/theme to the song “Black Sabbath”. I played with the distortion, the volume, the knobs on my guitar I wasn’t sure about, and played it over and over and over. Finally, my mother came into my room and asked, “Can you play something a little less Satanic-sounding?”

Of course, that only prompted more of the same…because scaring your mom is half the reason you like metal at 16.

In your job, be bold. Be edgy. Become a legend. It’s cliché to say, “think outside the box,” so I’ll say think like Ozzy. Piss on a sacred shrine…or if you accidentally do so, let the rumor stir anyway. Okay, maybe you shouldn’t literally urinate on the Alamo, but I’ll bet you there are some sacred “no-nos” at your job that you can and should metaphorically piss on for a major payoff. Bite the head off of a bat…and even if it was kind of on accident, let the rumor live on. Okay, maybe you shouldn’t do that to that extreme, but is there something you’ve been holding back on doing because of unspoken political rules at your office? You might get rabies, but you might also become a legend.

Do things that freak people out a little, and grow your legendary status. If you’re not doing things that occasionally scare your mom, you’re not doing business right. Step it up, dude.

Bottom line – you can almost certainly benefit from an infusion of metal badassery in your work. Be technically more proficient and louder and more powerful than everyone else. Be unapologetically you. Connect deeply with your internal and external customers, and be a fan of the stuff you do just like they are. And scare the hell out of your mom every now and again.


* This is hyperbole and metaphor. You should not literally jump on anyone from accounting, because the HR folks will, in turn, rain blood upon your rotting corpse (or just fire you, whichever is more culturally relevant in your organization).

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