The rise and fall and rise again of the metal band Twisted Sister is a legend-worthy story in the rock music industry. But when the lights go down and the amplifiers go silent, there’s also an unexpected business tale from which any entrepreneur can learn a few lessons.
Twisted Sister is perhaps best known for the persona of frontman Dee Snider and classic hits like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock.”
But guitarist/manager Jay Jay French, who founded the band, killed it, and helped bring it back to life, deserves much of the credit for the world-famous brand behind the band that toured this year for the final time.
But success hasn’t come easily.
French and I have been friends since meeting at a conference several years ago, and we’ve since shared the stage as keynote speakers to business audiences–and as guitar players at a couple of jam sessions, too. I’ve learned countless life and business lessons from this rock-star leader. Here are five (of many) things French would tell you to do to become a platinum-record entrepreneur in your own right:
1. Play to your strengths
Innovation is great, but it’s also important to stay true to your core business. Twisted Sister is a “classic” metal band, so audiences flock to see them play their original songs. “We are frozen in freaking time,” French says.
That’s why it’s important to play those songs with energy, even after more than 9,000 shows.
“Not only do I play ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,'” he says, “I play it with passion.”
2. Share the stage
Be sure to acknowledge the contribution others make to your success. When French tells the story of the band, he’s quick to credit former lead singer Michael Valentine with coming up with the name–even though Valentine doesn’t remember suggesting it.
“Success is easy if you don’t mind who takes the credit,” French says. “I don’t have the need to tell you that I’m the genius who created it all.”
3. Act in the face of rejection
Be prepared to hear “no” over and over again–and do what you need to do anyway.
Twisted Sister is a story of perseverance. It took them more than 10 years to secure a record contract. And then the head of their label disliked them so much that he refused to help promote them in America.
So Twisted went on tour with virtually no support from the label and personally sold more than 100,000 albums in a year.
That same executive who had hated them admitted he was wrong and then featured the band as one of the first acts on a little upstart channel called MTV.
Their video of “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” help launch the band–and the channel–into the stratosphere.
By 1985 they were the 3rd biggest band in the world.
4. Be willing to blow things up
If you start to have a personal conflict or moral dilemma with your own business, you should consider scrapping the whole thing.
When it became clear the band no longer was on the right track–the flaring of individual egos, band members fighting, that kind of thing–French chose what he calls the “nuclear option” and blew the enterprise to smithereens.
Ending the band meant certain bankruptcy for him. Needing money to survive, he took a job installing stereo systems rather than making the music to play on them. That was OK with French, who lost everything but his rights to the band’s name.
He says he had to do it in order to live a life of integrity. He had to create “chaos” to recreate “order.”
5. Play for the love
For French, it comes back to loving what you do.
He never intended to put the band back together, but things changed after 9/11. By then, he and frontman Snider had worked out their differences and forgiven each other for things in their past.
So when the band was asked to play at a post-9/11 fundraiser, they agreed. Before long, they began appearing at select heavy metal festivals and drawing crowds of 70,000 or more.
It worked only because they healed their wounds and rediscovered the passion and commitment that allowed them to live up to the band’s reputation.
Now, after 40 years, at the zenith of their career, with a new DVD hitting #1 on the Billboard charts and a wildly popular documentary about the band streaming profusely from the entertainment services, Twisted Sister is calling it quits.
This time, however, French and the boys are leaving a legacy of lessons for all of us to apply to our own businesses and beyond.
Makes you wanna rock, doesn’t it?
[This post was originally published on my weekly column at Inc.com]