8 Business Lessons Learned from Paul McCartney

Last Friday night, I watched Paul McCartney play the first rock concert ever at Seattle’s Safeco Field.  He put on an incredible performance (which is reviewed here and here).  As I reflect back on the event, I recognize some core lessons for any business.

1.     Give customers what they want

Most of the concert consisted of Beatles favorites, satisfying the desires of the audience.  After, opening with Eight Days a Week, McCartney played dozens of classics, including Let It Be, The Long and Winding Road, Hey Jude, and Yesterday. In addition, he played several hit songs from Wings, including Live and Let Die and Band on the Run.

Video – Eight Days a Week

Video – Yesterday

Video – Let It Be

[The complete set list is here.]

Often, veteran artists want to veer away from the songs that made them famous and, instead, focus on their new material.  Frequently, that alienates the fans who bought their concert tickets to hear the songs they fell in love with.

Lesson: If your customers love something you offer, continue to give it to them.

2.     Stay current and relevant

The technology for this concert was impressive.  Massive video screens stood to the left and right of the stage showing, with exceptional quality, close-ups of the performance mixed with creative animations and archival photos and videos.  The pyrotechnics during Live and Let Die were incredible to see!

Video – Live and Let Die

Lesson: Adapt and modernize your offerings.

Big picture, with screens

3.     Celebrate your achievements without boasting

The Beatles, of course, were influential far beyond creating music.  McCartney told a story (which is also portrayed at The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool) of a meeting with the Soviet Union’s Defense Minister, after the Beatles played the first rock concert in Red Square.  The Defense Minister commented “We learn English listening to Beatles records.  Hello, Goodbye!”

The story was told with a very matter-of-act delivery, without a hint of ego or boasting.  McCartney was comfortable with the global importance the Beatles had achieved, acknowledging the impact with this anecdote, without conceit or arrogance.

Lesson: Claim credit for your accomplishments when it’s justified, but don’t falsify or exaggerate them.

4.     Deliver a surprise

During McCartney’s second encore, he welcomed the surviving members of Nirvana (Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, along with Pat Smear) to the stage.  Together, they played Cut Me Some Slack (a new song they had recorded together last year) followed by several Beatles songs, including Helter Skelter and Get Back.  It was the first time the Nirvana alumni had performed together in Seattle in more than 15 years.  [Details of this part of the concert and the “Sir-vana” partnership can be found here and here.]

Video with Nirvana – Helter Skelter

Video with Nirvana – Get Back

Lesson: Even when your customers know what to expect and are getting it, it’s valuable to surprise them with something completely unexpected.

With Nirvana


5.     Personalize and localize the experience

Lots of artists give lip service to this, inserting a “Hello, Seattle!” greeting early in their event and McCartney followed that convention.  However, he went further (and, therefore, seemed more sincere).  He acknowledged the historic nature of the “first concert ever” at Safeco Field.  In addition, he celebrated Nirvana’s local Seattle connection when he introduced them.  Finally, he played a tribute to the legendary guitarist (and Seattle native) Jimi Hendrix.  He followed that with a funny story of Hendrix playing a song from the Sgt Pepper album (two days after its release) and then calling out to the audience to ask Eric Clapton to tune his guitar for him.

Video – Tribute to Hendrix

Lesson: Understand what’s unique and personal about your customer and build an experience to match.

6.     Show gratitude and respect

The concert featured two separate memorial tributes recognizing John Lennon and George Harrison.  In spite of whatever differences McCartney may have had with each of them, his affection for them and his celebration of their accomplishments were genuine.  The recognition was accompanied by video montages, followed by songs specifically associated with John and George.

Lesson: No one, no matter how talented, achieves success alone.  Acknowledge and thank those who help you.

7.     Give people their money’s worth

On this tour, McCartney and his band have consistently played two hour sets (or longer).  Fans across the country have been thrilled with the thorough coverage of the Beatles (and Wings) song catalog.  With the Nirvana guests added in, the Seattle concert was nearly three hours long – quite an endurance achievement for the 71 year old McCartney.

Lesson: Provide value to your customers – exceed their expectations whenever possible.

8.     Enjoy yourself

Several times throughout the concert, McCartney paused and addressed the crowd with comments like “I knew we were going to have a good time!”  He proudly acknowledged the historical nature of playing the first rock concert ever at Safeco Field.  Once, as the nearly full moon rose over the stadium, he stopped to admire it, commenting on its splendor.   For the entire evening, his delight and excitement were infectious.

Lesson: If you have fun, your customers will sense it and will share your joy.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

You can find learning opportunities in every experience.

Pre concert-SDO     Scoreboard-SDO



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