Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rebel Marketing – The True Essence Of Van Halen


Last night Van Halen came to the Joe Louis Arena. It was the first time that lead singer David Lee Roth joined up with the band in the last 20 years. Ironically, the last time I saw Van Halen play was in 1984 at the D.C. Capital Center. So I reunited with the band as well. I never had any inclination to see the band with Sammy Hagar.

For me the true sound, intention and meaning of this band had a lot to do with
David Lee Roth.

DLR was responsible for a lot of the early bands overall look. In a recent book he was quoted as saying, “We tried our best to look like the way the music sounded.” Roth had a hand in just about everything that the band produced. He took an active role over the way they dressed and also the way their videos looked.

Even the lyrics were different when the original band was together. Eddie Van Halen later said he wanted simpler lyrics that ANYONE could write. So he went to employ the verbal wit of Bon Jovi’s lyricist.

Never Waiting For Permission

Van Halen really set a lot new rules in the world of Rock and Roll. After getting into the Whiskey A Go Go in LA they reworked a new sound in the world of Rock Music. Eddie added an extra pick up on his guitar. He also hollowed out a cavity behind the pick ups on the fret board to give it an echo sound. In addition to jabbing the fret board to make the musical notes triple in tone he took the liberty of boiling his guitar strings. This added more spring to the strings and loosened up the coils. This allowed Ed to create a unique sound that spawned a lot of copycats.

The 80’s brought on a lot of rip off type bands that captured some of Eddies musicianship. Record execs pushed this type of sound and the Metal bands that came later numbered in the 100’s. A lot of these bands had staying power. Some of them got signed and many more did not.

The original Van Halen only made 6 albums. But those six releases stood the test of time. Musically speaking they didn’t really age. They still sound just as fresh as they did when they were released. The combination of David Lee Roth, (the showman as well as the loudmouth show off), Eddie Van Halen, (musical innovator) Alex Van Halen, (master of the drum kit) and Michael Anthony, (incredible rhythm section and back up vocalist) was a powerhouse.

Warner Brothers held them under an exclusive contract.

Not bad for an underground band. They became the role model that all other rock bands tried to emulate. The interesting thing about this was that they never got permission from the record industry to do what they did as a group.

A lot of the songs they did were not really radio friendly. In the age of Disco and punk rock Van Halen made their debut. The arena rock show venue was reinvented. The stage shows with confetti and pyrotechnics went against the grain of what was deemed typical in rock music. In a lot of ways it alienated even the most hard core hippy generation. They were rebellious and dangerous and to some extent they inspired fear. You would see the VH logo spray painted on buildings or engraved on high school desks everywhere. Even if you didn’t know who the band was the logo quickly became something of an underground icon.

It was music for the fans.

The Format Is Still Valid

Here it is in 2007 and that format these four created is still a valid art form and money maker. Their recent tour is creating a windfall of profits coast to coast. VH will be performing right up to the very end of the year.

Rock radio eventually gave in and gave them airtime. As the band progressed they were taken seriously and considered classic rock. But when they first emerged they were competing against dinosaur bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who. They were the new kids on the block and even as late as 1980 you rarely heard them on the radio. The record sales and the band’s popularity were for the most part all fan driven.

They would tour every year and were creating their own history in arenas. MTV wasn’t very supportive. You would think there would be more interaction with such a super group. There was an occasional video now and then, “Unchained” comes to mind. But when VH released Ray Orbison’s classic, “Pretty Woman” the video was actually banned from airplay.

This made me and other kids my age even more fascinated with the band. So the only way we could experience them was through Circus Magazine and buying the albums and listening to them. The US Festival in Califorina in 1983 was a big moment for the band. They actually parachuted out of an airplane to arrive on the stage. It was a big deal.

When the classic, “1984” album was released everyone gave them credit. VH had a handful of videos to support the album, “Hot For Teacher”, “Jump”, and “Panama”. MTV and Friday Night Videos gave them lots of airplay and radio stations kicked in. Radio stations were promoting the new tour when they came to play large sports arenas. The long climb to the top paid off. Van Halen was a household word.

Kicking The Doors Down

Breaking format and tradition in a corporate environment is typically frowned upon. In most cases the smart ones are singled out of a job situation and belittled by peers. The danger of this is that the innovative one is seen as a threat to the group. The problem usually falls into two categories.

Either the ground breaker is going to become so unique and talented
that he will eventually leave the firm.

Or he may ask for more money

Jealousy is bound to ensue by fellow coworkers. Many of these just do enough work to look busy and not get fired. They could be leeching on the company for insurance reasons or are just too lazy to go out and look for something better.

In a corporate model the idea of being an innovator or a rebel is asking for trouble. There will be lots of backstabbing, arguments, and political mud slinging. There will be meetings behind closed doors and plenty of mind games.

Life becomes hell for the enlightened one. They eventually quit the company and form their own. It is interesting to see these types get so much abuse in a corporate situation. Now this is not always the case. Sometimes these innovators are rewarded.

Usually what happens is that the emerging innovator is seen as “the enemy” because he is going against the norm. Most people want to get out of the company by 5. The innovator wants to do great things for the company and will often stay later – becoming the job. These people are often misunderstood and the norm is to ridicule this person or alienate him.

I am saying that there is nothing wrong with being a rebel innovator. It is how bands like Van Halen are created. It is how the light bulb was invented. Its why we drive SUV’s and Hummers now instead of going to work each day in a horse and buggy.

We need rebels in this country.

Posted by Ted Cantu on Oct. 21, 2007 at 10:01 AM

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