The stories behind the world’s most successful bands fascinate me. They seem to be stories that are littered withserendipity where just the right mixture of great opportunities, resourceful networking and enough of the “at the right place at the right time” stuff mixes into a concoction that results in global success. Take the Dave Matthews Band (DMB)­ as an example (they’re my favourite band) – the planets just seemed to align in 1991 when they met. But, as I’ve delved into their story (The Dave Matthews Band: Step into the Light) there seems to be one aspect of their approach to music that, I believe, explains some of why they are America’s most successful touring band, and it is a detail that is easily overlooked.­

As DMB gained some small recognition in the pub circuit in Charlottesville they began to let fans plug recording equipment into their soundesk, or set up a microphone, and record their shows. Commonly known as bootlegs, these recordings where free and “authorised” by the band. In fact, they encouraged their fans to distribute the recordings as widely as possible. From the book:

This important decision would be a crucial marketing tactic: the band received invaluable free publicity as college students distributed these “approved” bootlegs to their friends across America – at their own expense.


In an industry that frowns heavily upon such practices, DMB decided to make their material free prior to the ever signing a contract with a recording label. Now, a label exec might be justified in contemplating how much revenue was lost due to this free-trading? But one cannot quantify this because without this decision, DMB would never have achieved their global success.

This story just goes to show that approaching work, life and passion with a philosophy of abundance and a recognition that you actually don’t own a thing can result in huge success … ironically.

I heard of an organisation in the UK the other day who are getting pretty sticky about the IP they own and are not wanting to expose too much of it for free. The irony is that they are narrative practitioners, and they are attempting to apply a proprietary model to a concept and practice that cannot be owned. After all, who owns a story? Who can copyright a practice that transcends recorded history?

Having traversed the big bad world of business only for a few years I am learning that one needs to offer much more than what you charge for to be successful. Dave Matthews Band understood that more than 15 years ago and are reaping the rewards.