Suits & Singers: 4 Simple Truths Business Leaders Can Learn From Songwriters


It’s widely assumed that there’s not much to tie business people and musicians together. Their clothes are different, their terminology’s different, their products are different; but the needs of these two seemingly disparate types are remarkably similar. Here’s how.

1. Truth Sells: It’s paradoxical to discuss the idea of selling of song because in a certain light, a song is itself, a sales tool. The function of a song is exactly the same as the function of good salesmanship. It’s all about convincing people to believe in what you’re expressing. There’s an aphorism that sums up both good songs and good business practices (be they leadership or sales driven), it says: “What comes from the heart, enters the heart.” A song that expresses the truth about the human experience; with all its flaws, its vulnerabilities and its beauty is going to move people emotionally – and the emotional connection is what drives people to action. The same goes for creating and marketing products or services.

2. Express Humanity: The majority of things on the market are well made. Take cars for example. Is it really possible to say that an Audi is better than a Peugeot or that a Honda is significantly better than a Toyota? Aside from providing some specific features that might appeal to certain buyers, it’s the emotional “stories” connected with the products that truly determine our desire for one car or the other. That story-telling aspect is first accomplished through media campaigns. In the showroom, the product story gets told again. The sales force that is skilled at both sharing their own stories and listening (and articulating back) the stories and feelings of customers will always have an edge. Songwriting is the same. The songs that convey some elemental truth of what it means to be human will always be more connective. It’s often most effective to universalize, by expressing the minutiae.

3. Be Unique: Since both songwriters and businesspeople will always have the challenge of capturing audiences with limited attention spans, they’ll both need to come up with ideas that are singularly compelling. One trick from the world of songwriting is to simply be mindful of clichés. For example, a line might be:

The sun beat down on the growing crowd…

How might you rhyme this?

1. You could hear their voices growing loud

2. The dust above them was like a funeral shroud

Either choice is pretty good but the second one is more unexpected. Simply being mindful of making presentational choices that are unique is an easy way to make sure you’re delivering ideas that people find refreshing. Nowadays, with so much information coming at us, simply being “different” is to win half the battle. A stone-faced Powerpoint presentation might be good – but only if it comes after weeks of incredibly original presentations. Again, differentiation is key.

4. Be Afraid, But Deliver Anyway: Waiting for perfection, the perfect moment, the perfect audience, or the perfect audio mix onstage is to wait forever. The time to sing your song is when you must – not when everything is perfect. I’m not saying to go to a meeting or onto a call unprepared, by all means – prepare and prepare well. I’m saying, there’s a fear that’s present in all of us, a fear of rejection that not only prevents us from doing our best, it often prevents us from doing anything at all.

Getting up in front of an audience doesn’t take confidence. Confidence is an add-on, it’s an artifact, a superficiality. What getting up in front of an audience (or a customer, or board, or team) takes is a sense of mission, a sense of purpose. The more we believe that we a delivering something that can truly change people’s lives for the better, the more we believe that we’re in service to the “other” as opposed to our own egos, the more successful we will be. Figure out what it is you are selling (or singing.) What is the essential good that we are conveying? By knowing this and coming to believe it, our songs and our salesmanship will be less rote and more authentic. The more authentic we are, the more we will connect with the hearts and minds of others to draw them into action. Authenticity is not easily gained however. It requires a willingness to fail and to cope with the vulnerability that failure often engenders. More on that later. For now though, go write and go deliver your best work.

Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. He is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps unlock innate creativity. Clients include The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, The UCLA School of Nursing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. Himmelman is also an alum of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern. His latest book, Let Me Out(Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016 and is available on Random House Tarcher/Perigee. “There’s deep wisdom here along with very practical tools for translating our ideas into the real world.” – Arianna Huffington


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