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business models, strategies and technologies

Repackaging music performances – The Piano Guys example

Sometimes good ideas take on a non-PC guise – business lessons from Mormon piano playing

Lessons can be learnt and ideas kidnapped from the most unlikely sources – including those far beyond the realm of mainstream political correctness.

By chance, I noticed that one of the few acts willing to perform at the Trump inaugural bash on 20 January 2017 was The Piano Guys. I’d never heard of them. For me, the name conjured up images of the Bridges brothers at two lounge music pianos in the 1989 film The Fabulous Baker Boys. 

Shame on my blinkered, ignorant preconceptions – The Piano Guys turned out to be a whole lot more. As both a performance and marketing concept, it seems tuned into multiple perspectives that make it much more interesting. It ain’t really even about the piano …

New dimensions to the music performance universe

In the conventional music performance sphere, websites and marketing profiles are usually centred on either the music or the performer(s) – and sometimes with some degree of narrative arc to link them. In these days where “storytelling” is a major plank in marketing mavens’ toolbox, the four Utah-based dudes who make up The Piano Guys have that – a great story. Even the starting point – about the owner of a small-town piano store looking for a new, unconventional way to market pianos – is quirkily memorable and attention-grabbing.

What do you get when you mix up a marketing genius that does video, a studio engineer that writes music, a pianist that had a successful solo career, and a cellist that does pretty much everything?

But the moniker seems a misnomer, because only two of them actually perform the music, and only one actually gets down and dirty with the ivories. The other is a remarkably versatile cellist. By also presenting the videographer and the producer on a completely equal, natural footing, The Piano Guys have added important new dimensions to their music performance universe, as well as to our audience awareness/appreciation of what they’re “selling” us, and how they develop and deliver it.

Each song is accompanied by a video that’s several dimensions of information wealth beyond any traditional MTV-era music video bling-glam packaging. The videos lay out a complex story, as well as showcasing sometimes incredible locations and sets that range from a local discount supermarket to the ruins of Petra in Jordan. Each video is accompanied by an explanation of the technical background and the intentions (both practical and near-philosophical) behind each piece and each performance – and suddenly there are whole new layers of understanding and appreciation emerging from The Piano Guys unusual genre-mixing, silo-transcending performances and ideas. 

  • No one performance/communication element works alone: the many different facets work together:
  • – Visuals draw you into the performers and their infectious enthusiasm
  • – Incredible locations and backdrops
  • – Transparency about process – “the “how” about the what
  • – Transparency about motivation – “the “why” about the what

Declaring a set of beliefs

The Piano Guys are also avowed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  (“Mormons”, to us mere mortals). How do we know? They have a whole page on their website stating “Our Beliefs” – the “why” behind what they do.

Disregarding any views one might have about their particular religion (or religion in general), in my experience, it’s pretty rare for a music ensemble to present any cogent, credible or convincing statement about their “big picture” intentions, and why they’re doing what they do. And the sheer fact of them having the conviction and the cojones to do so is strangely beguiling. 

IMHO they’re also a surprising source of authentic, innovative ideas about business as well as music and its presentation and packaging. Even their deer-in-the-headlights performance here surprised me – all four around a lidless piano, plucking, drumming and bowing on the wires so that a mere piano is suddenly transmogrified into a percussion and bowed instrument, too. Good on ya’, guys.

Homely hammering

What is it about the piano that seems to attract wholesome, homely family values? The Piano Guys aren’t the only gig in this specialist corner of the music world, and the performance part of their success will undoubtedly be emulated and developed still further – if not the marketing and proselytising aspects.

For example, there’s also the seven young members – including twins and triplets (= 14 hands! And at one point 5 people on the keyboard here) – of the Rogers Family from Atlanta, Georgia playing the different surfaces and fixtures of a piano. This is true “back to basics” YouTube rollicking, with no styled costumes or fancy special effects. Brings back my faith in humanity …