If you want a career that spans decades and never gets stale or boring, you have only to look to rock stars like Steven Tyler, Ozzy Osbourne and Slash for inspiration.
No, I’m not suggesting you become a drug addict, bite the heads off animals, black out, get caught defecating in a hotel hallway (Ozzy), come close to derailing your entire future, nearly die, actually die, more than once (Slash), make several trips to rehab and live to tell about it. I mean the other stuff. The way those guys have managed to be continuously productive and adapt themselves to a changing media and pop culture landscape.
This is actually the advice of New York based career expert Allison Hemming, author of Work It! How to Get Ahead, Save Your Ass, and Land a Job in Any Economy. Hemming is making a presentation this month at the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas titled “Build Your Brand the Rockstar Way.” The gist is that there’s a lot to learn from veterans of the music biz, an industry in which few last a lifetime.
I tracked Hemming down to ask how we can apply her rock star plan to our own careers.
“Committing yourself to constant evolution,” is key, she says. “All the rock stars that have the biggest and best careers, it’s that relevancy. Understanding if you’re relevant is your job. The people who remain relevant are listening to what’s happening and then adapting.”
Ozzy, who got his start in the 1960s, has stayed almost consistently relevant – with a few dips – by doing things like starting the Ozzfest, putting his family on reality TV and publishing an autobiography (though a lot of us suspect he’s acting at the behest of his wife).
Steven Tyler and Aerosmith have continued to crank out music since the 70s. In a surprise move, he recently took a seat on the American Idol judging panel. The high profile gig has reinvigorated sales of Aerosmith’s back catalogue and introduced the band to a new audience.
You gotta be on top of things. And you have to know where you want to go. Hemming explains, “The people who are thinking long term about where they want to go are the ones that end up having the most sustainable careers. I think that’s something many rock stars have. There’s this intention in them that makes them unstoppable.”
Most people, she says, don’t have that intention. “They kind of meander, then suddenly you wake up and your skill sets are no longer as relevant as they should be. You need to say, ‘What do I ultimately want to achieve? Looking at what’s going on in the marketplace and the trends, what is the job that I need to have, not just the next but the job after that, and what are the skills that are missing in my background that will align me with that?”
Another way rock stars stay relevant is through constant collaboration.
An excellent example is Santana, who came back to life after a series of low-selling records with the 1999 album Supernatural, featuring guests that included Rob Thomas, Lauryn Hill, Cee Lo, Eric Clapton and Eagle Eye Cherry. It was a smash.
More recently, Slash’s self titled 2010 album features a guest list that includes Fergie, Ozzy, Iggy Pop, Lemmy, Adam Levine, Dave Grohl and Chris Cornell.
Collaboration, says Hemming, helps you hone your craft. “You see new paths you didn’t see before. Sometimes it can advance your career faster if you collaborate with the right people.” It also broadens your network and audience.
Which brings us to the fans. Don’t forget the fans. “We’re not rock and roll singers but we do have to build a fanbase around us of people who believe in our ideas. It could be the CEO of the company or the developer who has to go build that thing you’ve been dreaming up. You have to be good at coalition building. A key trait of a successful rock star is being touch with what your fans want and consistently delivering it.”
Pick something you want to work on. “Rock stars have different strengths,” Hemming points out. “It may be reinvention (David Bowie), brand extension (Bret Michaels), or great focus. KISS is an example of that. They love to wear their makeup. They own that category. When it comes to careers sometimes have that specificity, being the best in the world at one thing, is OK. That could be your thing.”
Remember, she adds, “You can be stuck in a career for 40 or 50 years. Get lost in the journey of what your career could become. You’ve got to enjoy what you do.”