Aug 06

Penthouse versus Pavement

FT/14 comments • 655 views

But does it have Razorlight?I really shouldn’t be telling you about this, but I was tasked at work recently with picking tracks for a ‘corporate CD’ that my company’s parent company is putting together. “Pick five tracks that represent your company’s values” is the brief. Ho ho, “Money Money Money” and go from there, eh? Except, in the manner of one of those Channel 4 Top 50 polls, a ‘music consultant’ had been hired by someone, somewhere to come up with an approved list of 42 songs for us to pick from.

The results showed the wit, intelligence and attention to detail that the corporate world has become justly famous for. “Liberty X – Ain’t Nobody Better Than You”, to represent ‘excellence and uniqueness’. Well, OK, except the name of the track is “Being Nobody”, which suggests uniqueness somewhat less. Coldplay’s epic-neurotic “Clocks” has what to do with ‘dedication’ exactly? I mean, dedication in a positive way?

And there was one genuine black chuckle to be had as the Rolling Stones turned up in the ‘connecting people’ section – with “Sympathy For The Devil” (hopefully renamed “Pleased To Meet You”!!). Other selections strongly indicated that the music consultants had just thought “fuck it” and put on tracks they liked – Sigur Ros? Bloc Party? It beats “Simply The Best” I guess (though avoiding cliche wasn’t part of the brief – “We Will Rock You” shows up).

The sad fact is that pop music and the business world gel poorly, because pop wriggles out of any obligation to instruct or inspire you might put on it. Put any song in a presentation or giveaway CD and both song and occasion are instantly belittled, mocking one another. “Selling out” isn’t in it – pop simply isn’t fit for purpose. A man I worked with a couple of years ago had a dreadful habit of stuffing his presentations with achingly respectable Mojo rock (Automatic-era REM and suchlike) – from the second each track began it might as well have been Tina Turner.

The current generation of bosses – men and (occasionally) women in their mid-late 40s and up – are devoted children of the rock era: I have worked now for two men whose favourite band ever was The Clash. It’s not that business people don’t understand pop music, it’s not that pop isn’t wholeheartedly a business, it’s that the two have established completely separate cultures and modes of performance, and efforts to marry them – at least on the business side – seem to me almost invariably lame.


  1. 1
    alext on 16 Aug 2006 #

    I’m interested in the way ‘rock’ and ‘pop’ are being held tantalisingly apart in your comments — I can’t quite tell if this is deliberate or not. If you had written ‘rock music and the business world gel poorly’ you would seem to be saying something quite different, and it’s clearly important that the boss generation are children of the ‘rock’ not a ‘pop’ era. But what’s the difference here — are you saying that business and rock are a good match, but pop resists somehow?

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    Tom on 16 Aug 2006 #

    No – I’m using ‘pop’ in its broadest sense, as something that within it would include the ‘rock era’ (which usage was deliberate – zero evidence so far of former new romantics at boardroom level).

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    alext on 16 Aug 2006 #

    ok — that’s what I thought when I read through the first time, TBH. So my follow-up question is: do the business people see this mismatch. i.e. are these cultures actually different, or is it a perception / feeling that you have? Because otherwise, why do it? What are they thinking? (ok ok “are they thinking” — this may be a stupid question when dealing with corporate behemoths!) I suppose business might want what pop has and it doesn’t, which would allow that they at least perceive the cultural difference. If I jazz up my presentation with rock, am I acknowledging that what I’m doing fundamentally isn’t very exciting? (But in that case, does this apply to all business, because at the root of all of it does lie something quite exciting, or at least if you listen to an entrepreneur they clearly get a buzz out of what they do, and I kind of assume there must be some incentives for humans to trade, exchange etc. which go beyond the ends to which the process is directed.

    Rambling a bit, I’m afraid, head clouded by last night’s beer and this morning’s essay writing.

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    Tom on 16 Aug 2006 #

    The business ppl want to borrow something from the culture of pop – spontaneity, energy, collective emotion, all things which business people do valorise and feel that the traditional mode of business performance (powerpoint and shirtsleeves) can’t always muster. So they’re trying to borrow some of pop’s excitement.

    You’re right, it’s hard to pin down why it doesn’t work – I’m tempted to say that the difference lies in the differing expectations of audience and performers but there are enough similarities that I’m not sure that would hold water (plus it’s silly to generalise about the ‘pop audience’). It might simply be that the specific reaction most business meetings want to generate – “go away and work hard and enthusiastically on what we’ve told you about” – is one that very little pop convincingly elicits.

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    Tom on 16 Aug 2006 #

    Also I guess the reason they act on the impulse to use pop is that they feel the trade off between ‘looking a bit silly’ and ‘not looking boring’ is worth it.

    Also also as I say several of them are BIG MUSIC FANS and want to show it! It’s something they will have in common with even a lowly and underpaid employee.

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    alext on 16 Aug 2006 #

    Could it be that they are all using v. successful pop to brighten up poor examples of business culture? i.e. successful business would not need pop to brighten it up? Business people may valorise ‘spontaneity, energy, collective emotion’ (Hell, I do too!) but that could be because at its best business offers all those things — although in the face of dull reality it is easier to brighten it with a pop elastoplast, which only makes the crack between the actual and possible business culture seem wider.

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    Tom on 16 Aug 2006 #

    Yeah, it would be really interesting to see whether ‘successful’ business presentations – Steve Jobs’ keynote addresses, for instance – use music, or at least use identifiable music to back up points in this way.

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    Tanya Headon on 16 Aug 2006 #

    Careful, for some reason I think this is starting to run counter to the “organised fun” piece Tom wrote a while back. Much good business is not about “spontaneity, energy, collective emotion” – it is actually about safety, planning and number crunching. People put pop in presentations to make them not seem like presentations (amongst other things like, wasting a good ten minutes).

    If you consider business presentations as school assembly speechs from some put upon teachers I think this all makes more sense.

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    Tom on 16 Aug 2006 #

    I think there’s a big difference between saying business valorises something and saying business is ‘about’ something. I maybe should have written ‘publically valorises’.

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    Tom on 16 Aug 2006 #

    Also I think this is exactly in line with my general views on organised fun (summary: if it’s not optional, it’s not fun). The email which has been going round promoting this particular initiative has a section which starts. “Refreshingly, we are not promoting this with a powerpoint deck!”, which strikes the wrong note – I should be the judge of whether I’m refreshed or not!

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    Pete on 16 Aug 2006 #

    I’ve seen you “refreshed” and its just as well it isn’t a regular occurance at work!

    I’m not saying there isn’t room for rock / pop / avant noodle jazz at work. A lot of us work to pop music after all, it is part of our working routine (but a part which may be making up for the otherwise interminable boredom of it). Difference may be that we choose the music to work to, but then consider the office radio – the arguments or discussions it punts up. If the music has been picked because it says something about the work, and in a less than trite way, then it might be interesting. I suppose what the article above most illustrates is the disjunction often between what a song is called, and sounds like. But then the twenty people in the room who know that that version of “Ain’t Nobody” is called “Being nobody” also gets not justa nice chuckle, but their prejudices about the business confirmed.

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    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 17 Aug 2006 #

    I am torn between the feeling that THIS PROVES POP is ULTIMATELY SESSILE and COLLUSIONARY — which assumes that “business people” are, well, unredeemable; and the feeling that — by virtue of these two incommensurable sides of their heads, this affirms one of pop’s values, that it is a HAVEN OF HIDDEN RESISTANCE (ie within the Secret Secession of a Million Minds, there are at least a handful of less-than-bold but at least potentially good-hearted clash-fan CEOs…)

    this dichotomy is somewhat stepped on by my distrust of CLASH FANDOM, of course

  13. 13
    KateH on 18 Aug 2006 #

    Just like organised fun, surely the whole idea of having corporate principles shares a function with pop music.

    My work has ‘values’ which instruct us to be ‘passionate’. To me that’s just like a lot of pop music that tells you how you ought to feel, rather than how you do.

  14. 14
    koganbot on 19 Aug 2006 #

    I’m flabbergasted that no one has asked the one truly relevant question:

    What music did they play at the corporate Christmas party?

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