Why Start-ups / Rock Bands fail

  Illustration of hypothetical damage pattern on a WW2 bomber. Created by  McGeddon   CC BY-SA 4.0

Illustration of hypothetical damage pattern on a WW2 bomber. Created by McGeddon CC BY-SA 4.0

Survivorship bias in the start-up world makes it difficult to learn from other people's mistakes.

Most advice you get comes from people who have overcome incredible odds and have also been extremely lucky. Success stories rarely seem to discuss higher than normal divorce rates among entrepreneurs or how most successful entrepreneurs rely on family or spouse to support them.

Rock bands are the same way.  You mostly hear from magical bands that have been very lucky, had solid connection and are mostly competent. You sometimes even hear about bands that were unsung in their day and are re-discovered later. You rarely hear about the bands that kick around their hometown for 15 years and for some reason or other fail to build a substantial following. 

I started thinking about this because I've been chatting with my bandmates from Farstar about playing a few shows.  And it got me wondering again about why we didn't "make it" or whatever.

It's really difficult to nail down because a lot of the times small bands don't really run like a full-time businesses. It is pretty obvious when a start-up fails (they close their doors, they run out of money, their site goes offline); it's less obvious for bands unless they announce a big break-up or whatever.

So I really enjoyed reading this breakdown of why start-ups failed based on post-mortems for 100+ failed start-ups. I took the top 20 list of failure reasons and added a band analogue for most of them. 

Let me know if I've missed any. 

  • No Market Need   (Nobody Comes To Your Shows)
  • Ran Out Of Cash  (Had To Get a Real Job)
  • Not The Right Team  (You Hate Your Bandmates)
  • Get Outcompeted  (Other Bands Are Doing What You Do Better)
  • Pricing / Cost Issues  (No One In the Band Wants to Pay for the Rehearsal Space / Recording / Making T-Shirts Anymore)
  • User Un-friendly Product   (You're Band Is Not Very Good)
  • Product Without A Business Model   (You're Not Playing Top-40 Covers Or Selling Out Arenas)
  • Poor Marketing    (You're Not Cool / Good Looking Enough / )
  • Ignore Customers   (People Don't Like Listening To Loud Music As Much As You Like Making Loud Music)
  • Product Mistimed  (Playing Music That Is 5 Years Too Late / Early) 
  • Lose Focus   (Someone Gets Married / Has Kids)
  • Disharmony Amount Team / Investors   (You Hate Your Bandmates)
  • Pivot Gone Bad   ( New Record Is Not as Good as the Last One)
  • Lack Passion   (Your Day Job Is More Interesting Than Playing Music)
  • Failed Geographical Expansion  (Unable To Tour) 
  • No Financing / Investor Interest   (Can't Find Record Label or Manager) 
  • Legal Challenges (You Signed A Ten Year Management Contract That You Can't Get Out Of)
  • Didn't Use Network  (Can't Book Any Shows)
  • Burn Out  (Tired of Playing Late Shows)
  • Failure To Pivot  (New Record Is Exactly the Same as the Last One)