Few people (actually, no one!) spontaneously associate product management with Pink Floyd, but if you look closely, you can find good examples of best product management practices in their journey, as I hope to reveal in this lighthearted article.
Pink Floyd, one of the most famous rock bands of all time, does not need any introduction: a career spanning more than five decades, the 4th most-sold album in history (Dark Side of the Moon, 45 million copies), a #1 Billboard hit (Another Brick in the Wall), pioneers of progressive rock, etc.
At a more personal level, Pink Floyd is the first band I fell in love with in my early teenage years. I was immediately attracted to their moody, deep music that creates such a unique atmosphere. In 1993, I had the privilege to attend their last concert tour (The Division Bell tour), which I still vividly remember.
More recently, in 2023, I was inspired by their touring exhibition: Their Mortal Remains (worth a visit for fans!), and I dove into my teenage/young adult memories.
My goal with this article is not to provide an irrefutable explanation for Pink Floyd’s stellar career but to showcase how product management theory can help explain the success of an unlikely “product”: a music band.
I wish to show (hopefully in a fun-to-read way!) how Pink Floyd demonstrated a good mastery of product management.
1. Pink Floyd Knew When to Pivot to Stay in Tune with Market Problems
Pragmatic Institute teaches that successful products solve market problems. Generally speaking, the music industry solves people’s need to be entertained.
Pink Floyd was formed in 1965, when the hippie culture emerged, born from the Beat Generation movement. The hippie counterculture rejected consumer society and advocated freedom and exploring higher levels of consciousness, sometimes through the use of drugs.
Under the leadership of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd became one of the first British psychedelic rock bands, offering exactly the experimental music that part of the population was looking for (i.e., their market problem of how they wanted to be entertained) with albums like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn or A Saucerful of Secrets.
Around 1970, when the hippie culture “seemed to be on the wane,” Pink Floyd pivoted to an up-and-rising musical genre, progressive rock (popularized by Pink Floyd themselves and other bands like Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis, and King Crimson) while retaining elements of their psychedelic rock roots.
Albums like Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971) embody this shift in Pink Floyd music very well. Intentionally or not, Pink Floyd again stayed in tune (pun intended!) with market trends.
Fast forward to the early 1980s, when progressive rock popularity was declining. Although Pink Floyd remained a progressive rock band, their albums produced in the ‘80s, like The Final Cut and A Momentary Lapse of Reason, were more mainstream, more accessible and appealing to the evolving tastes of ‘80s music lovers.
In summary, Pink Floyd stayed in tune with market preferences throughout their career, offering psychedelic rock in tune with the hippie culture in the late 60s, progressive rock in the ‘70s and a more mainstream sound in the ‘80s.
2. Pink Floyd Cultivated a Strong, Distinctive Competence: A Unique and Innovative Sound
Pragmatic Institute defines a distinctive competence as an “organization’s unique abilities to deliver value to the market.”
While copycat bands seem to abound nowadays, Pink Floyd’s music is truly one of a kind, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nicely conveys: “Pink Floyd were the architects of two major music movements: psychedelic space-rock and blues-based progressive rock.”
Some bands, especially progressive rock bands like Genesis or King Crimson, share similarities with Pink Floyd in the complex song structure or extended instrumental sections, but no other bands sound exactly like them.
While words can hardly describe Pink Floyd’s distinctive competence of unique sound, the masterpiece “Echoes” from 1971 perfectly illustrates Pink Floyd’s innovative music. The duration of this song (23 minutes), which is the maximum duration of a vinyl record side, is rather unique, even in a genre like progressive rock known for its long tunes.
Their strong, distinctive competence directly translated into a solid value proposition: unique, highly differentiated music.
3. Pink Floyd Kept Experimenting and Iterating to Innovate
Experimentation and iterative development have become core product management tenets since Agile development has superseded Waterfall development in many organizations, especially for software products.
Decades before Agile, experimentation with instruments, guitar pedals and sound effects was integral to Pink Floyd’s creative songwriting process, as the Pink Floyd exhibition Their Mortal Remains clearly shows.
For instance, they chose to record The Dark Side of the Moon at the Abbey Road studio to benefit from its “world-class recording equipment” and used to produce this record modified guitars, sequencers, new and innovative synthesizers, etc.
Their relentless focus on experimentation likely led them to develop their unique sound, as discussed above.
However, experimentation in product development often involves getting market feedback via prototypes or mock-ups, and it is unclear to me if Pink Floyd sought market feedback during their album recording, apart from the obvious market feedback received after each album release.
4. Pink Floyd Positioning Around Innovation was Consistent Across Their Various Types of Content (Music, Album Covers, Lyrics and Their Shows)
A compelling positioning, which is a clear statement of how a product solves customer problems, forms a solid foundation for a successful product because it will drive all outbound communications.
Deliberately or not, Pink Floyd applied this sound principle (pun intended!) of consistent positioning/messaging to the key types of content they created (i.e., their communications channels): their music as explained previously, their album covers, their lyrics as well as their concerts.
People born before the ‘90s (yep, that includes me) remember that album covers played a big part in buying an album because you had to go to the store to purchase the actual vinyl, cassette or CD.
Pink Floyd album covers reflected their innovativeness and unique sound:
- Dark Side of the Moon with the well-known prism
- Animals, where a huge inflatable pink pig was flown above the Battersea Power Station in London, UK
- A Momentary Lapse of Reason, where the cover features 700 hospital beds on a beach
- Wish You Were Here with a stuntman set on fire, etc.
This consistent visual personality was achieved thanks to Pink Floyd’s continuous work with the design group Hypgnosis, which created almost all their album covers from A Saucerful of Secrets (1968) up to A Collection of Great Dance Songs (1981).
Though Pink Floyd lyrics are probably not as unique as their music or album covers, they certainly explore unusual themes, far from the typical love songs.
- The Dark Side of the Moon songs talk about mental illness, time and death, at a time when topics like mental illness were more taboo than nowadays
- The lyrics in Animals delve into a class struggle where Rogers Waters (the band bassist, singer and lyricist) divides social classes between dogs, sheep and pigs, loosely based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm
- The Wall explores isolation, abandonment and war
- Final Cut dives into anti-war positions and post-war dreams
- Wish You Were Here probes into alienation and criticism of the music industry, etc.
Anybody who has attended a Pink Floyd show will tell you it’s much more than a music concert: it’s a multi-sensorial experience.
“Pink Floyd were considered pioneers in the live music experience for combining intense visual experiences with music to create a show in which the performers themselves were almost secondary.”
Their first shows in the mid-’60s featured liquid light shows and strobe lights. Later on, Pink Floyd included in their shows pyrotechnics, giant glitter balls, and the use of exotic lasers.
I recall that the Division Bell show I attended in 1993 was a continuous series of astounding visual effects with many lasers. (Maybe it unconsciously influenced me to specialize in optics years later!).
So, Pink Floyd epitomizes that messaging should be consistent across all channels. They offered unique music, album covers, lyrics and live performances.
5. Pink Floyd maintained a solid and stable core team
Experienced product managers know it takes time for a product development team to develop good team dynamics and consistently deliver good product value.
The Bruce W. Tuckman model specifies four stages teams must go through to become high-performing: Storming, Forming, Norming and Performing.
Consequently, adding or removing team members too often can induce ups and downs in performance.
Apart from Syd Barrett, who left the band after a few years due to his erratic behavior, and Rogers Waters, who quit the band in 1985 (about 20 years after its foundation) due to creative conflicts, Pink Floyd’s core team remained remarkably stable over the years.
David Gilmour and Nick Mason stayed in the band for five decades, and Richard Wright until he died in 2008. This team stability certainly helped to maintain Pink Floyd’s unique sound.
In summary, key concepts in product management that help predict product success, such as solving market problems, having a strong distinctive competence, experimenting, delivering a consistent message across all communication channels, and maintaining a solid core team, can be used to explain to some extent Pink Floyd’s success.
But no matter why this iconic band was so successful, it will continue to occupy a special place in the hearts of its millions of fans worldwide. Happy listening!
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