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“David Lee Roth” Business School

April 7, 2014

David lee rothDavid Lee Roth is arguably one of the greatest frontmen in rock history. He’s also a smart-as-hell businessman.

By following the seven strategies below, you will dramatically increase your chances of success in business and get people interested in what you’re doing.

7 Business Lessons from David Lee Roth

1. Tiny Details Matter – You’ve likely heard the story on Van Halen and brown M&M’s, but what most people don’t know was the reason for it.

It’s common in the music industry for acts to send a list of requirements, mostly things like power availability and stage construction details, which are needed to give a great performance. In this list, Van Halen also specified that a bowl of M&M’s, with all of the brown M&M’s removed, was to be placed in their dressing room.

According to David Lee Roth, this was listed in the technical portion of the contract as a test of whether the venue had actually read and properly honored the terms of the contract, as it contained other requirements involving legitimate safety concerns to prevent stage construction failure, electrocution, and equipment damage. If the candy bowl was present, the band members could safely assume the legitimate items in the technical rider were being fulfilled as well.

If you’re handling the little things, people will assume you’re also handling the big things. And many times, when you handle the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.

2. Embrace the Tension – Van Halen wouldn’t be Van Halen without the tension between David Lee Roth and guitarist Eddie Van Halen. It’s the kind of thing that can, and did, destroy everything, but when channeled in the right way, it’s very powerful.

Tension in the gym is what helps muscles grow. Tension forms diamonds from carbon. Tension is what makes great art.

Where is the tension in your business and how can you channel it in a positive way?

3. Personality Trumps Talent – He’’s not the best singer in the world. Even in the studio, he often sounds flat.

It doesn’t matter. People don’t care how great his singing technique is — they like him because of who he is.

If you don’t have “personality” in your business, you’re a commodity people can get anywhere.

4. Hard Work Trumps Talent – Did I mention David Lee Roth isn’t a great singer? You could pick a random bar band in any small town and probably find somebody at least as good, if not better.

But David Lee Roth works his ass off. He’s a brilliant marketer and he’s spent the last 40+ years on the road performing.

All too often, people with a little talent think they can phone things in. And they can…for a little while.

But then what?


It’s like a pretty woman who is used to men approaching her and doesn’t have to develop non-physical traits for people to be interested in her. This kind of “talent” may work for a few years, but what happens when her looks start to fade?


In the end, hard work always wins over talent.

5. Play The Game – David Lee Roth isn’t an idiot and he’s more than the big mouth he portrays himself to be. He’s a well-respected artist and, in his down time, has worked as a paramedic.

But that’s not what he markets, because he gives fans what they expect.

Gene Simmons of KISS is another great example of this. He’s extremely well-read, but if you ask him what he reads, he’ll tell you comic books.

Not everybody has to know everything about you and in some cases it’s best that they don’t. Give people what they want and do it in a big way.

6. Try New Things – If the band isn’t working out, go solo. Why not?

That’s what David Lee Roth did.

He also hosted his own syndicated radio show, taking over for Howard Stern when The Howard Stern Show went from broadcast radio to satellite.

If you’re not moving forward, you’re standing sill. And in business, standing still doesn’t work long, because everybody around you is moving forward.

Is it time for you to go solo?

7. Stick With What Works – If your “solo” or alternate career doesn’t work out, you can always go back to what was working and hope to recreate the same magic. In this case, David Lee Roth got back in Van Halen.

Did it work? Yes. Van Halen’s 2007–2008 tour with Roth grossed more than $93 million, which was a record for the band.

Would it have worked as well had Roth never left Van Halen? Doubtful.

And note that “what works” still isn’t the safe option. Even today, there is still the same tension in Van Halen that I mentioned above.

Final Thoughts

We value what we can’t easily get. We’re energized by the tension that shakes things to the point where we’re always on the edge of our seats.

Love him or hate him, David Lee Roth is a master of keeping people on their toes and making them wonder what’s next.

Will he stay in the band? Will he leave? Will this be the year a reunion finally happens?

How can you do something similar in your business?

Thank You!

Thanks to J. Black for the suggestion to analyze David Lee Roth. If you have somebody you’d like me to consider for future posts in this series, contact me via Twitter.

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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