Start-Ups and Upstarts

BUSINESS HISTORY AND THE ARTS

Muddy Waters

To understand the role start-ups have played in the economy and in reinvigorating the culture, one need only look at the music business. If America had been strictly a rigid tops-down nation, there would never have been the populist explosion of rock n roll, which began in the 1950’s. (And was followed by punk, hip hop, and other variations.)

WHAT if the only people entitled to call themselves musicians were decided by musicologists, requiring academic degrees and proper certificates? The institutional mindset.

sun

Rock n roll was started by low-rent hustlers like Leonard Chess and Sam Phillips, with upstart little record companies like Chess and Sun Records. Start-ups? Of course! They were nothing but– as was Motown Records, founded by Berry Gordy Jr. with $600 in seed money, “venture capital,” from his sister. (Gordy at the time was working on a Detroit production line.)

Rock n roll music, scorned by intellectuals and critics, was strictly a product of America’s lower classes. The entrepreneurs were two-bit salesman. The artists were from the poorest sections of the country, whether they be Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley– or the Supremes, who were discovered in a Detroit housing project.

supremes

Hundreds of other start-up little record companies failed. Such is the way capitalism works. Enough succeeded to transform American (and world) culture– and in the process multiply the music business many times over, providing pleasure to millions– and opportunity to hundreds of musical artists, who in a rigidly controlled system, managed by apparatchiks and credentialed experts, would never have had opportunity at all.

The irony is the nature of free enterprise capitalism, when turned loose, levels the playing field more than a system which depends on decision-making from above– where selections are made according to a.) standardized testing b.) cronyism and connections c.) how well one conforms to the prevailing ideology imposed from above. It’s the difference between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Between a dynamic system and a static one. (The dynamism of America, expressed through rock music, infiltrated the Soviet Bloc and contributed to its collapse.)

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graham bell

Upstarts/start-ups have been with us for at least 200 years– seen in the careers of imaginative individuals like Elias Howe, Cyrus McCormick, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford  — on up to Steven Jobs, Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick. They propelled the United States to quickly becoming the world’s largest economy, creating millions of jobs and many trillions of dollars of wealth in the process. Economic value is the product of the human mind. All of this should go without saying, but in this bizarro upside-down world we live in, it doesn’t.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

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