In 1953, a young man left the army and got a job at Ford’s factory in Detroit.
He didn’t want to work on the production line all his life, so he began writing songs.
Some were hits, so he quit his day job and began writing songs full time.
But he didn’t want to lose control of the songs when they were recorded.
So he thought bigger, he began producing the recordings himself and selling his recordings to bigger labels to publish.
Which made him think, why don’t I have my own label and publish them myself?
So, in 1959, he began publishing songs on his own label.
Which meant he could attract lots of young artists.
Which meant he could afford to turn his house into a recording studio.
Which meant he controlled the whole process, beginning to end.
But then he thought even bigger.
And this is where he put what he’d learned at Ford’s production-line together with the music business.
He’d seen the bare chassis of a car start at the beginning, then have the various components added: engine, transmission, seats, bodywork, wheels, windows, until by the end it was a complete, beautiful, finished car.
And that’s what he wanted his artists to be, not just singers but complete entertainers.
He started with the raw talent, but he didn’t just want voices people would listen to on records.
He wanted polished entertainers that people would pay to see perform.
So, like the production line, he added the parts as they went along.
He started with good singers, but then he had Maurice King, as Musical Director of Artistic Development, add sophistication and class to the artists.
He taught them how to project, how to phrase, how to blend, he arranged their music.
Then Cholly Atkins was added, to teach them stage presence.
So they didn’t just stand and sing, they had a complete choreographed performance with every song.
And as a finishing touch, Maxine Powell was added, to teach them dress and style and etiquette.
They learned to perform and speak and talk and even eat with elegance, so they would be at ease at the White House or Buckingham Palace.
And when the artists were rolling off the production line, just like at Fords, they were the finished complete product, unlike any other companies’ artists.
His record label employed 450 people, and had a phenomenal 110 top ten hits between 1960 -1970.
The young man’s name was Berry Gordy and the record label he founded was Motown.
Some of the artists to roll off his production line are as follows:
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Michael Jackson & The Jackson Five, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Tammi Terrell, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Al Green, The Isley Brothers, Mary Wilson, Eddie Kendricks, The Commodores, Junior Walker, The Pointer Sisters, Edwin Starr, and lots more.
All by ignoring the rules of the music business and making up his own rules.
By using what he’d learned from a completely different business, the production line at Fords, and applying it to the music business.
He didn’t try to do the music business the way everyone said it should be done.
But I often think that’s how we do our jobs.
Frightened to step out of line in case anyone points the finger at us.
Frightened of not doing it the way everyone else agrees it should be done.
We are so worried about getting every little detail approved we forget to be exciting.
I think we forget this isn’t school, this isn’t university, this isn’t an exam.