“When someone does a side project it takes away from our strength…”.

Image credit: picturesdepot.com

Metallica is one of the big four bands of Thrash Metal.  They are a worldwide phenomenon.  In the US alone they’ve sold over 50 million albums.  Their eponymously titled 1991 album sold over 20 million worldwide.

Their new album, a collaboration with Lou Reed, is out this autumn.  I know one person who has heard it (it is under tight embargo) who says it is very good.

At the height of their success in 2001 their bassist Jamie Newsted left the band for “personal reasons”. 

He had decided to work on a side project which he wanted to have running in conjunction with Metallica.  But band founder James Hetfield was adamantly against his doing so despite the fact that the side project (Echobrain) in no way threatened to compete with Metallica in commercial terms.  Hetfield however understood that while Echobrain could not beat Metallica commercially, it could beat them in another way.  It could win the war for Newsted’s heart.  Newsted could have more creative input into Echobrain,  So Echobrain could come to mean more to him that Metallica did.  Hetfield said “when someone does a side project it takes away from the strength of Metallica”, and “its like cheating on your wife in a way”.

Unacquainted as I am with the subtleties of Thrash Metal I have lots of sympathy with Hetfield’s point of view.  A band, like any brand, like any company, needs a single focus.  The heart of the band needs to be sustained by everyone in it, just as every company needs a focus point, a reason to be there. 

It is this focus that leads to success.  The reason that creative agencies should not do media is that their focus needs to be on the creative department and their creative direction to be successful. 

The focus of a media agency is on creating value for brands by investing their budgets well.  Not on winning awards for creative excellence.

If you take on a side project – bear in mind it may be where your heart is rather than on your main job.  In which case you’re now failing to do that main job properly or perhaps even at all.

4 Responses to ““When someone does a side project it takes away from our strength…”.”

  1. Ben Bale says:

    First off, this is the most metal of blog posts about media agencies I have ever read, I only hope my comment can continue the metal… ness!

    At some point during the early 90’s Metallica decided that mainstream success tasted sweeter than musical integrity. When Jason Newsted left, it seemed to be in protest of the change the band had made. You’re probably right that had he been allowed to split his time, his heart wouldn’t have been in it and Metallica would have been worse for it. (I do get round to media agencies eventually, bear with me!)

    Had Metallica been in a healthier head space, Jason Newsted’s interest in a side project would not have been a threat to the b(r)and, but rather a chance to grow creatively. They may not have agreed with everything he brought into the next rehearsal, but for them to think that external factors could do nothing but taint their music, seems very insular and limiting to me.

    Metallica defined themselves as a particular product that they knew would sell, they felt that changing that product could be dangerous for their bank balance and stopped taking risks. As media agencies in an ever changing and growing media space, if we stop taking creative risks with our work, can we really claim to being doing what is best for our clients(fans)?

    An account lead at a creative agency may not be the best person to ask about paid search strategy, but I believe that learning about it is going to help them improve their core creative work. After all, without side projects we wouldn’t have Them Crooked Vultures, Audioslave, The Eagles of Death Metal, Cream, A Perfect Circle, Million Dollar Quartet and The Gorillaz.

  2. ME says:

    Ben, I could not agree more with your final sentiment. Indeed, as we get knee deep in the digital age media agencies need to embrace creative skill sets rather than shun them. Is MediaCom Create not one such side project that is going from strength to strength?

    Creative agencies such as Poke, DARE, and W+K are embracing media skill sets in a way that is giving them a true USP beyond their self-loving creative directors. Surely the big boys in the media world should be doing the same?

    It is no longer enough to say “we will buy the space for value, you go make the ad look good’.

  3. Sue Unerman says:

    Create and MBA are not side projects for MediaCom they are crucial to our strategy of providing the best complete integrated and channel neutral solutions to grow our clients business. Sue

  4. My earlier comment doesn’t seem to have posted / been moderated (yet) – but something else that’s come to mind: external directorships are another side project that absolutely worthwhile.

    That could be either a directorship for a company that’s related to your day job (e.g. ex-Googler Lars Rasmussen joining the board of an Australian startup), or an organisation such as a musical or theatre company.