Beatlemania at 50: Three Modern Lessons to Take Away

It's hard to believe that it's been 50 years since Beatlemania arrived in America, but on February 9th, 1964, the Fab Four played "The Ed Sullivan Show" and -- well, you know the rest. It's history. This newest issue of Billboard features a lengthy analysis of John, Paul, George and Ringo's ascent through the lens of modern "virality." Below is the second supplemental to that feature which we're publishing online -- you can pick up a copy of the magazine here if you'd like to read it in full  -- three post-millenium lessons to take away from their inimitable career.


Three lessons the music business of today can learn from the Beatles in 1964.


“Going viral” is a new name for an old phenomenon. The Internet is traditional word-of-mouth on steroids, amplifying a message by making it easy to quickly share information. But gossip, recommendations and opinions have always spread from person to person. As the old Fabergé Organics commercial goes, one person tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. The job of business is to both build and capitalize on that word-of-mouth. The Beatles went viral by creating word-of-mouth and turning the buzz into mainstream media attention. It’s a feedback loop that feeds itself. In the United Kingdom, manager Brian Epstein and EMI converted public interest into media attention into more public interest. The U.S. media’s interest in the band’s U.K. media coverage started a chain reaction of radio airplay, public interest and national TV appearances—which resulted in more airplay, public interest and TV coverage.


The Beatles probably wouldn’t have become legends in the United States without major-label backing. A standout song or artist may have success in one market but will need help breaking into others. With music more of a global business than ever, great music will need a strong, global company and good leadership to maximize its potential.


EMI passed on the first two Beatles singles, “Please Please Me” and “Love Me Do,” but committed to what became the group’s breakout single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Surprisingly little has changed through the decades. Adele is signed to indie XL Recordings in the United Kingdom but became a superstar around the world because XL worked with Sony Music outside of its home market. PSY was already known outside South Korea when “Gangnam Style” started to explode, but Scooter Braun’s School Boy label and Universal Music Group helped turn a YouTube hit into an international career.



The necessity of good timing and luck is hardly a nugget of wisdom that professionals can implement in their careers. Nevertheless, fortuitous and unpredictable events often play a role in an artist’s success. Ed Sullivan happened to be at the London Airport that day in 1963 when 1,000 screaming fans met the Beatles on their return from Sweden. That was the first step in convincing Sullivan to book the band on his show. But the next steps came from having a manager able to recognize the opportunity and exploit it while in New York with another one of his artists. In today’s instantaneous environment—where timing and luck can mean a tweet from Justin Bieber about his favorite new Carly Rae Jepsen song—that means seeing things as they surface and acting just as quickly. —Glenn Peoples