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Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History

In Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan, it was more than just a walk down memory lane. At its core, there were huge marketing lessons that shook up the music industry and created a community of deadheads that lasted a lifetime.

There’s something about the music documentary that just whisks me away from reality, and I get immersed in their rise, fall, and everything in between. Maybe that’s why I loved Daisy Jones and the Sixes so much that I binged it in two days! (No, that’s not a documentary. Yet the leading woman musician was Elvis Preslely’s granddaughter, Riley Keogh.) Now, I’ve officially gone off-topic!

Back to music, I came across this book in one of the marketing groups I’m in and immediately put it on my list to listen to on Audible. What you have to know is this book came out in 2010, so some of the info in here is a bit dated.

Yet, the core of the book and the marketing ideas in it are timeless and worth their weight in gold and more.

Being in marketing for over 30 years, it’s in my blood. And with my obsession of late with music and documentaries, this book fits right in.

What I love about the music industry is when the musician in the documentary shares their creativity, how they write their songs, and how they are driven. The David Letterman U2 documentary was soooo good mainly because of that. And Dave asked some moving questions.

I picked up this book not because I love the Grateful Dead—sadly, I was never a Deadhead. Yet I did like some of their songs. What intrigued me about this book was how The Grateful Dead bucked the music industry and created an amazing business with their music that withstood the test of time.

They weren’t in it for the money. They truly were in it for the fans and their love of music, concert touring, and bucking the system. They were the first to not focus on creating albums to make money. They did concerts to make money, and money they made, and then some, even though they endeared themselves to fans by letting them record the live concerts to share with friends. I mean, what band does that?

The kicker is that they still made money off of converted recordings because people always wanted the polished thing. So, if you’re in business or marketing, remember this: Giving away your best stuff for free won’t kill your business. It will create more raving fans. Especially if you’re in the creative field, selling information, training, etc., you will always be creating more and better stuff. 

What I Loved About This Book:

This book, Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History, was written by two of its biggest fans, David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan, who are both marketing experts and dedicated Deadheads, offer a front-row seat to the Grateful Dead’s groundbreaking methods, making it feel as though you’re part of a master class with the legends themselves. 

I love how they share their stories from concerts. And how The Grateful Dead loved and honored their most loyal fans with a separate phone line where they were allotted some of the best seats at concerts. Who does that any more? The scalpers and Ticketmaster are making all the money. No such thing as loyalty. Maybe Taylor Swift will fix all that. 🙂 

The ideas in this book have stood the test of time and created loyal fans to this day. Going to a concert was a huge event. People traded, bought, hung out, and connected. That’s what The Dead did. They created a huge raving community, which they treated well, and that community loved and followed them everywhere.

The book contains many practical ideas that will definitely help you jumpstart your business and get your brain in high gear. 

Check out the “Things You Will Discover” Section for specific lessons.

A Book Summary to Inspire You To Read It!

Quick Summary:
Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History” by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan is an enlightening and innovative exploration of marketing tactics that defy conventional norms. Drawing from the unique approach of the Grateful Dead, this book demonstrates how the band’s non-traditional strategies in fan engagement and branding not only built a lasting legacy but also transformed the music industry.

I’d highly recommend the book in the audiobook format. Its engaging narrative is infused with a sense of mentorship and insight that can inspire businesses across all sectors to think creatively and cultivate a devoted customer base. If you’re looking to step outside the box with your marketing strategies, this is a must-listen that brings that spirit of innovation right into your ears.

Who Ought to Read this Book and Why:
Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead is far more than a traditional marketing textbook. It’s an invitation to revolutionize your marketing approach, guided by the innovative strategies of one of the most unconventional bands in music history. This book is perfect for entrepreneurs, marketing professionals, and business leaders looking to infuse their strategies with creativity and boldness that can set them apart in a competitive market.

Of course, it’s ideal for Grateful Dead fans and music historians interested in how the band’s unique approach to business contributed to their enduring legacy. By exploring the Grateful Dead’s fan-centered business model, free distribution of content, and community-building tactics, you can gain insights into building a loyal community base and thriving in an ever-changing business environment. This book takes you on a journey through marketing that is as unconventional as the band itself, offering valuable lessons that are applicable way beyond the music industry.

Things You Will Discover:

This book illustrates how breaking norms and thinking creatively can lead to unprecedented success. It also details how the band’s approaches to building and maintaining a fan base were pioneering and how these strategies can be applied in the business world. NOTE: The book came out in 2010, so some of the concepts and the tech are outdated. Yet, their core ideas for building fans can still work today. all you need to have a successful business is 1000 fans. That’s it.

Timeless Marketing Strategies from the Grateful Dead:

Fan Relationships: Unlike other bands of their time, the Grateful Dead fostered a unique and direct relationship with their fans. They encouraged the sharing of their music and allowed fans to record shows and trade tapes freely, which was against the norms of the music industry that typically sought to control the distribution of music.

Innovating The Music Business Model: The Grateful Dead were trailblazers in shifting the music industry business model from focusing primarily on record sales to making concerts the main source of revenue. They understood early on that live performances could not only drive higher revenues but also create deeper connections with their audience. And they could sell more merchandise at concerts because all the fans were in one place. Remember, this was before the internet. 🙂 

Branding and Community: The band established a distinct brand that was closely tied to a sense of community among its fans. This community, known as “Deadheads,” was highly loyal, traveling across the country to attend their concerts. This sense of community and identity around the band was something that they actively nurtured through their music, their engagement with fans, and their overall philosophy.

Direct-to-Fan Sales: The Grateful Dead pioneered bypassing traditional music distribution channels to sell directly to their fans. They created a mailing list! (This is not an email list; this was before the email.) They sold concert tickets and merchandise directly through their mailing list, which allowed them to keep prices lower and maintain control over their sales.

Strategic Free Content: By allowing and encouraging the free exchange of concert tapes, the Grateful Dead essentially practiced what would now be considered a form of content marketing. They understood that the more their music was shared, the larger and more engaged their fan base would become, driving demand for concert tickets and other revenue streams.

Carve Out Your Niche: Create a unique business model for your niche. Don’t follow what others are doing. Do something different and pave the way. Maybe offer 3 different prices based on what your dream clients can afford. Maybe you give away more for free and use a sliding scale or pay-over-time model. Don’t do what everyone else is doing.

Partner With Others to Create More Success: The Grateful Dead was awesome at attracting several vendors to their concerts who made money working in sync with them. You can use this model, too. Who can you partner with, or joint venture with to help each other’s businesses?

Give to Support a Bigger Cause: The Grateful Dead did so much to help support any cause that was dear to them in their city of San Francisco. Get behind a cause that’s aligned with your mission and vision, support it, and share it with your dream clients to get behind it as well.

The strategies used by the Grateful Dead are highly applicable to modern marketing, especially in the digital age where fan (or customer) engagement and community building are crucial. Businesses can learn about the importance of fostering a direct relationship with customers, the benefits of community building, and the strategic use of free content to increase brand loyalty and drive other revenue streams.

Inspiring Book Quotes:

It Was About Innovation:
“It was their innovative approach to connecting with fans that allowed the Dead to prosper, despite the fact that their recordings rarely reached the top of the charts..“

They Were Ahead Of Their Time:
“In the 1960s, the Grateful Dead pioneered many social media and inbound marketing concepts that businesses across all industries use today.”

Selling Tickets Directly:
“Rather than selling tickets through Ticketmaster and others as every other band did at the time, they simply sold the tickets directly to their fans.”

Your Brand Name is Huge:
“When you select an uncommon name, it’s unlikely that consumers will confuse your product with something similar. They will remember you.”

Being Open to New Possibilities…
The Grateful Dead were incredibly smart about how they kept in touch with their fans, creating millions of Dead Heads.” 

Creating a Complimentary Brand Ecosystem:
“If you have a very successful product like the Grateful Dead or Facebook, it is possible for you to open it up into a platform to let others “build applications” on top of it.”

Being Way Ahead of The Crowd:
“They were so far ahead of any other rock band’s concert sound system, it catapulted the Grateful Dead into a different music technology solar system.”

Being The Only Ones:
“You do not merely want to be considered the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones that do what you do.” ~ Jerry Garcia

You Gotta Just Be You:
“Be yourself. The Grateful Dead are anything but glam rockers. Often, they appeared on stage looking scruffy and unkempt, but their fans just loved how they looked like the average Joe.”

Believe In Magic:
“Magic is what we do. Music is how we do it. ”

About the Authors:  David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan

Brian Halligan has seen the Grateful Dead perform more than 100 times. He is CEO & cofounder of HubSpot, a marketing software company that helps businesses transform the way they market their products by “getting found” on the Internet. Brian is also coauthor of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs and is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at MIT. In his spare time, he sits on a few boards of directors, follows his beloved Red Sox, goes to the gym, and is learning to play guitar.

David Meerman Scott Since his first Grateful Dead show when he was a teenager in 1979, David Meerman Scott has seen the band perform over 40 times. David is a marketing strategist and a professional speaker. He is the author of the BusinessWeek bestselling book The New Rules of Marketing & PR and several other books. He speaks at conferences and corporate events around the world. He loves to surf (but isn’t very good at it), collects artifacts from the Apollo moon program, and maintains a database, with 308 entries at this writing, of every band he has seen in concert. He is a graduate of Kenyon College where he listened to a heck of a lot of Grateful Dead in his dorm room.

Where I Would Recommend Getting Your Copy:
Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan

Other Books I’d Recommend:
The Creative Act: A Way Of Being by Rick Rubin
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Put Your Heart Where Your Ass Wants to Be by Steven Pressfield

The Artist’s Journey: The Wake of The Hero’s Journey And The Lifelong Pursuit Of Meaning by Steven Pressfield

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t And Other Tough-Love Truths To Make You A Better Writer by Steven Pressfield

Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use it for Life by Twyla Thorp

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron 

A Technique For Producing Ideas by James Webb Young

Soulfully Yours,

Shannon McCaffery

Shannon McCaffery

Strategic Marketing Coach & Consultant

Previous Book Review

The Grateful Dead Marketing Lessons

Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History


Hey there, I'm Shannon! Being a voracious reader and passionate about learning, I started this site in the hopes of sharing my thoughts and my love of inspiring nonfiction books that can help you. It's kind of like Buddha meets business. I truly hope you enjoy!

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