Learning from the Music Industry: Evolving with Technology Disruption

November 25, 2022



Learning from the Music Industry: Evolving with Technology Disruption

Learning from the Music Industry: Evolving with Technology Disruption

J.R. Richards is a platinum selling American rock artist. He was the lead singer and songwriter for the band Dishwalla which achieved a major US No 1 hit, several music awards, and released five albums. J.R. now is an artist entrepreneur with four solo albums who continues to develop his 30+ year career. He shares the open-minded and entrepreneurial approach which allowed him to ride the technology wave that disrupted the music industry. What learnings can help us adapt through the current period of disruption?


[01:28] How the music industry can offer us ideas having faced earlier major technology disruption.

[04:16] J.R. writes his first song at nine and then starts studying opera techniques at 18.

[04:58] The importance of protecting and managing content creation ability as an artist.

[07:40] J.R. enters the music industry at the tail end of its traditional operating model.

[08:19] Control was signed away to get essential physical distribution on finite shelves.

[09:32] Artists mostly kept revenues from touring but events also relied on labels’ power.

[10:32] The opaque economics as labels lent artists money to record, market, and distribute their albums.

[12:24] Technology disruption hits and the labels scramble to restructure as revenues drop.

[13:15] As digital music quality improves, distribution barriers disappear along with the need to be on a major label.

[14:30] Label consolidation took Dishwalla from A&M Records to Polygram to Universal to Interscope.

[16:24] A merger grounds release of Dishwalla’s second album prompting them to embrace technology developments to connect with fans directly and get more control at a smaller label.

[18:15] Who actually had the rockstar lifestyle—the label executives or the rockstars?!

[19:37] The industry is in upheaval exploring revenue models in licensing deals with multiple platforms.

[21:50] A dramatic murder causes the band’s label to fold and J.R. gets disillusioned.

[23:35] The band breaks up and J.R. goes solo just as digital distribution becomes mainstream.

[24:43] A massive Aha moment as J.R. gets his first ever accurate sales reports.

[26:31] How the pandemic forces JR to develop emerging opportunities as venues close.

[28:30] Why it is beneficial to check out and experiment with new options.

[29:40] J.R. pivots well creating innovative experiences for fans (helped by a talented marketer—his wife!).

[31:37] The vital importance of owning your core IP—the master of your album.

[34:35] New, tougher touring economics after many venues closed down.

[35:59] J.R. continues experimenting on YouTube, Spotify, and other platforms to engage new fans.

[36:58] A young singer has millions of views on TikTok of him singing a Dishwalla song J.R. wrote.

[37:25] J.R.’s equitable approach to collaborating with the singer.

[39:25] J.R. enjoys the collaboration process and finds more access and conversation helps.

[40:24] Inviting big fans into the song development process, J.R. agrees with one fan’s suggestion.

[41:37] How scary it was to show fans behind the curtain.

[43:19] The new balance of art and business as creators have to push themselves out in front of people.

[45:22] Using data to make educated decisions, control your career, and make a living.

[46:53] How ongoing learning allows you to develop your craft and create long-term value for yourself.

[48:35] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: Be really open-minded and when change starts happening, instead of fighting against it, check it out and ideally embrace it because you may find it’s better now than it was in the past.

[53:02] J.R. Richards sings!


“It was the nineties, you had to sign a deal with a big label if you want to make it big.”

“It always felt like the executives running the label had more of the rockstar lifestyle and personality than the actual rock stars on the label!”

“It is terrifying because you are showing them [fans] behind the curtain. But you also realize how much people really appreciate that and it doesn’t diminish the way they look at you as an artist, it actually increases their appreciation for what you do.”

“I think the hardest thing is for the artist to put monetary value to what they do and push themselves out in front of people in hope that someone will buy what they’ve created.”

“You can get all that information and you can make some really educated decisions about where you focus your time and your energy and you can make a massive career out of it.”