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The Beatles performing in 1963
'With a little help from my friends' - The Beatles had a manager on their cornerImage: picture-alliance/Photoshot
MusicUnited Kingdom

Lessons to learn from The Beatles

Brenda Haas
January 1, 2022

What do the Fab Four have in common with J.K.Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, and Steven Spielberg? Here's a hint: it's neither fame nor fortune.


On New Year's Day, 1962, two bands auditioned for Decca Records in London. The company had been scouting for a new act that would appeal to the younger crowd. After hearing both bands, the executives decided on Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, a 1960s beat band whose later hits would include a cover of "Twist and Shout." 

Explaining their decision to the other band's manager, Brian Epstein, the record executives reasoned that "guitar groups were on the way out."

While Epstein continued seeking a record label for his Liverpudlian quartet, the band members — John, Paul, George, and Ringo— were themselves dispirited and close to calling it quits.

Today, 60 years later, The Beatles' New Year's Day rejection story holds timely lessons for us — even in the face of a pandemic.

Lesson 1: Resilience

The Beatles are not the only pop culture personalities who spectacularly bounced back after failure.

Bestselling author of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishing houses before Bloomsbury picked up her manuscript. Oprah Winfrey,  whose famous interviewees have included singer Michael Jackson and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle,was once fired from her job as an evening news reporter. She was deemed "unfit for television news" for being unable to detach herself emotionally from stories. And Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg who recently reimagined the bestselling musical "West Side Story," was rejected three times by the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television.

All however exhibited one particular trait: resilience.

Oprah Winfrey interviewing Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Talk show queen, Oprah Winfrey (seen here with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) was once deemed 'unfit for television news'Image: Joe Pugliese/AP/picture alliance

"I believe those who perform, write, and entertain are some of the most resilient people in the world. Think about writers — they encounter so many rejections before their work gets published. Think about actors who try out for many roles before landing one. Any artist who has been working as one for 10, 20, 30 years is already resilient. Those who are starting their artistic career may not be. However, they are also probably very attuned to the new artistic mediums — YouTube, the internet, Instagram, etc. They make it work," Shantha Mohan, mentor and project guide at Carnegie Mellon University's Silicon Valley Campus tells DW.

While artists might have had to retreat to lick their wounds after an audition went south pre-COVID, the pandemic and its repeated lockdowns now require more grit than ever.

"Almost all artists took to the internet to keep their craft alive and stay relevant during the isolation. Many of them are collaborating. For example, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber together created a music video 'Stuck With U' that supports the First Responders Children's Foundation," says Mohan, who also co-founded Retail Solutions Inc. (RSi), a leader in retail data analytics. 

Analyst Shantha Mohan
'Give help to retain hope' - Shantha MohanImage: private

Lesson 2: Innovation

In "The Beatles: an oral history" anthology by David Pritchard and Alan Lysaght, Paul McCartney says, "Listening to the tapes, I can understand why we failed the Decca audition. We weren't that good, though there were some quite interesting and original things," Regardless, "The Beatles looked at the setback as a learning experience and didn't give up. The failure propelled them to keep innovating," explains Shantha Mohan, an avowed Beatles fan herself.

She points out how the band had faced rejections prior to the Decca episode, yet continued honing their skills, sometimes playing back-to-back gigs in various locations including in Hamburg, Germany in 1960.

"It taught them to develop humility, tenacity, understanding their audience, the flair — who doesn't remember the vigorous head-shaking — that woos the audience," says Mohan whose book  "Leadership Lessons with The Beatles" is slated for publication in May 2022. 

The four members of the Swedish pop group, ABBA
ABBA and their 'ABBA-tars': prime examples of innovationImage: picture alliance/dpa/PA Media

Fast forward to today, and Swedish pop icons, ABBA, have taken it up a notch. The band, who will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, will be embarking on a world tour with a difference come May 2022.

The singers will be projecting digital avatars — or "Abba-tars" — of themselves onstage instead of performing live, thanks to the technology provided by Industrial Light and Magic — the visual effects company founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas.

A nifty solution to entertaining while being socially distanced.

"ABBA is an excellent example of how entertainers are being innovative today. They have embraced cutting-edge technology to give them the power to reach today's tech-savvy audience. ABBA Voyage where they will appear digitally as they were in 1977, has been in the works since 2016," says Mohan, underscoring that resilience and innovation "go hand in hand."

Remake West Side Story Musical von Steven Spielberg
Rejected three times by film school, Steven Spielberg went on to win three Oscars; two for Best DirectorImage: Twentieth Century Studios/Zuma/imago images

Lesson 3: Hope

And finally, in light of an ever-evolving virus that has resulted in renewed restrictions and lockdowns, Mohan says that as individuals, we need to be hopeful. And one way of retaining our own hope is to render help whenever we can.

Referring to the Decca episode, Mohan argues that The Beatles, for instance, had their manager Epstein on their side and that gave them hope to keep going. "You can feed off each other's hopes too," she says.

Mohan is particularly inspired by the work of Jose Andres, the Spanish-born American chef, restaurateur, and founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters. Currently, the organization also provides meals to those affected by the pandemic.

"We have to believe that it is temporary and keep moving forward. Make ourselves useful in whatever we can do, if we are able. Helping others is one way to give ourselves hope that this too shall pass," she concludes.

Edited by: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

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