Wasting Away — How Jimmy Buffett Turned a Song into a $600 Million Business
“I won’t make my music for money, no, I’m gonna make my music for me.”
— Jimmy Buffett
In 1977, radios began playing a song about wasting away in some place called Margaritaville, and they haven’t stopped since.
Jimmy Buffett’s first and only Top 10 hit was more than a song; it was the start of a brand that has earned $600 million to date.
How can a singer with only one hit — and who a lot of people can’t stand — become one of the wealthiest celebrities in America (according to Forbes in 2016)?
The key is authenticity.
People Love Authenticity
Kicking off with the launch of several Margaritaville-themed restaurants in 1985, Jimmy Buffett transformed his beach-bum sound into a music, books, restaurants, stores, casinos, hotels, and a Broadway musical.
But he didn’t sit down with a focus group to figure out what the best brand to sell would be. He took his authentic lifestyle and put it to music. And it resonated with people.
The people it resonated with didn’t have to be the masses. They just needed to make up a large enough niche to be profitable. And that’s what Jimmy Buffett found.
In fact, trying to appeal to the masses results in neither appeal nor the masses. You will come across as fake, and no one will listen to you. That's because no one wants to listen to fake.
Jimmy Buffett had other songs that showed off other aspects of his personality. Much of his early work, in fact, had nothing to do with beaches and drinks. Instead, songs like “Death of an Unpopular Poet” and “He Went to Paris” were ballads about interesting people.
But Buffett, along with being one of America’s greatest songwriters, is also a savvy businessman. When he saw that the booze-filled, beach song Margaritaville struck a special cord with fans, he realized he had discovered his niche and ran with it. This niche didn’t have to comprise of his entire personality; it just had to be authentic to him.
Authenticity in Business
Jimmy Buffett’s career can teach us about $600 million worth of business lessons. He began with something he truly loved, found a niche market for it filled with others who loved the same thing, and sold them that feeling.
Without authenticity, it would have never even gotten off the ground. I don’t fantasize about sipping margaritas on the beach, so if I tried to sell the same feeling to the same niche, I’d be lucky to make one sale. People can smell fake from a mile away.
As I’ve discussed in other articles, we all have a personal brand. This is what your boss hired when he or she gave you a job. This is how we present ourselves to the outside world, and it will determine what everyone else thinks of us. A personal brand isn’t a choice; it’s something that we all have, so we might as well start investing in it.
Being authentic will elevate your personal brand — or your business, in the case of entrepreneurs — above everyone else. When you are being uniquely you, no one else can compete against you, since you’re the only you in the world. Sound like something out of a Tony Robbins talk? Maybe, but it earned Jimmy Buffett fortune and fame.
Jimmy Buffett found a niche for his authentic music and channeled all of his energy to serving that market. He was only successful because the core of his message is authentic. In the same way, we can all better sell our personal brands by being more authentic and not worrying about how everyone in the world will like us.