Nile Rodgers: I love data but failure brings Good Times

nile.newArtist, producer, songwriter and global hitmaker Nile Rodgers – a self-professed lover of data, maths and statistics – insists that failure is the “almighty teacher” and the only way to succeed in any business is to get inspiration from when it all goes wrong.

And, in an exclusive interview with Decision Marketing on the eve of his appearance at The Festival of Marketing, the man who has worked on multi-platinum albums for artists from David Bowie to Madonna and who has collaborated with Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams says that, ultimately, he always operates “from the heart”.

Rodgers said: “People ask me for advice all the time because they think I will know something that will give them some sort of advantage but the truth is that I operate from my heart.

“The only advice that I ever give is that I always tell me people to love and appreciate failure because failure is the almighty teacher. If you believe in success, the failures should never deter you, they should inspire you because they are very educational.”

A quick glance at his successes – Rodgers co-produced Bowie’s biggest-selling album Let’s Dance, which shifted 10.7 million copies worldwide, while Madonna’s Like a Virgin sold 21 million copies – his failures do not immediately spring to mind.

However, the music legend, who has been in the business over 40 years, says one of the reasons he is still working is that many of his records were financial failures.

He explained: “I get an advance and we make the record for a sizeable amount of money and typically they don’t even recoup. But what I have learned from those is that sometimes, with certain artists, you can be too influenced by their artistry and their passion and their technical ability. And I am easily seduced by talent and in awe of them.

“Sometimes I forget my own rule which is never make your third record first. Make your first record first.

“And, it’s important, in a wider business context too. If you do something that is intellectually over the heads of the masses; if people can’t understand you because you’re being too smart, it is pretty much like not doing it at all.”

Back in 2017, Rodgers launched Nile-Evoke, an agency that helps marketers with branding through music strategies and puts data analysis at the heart of its work. At the time, he said: “I love data – are you kidding me? It’s probably the old hippie in me, but I love data because I love to prove them wrong sometimes. Data says to me, ‘Nile, this is a fact’. If you accept it, then maybe as an artist you’ll approach the music differently.”

Another discipline Rodgers believes will have a growing influence on the music industry, as well as on business, is artificial intelligence, despite one early attempt to use the technology to devise the perfect hit record for Valentine’s Day. He said: “AI gets smarter and smarter every time you try something, it learns from its mistakes. You could easily write a song with AI and it could suddenly resonate with the people.”

Rodgers added: “I’ve always been a big fan of data, statistics, and maths but don’t like to use ‘absolutism’, as there is always an exception to the rule when you are dealing with art and creativity… There are so many variables that you can’t control but data can give you a lot.

“I love data but the truth of the matter is that almost all of my successful records have never been based on me trying to guess what the people will like, never. I always say to myself, do I like it and does my artist like it, and if we both like it then I feel that I have done my job.”

Good times: Five decades of creativity with Nile Rodgers will be online today from 1pm to 1:50pm (and available via video on demand 20 minutes after its scheduled end time) at The Festival of Marketing website>

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