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Learning from Lady Gaga

Berlin, May 23rd, 2011

Martin Kupp

An interview with Martin Kupp, former ESMT faculty member and co-author of a case study on Lady Gaga.

Martin, you just published a case study together with Jamie Anderson and Jörg Reckhenrich of Antwerp Management School on Lady Gaga. When you consider Lady Gaga’s wild and rebellious appearance, she is not the person who first comes to mind as a professional businessperson.  Why did you choose her for the case study?

First of all, according to standard criteria, she is a very successful entertainer – probably the most successful contemporary entertainer. By the end of 2010 she had seven consecutive songs that had reached the two million mark in paid downloads in the US. We believe that her meteoric career holds many lessons also for more traditional businesses, for example her way of using social media to create a community. But also the way she creates continuous publicity through very different engagements from music to fashion and the arts.

In which way does Lady Gaga differ from other currently successful artists?

Unlike many pop stars, Lady Gaga is recognized by music industry insiders as having real talent. She is known to never lip-sync during performances and also writes many of her own songs. She has also written songs for the Pussycat Dolls, Britney Spears and the New Kids on the Block, among others. She has a reputation as a perfectionist, with her eye on every little detail, and she really wants to have control. This is what makes her so successful. Moreover, from a business point of view, the way Lady Gaga is produced differs from other artists.


Lady Gaga is a living example of the new business model of the 21st century music industry- what the industry calls the "360 deal" in which music companies share a proportion of revenues from every aspect of the artist's business. Lady Gaga is one of the first major artists to have been launched under this model, with a portion of her income from all of her different commercial activities being shared with Interscope Records. Although Lady Gaga has a contract with Interscope Records, she appears to be very much in control of (what and) the way her music is written and produced.

Regarding your latest book “The Fine Art of Success,” in which you point out what managers can learn from artists, what can people learn from the connection between art and business in the Lady Gaga case study?

Artists are often considered individualists and loners who want to fulfill their ideas or dreams, mostly without any interest in earning money. Businesses, in contrast, are made up of many different individuals and target making a profit. In business, products and services should have characteristics and a use that can be seen and described. The “use” of art is not always visible. A company is structured and functions according to certain rules; an artist is allowed to or even expected to be rebellious and different. I think Lady Gaga has somehow found the balance between the two. She is fully aware of how to be successful and to get people’s attention. At the same time she stresses how happy she is to be able to do what she always wanted to do.

The case study can help teach how to develop a good understanding of the elements of strategic innovation and how an individual or an organization can shake up an established industry merely by framing and answering the fundamental strategic questions “Who is the customer,” “What do I offer this customer,” and “How do I create value for the customer – and ultimately myself” differently. It provides rich data to discuss the way in which new technologies like social media can be used as tools for innovation.