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Positive Risk Taking in the Music Industry

Risk Aversion

The basic description of risk aversion is a person or company that doesn't want to do something because they fear the outcome, even if the outcome could be entirely positive. For example, you could be afraid of flying because of the possibility of a crash even if the statistics tell you that flying is one of the safest forms of transport.

Positive Risk Taking

In its most basic form, positive risk

taking is when we weigh up the pros and cons of a potential decision and make the best choice depending on the risk/safety factors. More pros means that a decision is safe to make, while more cons means that a decision is either unsafe or could do with more work before it is deemed safe to proceed.


We consciously, and unconsciously, make thousands of decisions every day. Many of those involve what could be potentially risky decisions, whether that's crossing the road or pulling out into traffic. But what does risk assessing have to do with the music industry?

On July 10th, guitarist Chris Shiflett responded to a tweet about why his primary band, Foo Fighters, don't delve deeper into their back catalogue. For the past several years, Foo Fighters set list has remained pretty much the same with tracks only occasionally being switched out.

What happened next was a discussion between Chris and the fans about the logistics of changing out tracks and bringing in some of the older songs that long term fans wanted to hear.

The long and short of the discussion was that it wouldn't happen because Foo Fighters, understandably, play to very large crowds that are primarily comprised of people who have never seen the band before and are therefore looking for the hits. The fans countered this by pointing out that A) They were the people who followed the band from show to show, B) Some were thinking of not attending shows because of the repetitiveness of the set list, C) None of the newer fans were in the threads asking for just the hits, and D) How many of those newer fans had been converted over to long term fans?

Chris, bless him, did his best to hold his ground but you can see that the decision of set lists is firmly out of his hands.

So, again, what does this have to do with risk taking and risk aversion?

Remember when Coca-Cola bought out New Coke and everyone lost their collective minds? Or whenever somewhere like Facebook makes a change and people, again, lose their minds? This is the same with Foo Fighters. They've found a formula that works for them and are sticking to it. If they decided to change that formula would it rock the boat and upset the people who have never seen the band before?

This is where the risk taking comes into play. They are at a point in their career where they could make minor changes and no one would complain. Over time, tiny changes become bigger changes. By that point, people would be conditioned to expect the changes and actively come to expect them. Word of mouth helps the excitement and uncertainty to spread. Causal fans may become long term fans.

But to make those changes takes courage and it takes someone to sit down and weigh up the pros and cons of the decision before making it. Yes, they could change the set list slightly. But would that equal a drop in audience numbers or potential new fans not turning out? Does making that tiny change to please the long term fans (who may be small in number at a 70,000+ person show) make financial sense? Would it be a career killer?

Only they can answer that question and only they can sit and weigh everything up.

But how do you keep everyone happy? It's a fine line to walk and, again, only one that they can decide on.

Balance is difficult in any walk of life but when you have 70,000 people to please, with a high proportion never having seen you before, it becomes even harder. That's when questions have to be asked and, to a degree, data has to be looked at. For example, how many of the people that came to a show in 2015 have become repeat “visitors” and taken in a show on the next tour? How can we keep a balance of what everyone wants to hear? If we change songs which ones do we use to keep the energy going? How can we convert people who will only see a single show into long term fans? If we play our older songs, will they go out and buy the back catalogue? Is playing the same set list risk aversion?

Shows will be made up of two sets of people. As we've said before, the vast majority will be people who've never seen a show before. They're the ones who know the hits and that's what they want to hear. The smaller set of people are the long term fans. They're happy with the hits but becoming tired of the set list and want a little variety.

Fans on Twitter made several workable suggestions. They included:

  • A core set list of songs with one or two per night being changed out for the deeper cuts.

  • A core set list and fans being encouraged to vote on the songs that they want to hear played in the “deeper cuts slot” on any given night.

  • Stadium show one night and a smaller, club show with the rarer songs the following night (and making sure that it was available to the long term fans).

  • Cut the covers and add rarities in their place.

Only the band can make decisions on what they do.

There is risk in everything that we do, whether that's crossing the road or tweaking a set list. Both of them require us to stop, think, and act. Sometimes those actions aren't for our best interests but for the best interests of those around us. Sometimes we have to face the fear of those risks and work through them to come to a compromise that's suitable for everyone.

While the original discussion took place over several posts, the two most prominent ones can be see here: