A few years ago, Scott Bradlee was living in a basement apartment in New York City, hustling for jazz piano gigs at clubs and restaurants, and dreaming of something a little better.
So he got a few friends together, started arranging jazz-, ragtime- and swing-style covers of modern pop songs, filming them, and uploading them to YouTube. His project, Postmodern Jukebox, exploded. The power of the share button catapulted them to Internet stardom — and then, the real thing.
Now, Bradlee and his friends are on their third big tour, playing sold-out concert halls in the United States and Europe.
What is the secret to Postmodern Jukebox’s success? It’s certainly not ego. If you’ve ever seen them live, you know that the only person in the act with top marquee billing — Bradlee himself — hardly even talks. In fact, for most of the concert, he sits calmly and quietly at the piano, plinking and playing away in a support role as flashy musicians, singers and dancers take center stage.
He sings exactly one line the entire time.
Most popular music, especially the stuff on the radio today, is built around the cult of the individual: the standoffish diva, the lone-wolf lead singer, the reality-show American Idol contestant who advances to the finals with a spotlight and a singular voice. The individuals are so individual, sometimes, that they have one voice: Madonna. Usher. Rihanna. Beyonce.
What we forget is that behind every diva, there is a horde: Makeup artists. Sound technicians. Roadies. Costume designers. Record label executives. Songwriters. Recording engineers. Vocal coaches. Doctors. Ticket-takers.
It takes a lot of teamwork to make a star shine.
I’m making an educated guess that Scott Bradlee knows that. He has harnessed the power of teamwork for Postmodern Jukebox, turning individual talents into something a lot bigger and better.
Good teams — little, functional communities — are the lifeblood of any company that works well. Teamwork made the iPhone. Teamwork made the tallest buildings in Chicago and Dubai. Why do teachers assign so many annoying small-group projects? Group dynamics and the need for teamwork doesn’t just show up now and again in adult life — it is adult life.
Good teams help their members play to their strengths. The six singers in the cast of Postmodern Jukebox all sing different sorts of songs, picking and choosing the kind of piece that suits their voice best.
It’s just like assigning roles to a basketball team. A forward will have different roles and strengths than a point guard. A team of only forwards will fail. They win when they work together.
Sometimes in a team you’re the Beyonce of the team. You’re the central star around which everything else revolves. It’s a nice feeling, but remember: Without a support structure, even the tallest building falls. Make sure your team knows they’re valued and important and that you can’t do it without them.
Sometimes you’re the Scott Bradlee of your team. Maybe your talents are crucial, but they’re not as flashy as your friends’. Teamwork will still take you to the top — and it might just be the thing that assures that move.
The world would very much like to convince you that success is a lonely, clawing, slog to the top, with only the most talented and the most beautiful occupying the peak of any career. Scott Bradlee’s band proves that it’s partnership, though, that makes success happen.
Nurture the partnerships in your life. Honor and grow the teams you find yourself in, whether it’s a sports team or a small group for an English presentation.
Alone, you might not get far.
Together, you’ll go the distance.