(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" is a song co-written by soul singer Otis Redding and guitarist Steve Cropper. Redding recorded it twice in 1967, including once just days before his death in a plane crash. The Stax Records' Volt label released it in 1968, making the song the first "after death" single to top the charts in the US. What does this teach us about business and brands - especially now?
I'll digress for a moment to share this with you. I manage personal business influencer brands, and before Covid-19, I was traveling almost monthly to do intensive work with them. On the weekends when I don't travel, I get up early and bake my kids fresh muffins for breakfast with Otis playing on Alexa. As a result of #Coronavirus hitting, I haven't traveled since the last week in February so I've listened to the song more than a dozen times. This past Sunday, as I made blueberry muffins, the lyrics hit me differently and I had two very clear business takeaways enter my brain.
As you can read, the song lyrics themselves don't READ very inspiring - perhaps even depressing if you really think about it. So, I got to thinking why the song became a huge success and why I listen to it religiously on weekends in my kitchen. Here's the business lesson Otis left us in my own words.
"Make your best and most inspired contribution today - stretch beyond and create something extraordinary."
Businesses that use the Covid-19 experience to do something different have the opportunity to become legacy brands that far outlast our current situation. Here's why.
Note: "The Dock of the Bay" song is different in style from most of Redding's other recordings. While discussing the song with his wife, he said he wanted to "be a little different" and "change his style". His team had concerns that the song had too much of a pop feel for an Otis Redding record. Many ideas were thrown around but never carried out. Redding had considered the song unfinished and planned to record a final version. He never got the chance.
Thankfully, after Redding's death, Cropper mixed the song at Stax Studios, adding the sound of seagulls and waves crashing to the background, as Redding had requested (the sounds he had heard when he was staying on the houseboat.) The song went on to top the charts, is Redding's most popular song to date, has sold millions of copies, and has been covered by artists all over the world like Justin Timberlake and Sammy Haggard.
As I baked muffins this past weekend, listening to the song over and over again, the two thoughts that kept circulating in my head (which hasn't seen a hairdresser in almost 2 months but I digress) are:
THOUGHT ONE: "The Dock of the Bay" connects with our human spirit as it acknowledges our journey. Re-read the lyrics and you'll see that Otis is singing about his own journey (spiritual and possibly entrepreneurial) - the whistling, the bird sounds and the waves crashing added to the emotional experience - all part of his journey and the song's unique sound. As a musician and artist, his brand's success is completely dependent on his ability to produce great work that connects to people. Business owners, now more than ever, feel this huge pressure 'to get it right!'
With all the uncertainty in business, it is easy for #leaders to resonate with this lyric:
'Cause I've got nothin' to live for
Looks like nothin's gonna come my way, so
Everything surrounding this complete economic overhaul gives all us business owners moments of pause when this lyric hits too close to home. Otis wanted to reinvent his style with 'The Dock of the Bay' - but many cautious opinions slowed him down. He kept working on the song's production, even leaving specific editing instructions on how to bring it to life. His vision was clear to his team so, despite his tragedy, his greatest work was released to the world.
THOUGHT TWO: We need to do our best work - today - by creating meaningful connections with our teams, audience, customers, and our bigger mission. It's time to change things up. Leaders, visionaries, creators, innovators, influencers - if everything changes in 3 days for you, what will be your impact?
I'm working with brands right now that are:
generating massive amounts of free educational content to help businesses
creating collaborations between companies to keep people employed
investing in businesses that need to be sustained
developing new products and services to address new needs
releasing art in the form of videos, writing, paintings
So, reconsider this lyric with the above perspective:
Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' comes
Watchin' the ships roll in
Then I watch 'em roll away again
Your business/brand will be sitting when the evening comes, watching the ships of uncertainty roll away if you focus on emotional connections and creating your best work - today!