Campus News

Lead singer talks with students about ‘harvesting luck’ in music

Camper Van Beethoven
David Lowery (center) is the co-founder of bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.

Lead singer talks with students about ‘harvesting luck’ in music

Cracker lead singer David Lowery can add “financial theorist” to the résumé of his platinum-selling music career.

Lowery, the co-founder of bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, gave a lecture to students in UGA’s Music Business Program on Oct. 29.

He told the students that “virtually all successful individuals in the music business unconsciously adopt the same strategy to ‘harvest’ luck,” basing his argument on theories that are more commonly applied to financial markets.

“Skill matters, talent matters, but the great share of revenues generated by people in the music business usually involves luck,” said Lowery, who studied abstract mathematics and computer programming in college and realized while working for a private hedge fund that everyone in the music business had essentially mimicked a specific trading style to maximize their luck.

Lowery coined the strategy “long tail, long volatility,” which incorporates the ideas of Chris Anderson, a former editor of The Economist, and the black swan theory of Nicholas Taleb, a former financial derivatives specialist and now critic, author and philosopher.

The way this strategy harvests luck in the music business industry, Lowery said, is by placing a high number of small bets on projects that have little to no overhead and the successes have unlimited financial upside to far outweigh the losses.

Lowery illustrated how specific careers in the music industry meet the long tail, long volatility profile, then he described for the students how they can apply the same rules to develop a long-term strategy for success in the music business.

Lowery came to prominence on the music scene as the founder of the alternative rock group Camper Van Beethoven in 1983. The band’s song, “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” served as the title track for  filmmaker Michael Moore’s 2002 Academy Award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine.

Both Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker are known for drawing upon a variety of music influences, including rock, punk, country, folk and blues. Lowery has translated his experiences and influences as a singer-songwriter into artist production. As the co-founder of Sound of Music Studios in Richmond, Va., he has worked with numerous artists including Sparklehorse, September 67 and Counting Crows.

“David Lowery’s unique talents allow him to explain the marketplace of the music industry with a keen perspective of an academic coupled with the practical experience of a successful musician, songwriter and producer,” said Bruce Burch, director of the Music Business Program. “Several students told us the lecture was the most fascinating presentation they have seen.”