20 Feet From Stardom — The (Backup) Entrepreneur Journey

“When you’re a background singer it is a springboard but it can easily become quicksand if that’s not what you want to do” — Judith Hill (Michael Jackson’s backup singer).

This one is for all the marketing and branding agencies out there, to all the ghost writers and freelance web designers — Thanks for making us look like rockstars.

First thing’s first, if you haven’t seen “20 Feet From Stardom” you need to take away 90 minutes from your push notifications and dashboards to treat yourself to an awesome documentary.

Still here?! I’ll give you the tl;dr version: 20 Feet From Stardom takes the spotlight away from rockstars and places it on the background singers that make them sound so great. And there are great characters with better life stories who have, for years, hung out just outside the focus of camera lenses and adoring stares. They were always there but not quite present for the greatest moments in rock history.

If Startup marketeers are rockstars we’re nothing without great backup vocals

20 Feet From Stardom really hit close to home with me. There’s something about startups and entrepreneurs that’s glamorous and appealing in the same way that rockbands are.

Must be the making it against all odds, rags to richest, obscurity to stardom, world-changing stories of Facebook, Google, and others.

These are the stories we love to fall in love with. Fame, fortune, and F sharp — there’s your movie title, Spielberg. At least until the next tech bubble bursts.

But enough about the movie, let’s get to the analogy. When a startup makes it, the founders and most of the employees cash in; figuratively and literally. Some founders become famous, and their employees achieve rockstar like fame within their professional circles.

In the marketing world, most startup marketeers have a small but elite army of freelancers that are the unsung heroes of every exit or IPO.

Darlene Love, another great background singer who also had a successful solo career has a line in the movie about how the words you’re singing along to are usually the words sung by the background singers not the lead singer but the lead singer gets all the credit. Is this that different from web copy produced by, say, a freelance copywriter?

Just like the backup singers featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, success depends on their performance but the rewards that come with it will not be shared.

But they get paid regardless

You’re right! The background signers are hired hands. They know the deal. They get paid regardless of success. So do freelancers and agencies. They also have the benefit of diluting their risk by “singing” for various rockband like startups.

Unlike, the startup employees, they don’t have to hitch their wagon to a single horse (last cliched metaphor — Scout’s honor).

I can already imagine outraged freelancers everywhere reading this and thinking: “Is he saying that being a freelancer is less risky than being an employee in a startup?!”

If you’re good at what you do — Yes!

Smart and experienced freelancers will always have work (if you’re one, hit me up). If a project goes under, the next one is waiting around the corner. On the other hand, if the same person decided to go the startup route then that person has decided to take on much more risk with the promise of seeing greater reward.

So ask yourself, are you ready to take the plunge? Be the focus of attention and stress?! Or do you prefer the safety of being a backup? Are you a marketing rockstar or a backup singer.

Just for fun, take a quiz to see if you could be a rockstar