How To Get Started- A Lesson From Punk

Music lost a creative legend last week with the death of Buzzcocks lead singer and writer Pete Shelley.  As well as disrupting music with their abrasive sound, they started a DIY movement which we can learn a lot from in strategy.


Pete Shelley, the lead singer of 70s punk band the Buzzcocks died 6 December 2018. Our last blog post talked about the value of cross industry innovation, where better to look than a host of spiky-haired punk rockers, who disrupted music culture leaving a legacy behind.

Never heard of The Buzzcocks? This Manchester band were a crucial link in the musical chain of the UK punk scene - being inspired by the Sex Pistols and opening the door for Joy Division. As well as having their name appropriated by the TV quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks, they left us with memorable tunes such as Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve).

So What?

What has yet another dead rocker got to do with business, strategy and anything digital?

Besides giving us an excuse to have the Buzzcocks on repeat here at Upstart Hub, there’s a lot to learn from how they disrupted and subverted the music business.

The Buzzcocks were DIY legends. Today it’s hard to believe that the only route to the public’s ears was through conservative and risk-averse record labels. Getting your music recorded, pressed and distributed represented a huge cost, and labels were famous for playing it safe with profitable hits.

The Buzzcocks bypassed the existing system by funding and producing their own EP, Spiral Scratch, and selling it to fans at gigs. Through self-publishing in the form of fanzines, this marked the start of the DIY mindset which led to musicians with no training, no business structure and very little money to reach an audience.

To call it disruptive is an understatement.

So Now What?

Times have changed. The music business looks completely different in the digital age. With services such as Soundcloud, MixCloud and Bandcamp, barriers to entry are so low, that there is now more music available than a human can ever listen to.

But we can learn a lot from Pete Shelley, the Buzzcocks and from punk. The same ethos drove us to start Upstart with nothing. Our Breakthrough Strategy approach is “Three Sprints and an Attitude” - an appropriation of punk’s rallying cry “Three Chords and an Attitude” meaning anyone can get started with no structure or connections.

Creating our original Upstart original punk logo showed that things don’t have to be perfect to get started. We used free fonts and tools and bypassed the need for a designer.  And we called our blog Start Here, because we believe getting started is the most important thing you can do.

Crucially, we did not follow the existing business routes and did not seek permission.

Today, the original logo is gone, but Breakthrough Strategy is still about doing things fast, being clear and outcome focused whilst challenging the status quo.

So if you’re struggling to deal with getting started and no-one’s taking notice, here’s three things you can learn from the Buzzcocks:

Don’t ask for permission. The incumbents (market leaders or your superiors) will never let you into the mainstream. Get started without them and do it yourself.

Use what’s to hand. Punks pressed their own records, cut up newspapers and photocopied and hand distributed their fanzines. What can you do with low-cost and no-cost tools to get out there?

Keep it quick, simple and to the point. Today’s corporates and their bloated ways feel like a full side of a prog rock album. A 3-minute song is all you need.

RIP Pete Shelley, musician.