Vivek Tiwary, C’96, W’96, conquered Broadway as its youngest, only producer of color. Now, he’s won over Beatles fans, the Beatles themselves, the comics world … and Hollywood. His best-selling graphic novel The Fifth Beatle, released last November, is in the works to become a major motion picture. We chronicled how Tiwary came to write the history of the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein—as have countless media outlets, including the Penn Gazette.
Here, we’ll share Tiwary’s insights into what made Epstein a genius media entrepreneur—and what business lessons anyone can apply in his or her respective industry.
“Brian Epstein is my historical mentor,” Tiwary said. Note: Tiwary stressed he’s a mentee, not a fan, and as such looks to Epstein for what to do, as well as what not to do.
Tiwary shared his six rules during a presentation to the Wharton Club of New York in May.Words of warning: As Tiwary told his Wharton audience, “None of these rules mean anything unless you believe your product or service is the best.”
1. Define Goals Clearly
Epstein had two goals. One was practical and measurable (albeit crazy sounding at the time), and that was to make the Beatles bigger than Elvis. The other was esoteric, and that was to elevate pop music into an art form. It’s best to have both types of goals.
2. The Importance of Packaging and Presentation
When Epstein discovered the Beatles in Liverpool, “they were going nowhere,” said Tiwary, even though they had already written some of their big songs. It was in part because of their image; they wore leather, smoked onstage. Epstein saw in the group a “message of love,” Tiwary said, and Epstein came up with the suits and the haircuts to represent that. He told them to be funny in press conferences, deflect criticism and be goofy.
Corollary 2a. Know When to Change
Eventually, boy bands everywhere emulated the Beatles, and the Beatles themselves grew tired of their image. Epstein encouraged the group to explore—Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, anyone?—while he soothed the record labels.
As Epstein told the band, “You play your instruments, and I will play the business like it’s an instrument.”
In a month, Epstein took the Beatles from relative unknowns to a group watched by 73 million Americans on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964. Epstein succeeded in the States by taking advantage of the latest technology—in this case transistor radios, which changed how people consumed music. With the hand-held device, friends listened to music together instead of with their families at home. Disc jockeys emerged to talk to and influence these youthful radio listeners.
Epstein booked Sullivan by agreeing to pay the costs himself for three shows, and having the Beatles receive half of what they would be paid normally for one show. He next went to record labels and radio stations and told them that the Beatles would be on Sullivan—get them on the radio now. Finally, Epstein leaked the Beatles’ arrival information to DJs, who spread the news. Listeners arrived en masse, along with reporters for a news conference arranged by Epstein at the airport.
4. Push Boundaries, Don’t Burn Bridges
The Beatles were a boy band at the height of their career with Epstein as their manager, and in the boy band playbook, the best way to cash in on instant fame is to tour. Epstein’s boy band, however, didn’t want to tour. They wanted to travel to India to learn about Eastern music.
Epstein said, “Go”—then smoothed over the record labels. Epstein was never a “shark” when negotiating deals, so labels relented when he asked for creative freedom for the Beatles.
By encouraging the exploration, Epstein created an environment in which they could meet his second, esoteric goal. He knew that the Beatles’ artistic liberty could culminate in greatness—Sgt. Pepper’s, anyone?
“He found a way to do it to make everyone happy … or at least be comfortable,” Tiwary explained.
(The Beatles trekked to Rishikesh, India, in Feb. 1968, coincidentally after Epstein’s death.)
5. The Importance of Succession Plans
Here’s where Tiwary learned from what Epstein didn’t do. Epstein died at age 32 on Aug. 27, 1967, and as Tiwary sees it, the band suffered its first disasters soon thereafter, eventually leading to a messy breakup made public by Paul McCartney in a November 1969 interview.
“It is unlikely that Brian would have been able to keep the band together,” Tiwary said, but with a proper succession plan in place, the band’s “embarrassing” dissolution wouldn’t have occurred, he contended.
6. The Power of Dreams
One of the amazing aspects of Tiwary’s story is that he’s worked on The Fifth Beatle for more than 20 years since doing research on Epstein as a Penn undergraduate. What attracted Tiwary was the personal side of the story. Epstein was laughed at (see the part about Elvis); he was an outsider in his own community (a gay, Jewish man in working-class, straight, gray Liverpool) and in his industry (run largely by gentiles).
Tiwary sees himself as a rare breed, and someone who has always set out to defy expectations, ever since he showed up at his Wharton courses in the early ’90s with dyed-green hair.
It helps, of course, to have an amazing product—in Epstein’s case, the Beatles, and in Tiwary’s, broadway shows like The Producers, Raisin in the Sun and American Idiot The Musical … and now The Fifth Beatle.