The Grateful Dead is undoubtedly one of the most iconic bands of all time. Their iconic lightning bolt and skull logo can be instantly recognized worldwide. But what made the Grateful Dead stick out from so many other music groups of their time, and what enabled them to maintain the consistent enthusiasm and dedication their fans are famously known for?
It’s simple, unlike other groups of their time, the Grateful Dead offered a truly unique experience for their fans. It was about more than just simply selling records, it was about offering one of a kind experiences to their fans and building a community around the music they created. The Grateful Dead approached their fan base in a truly engaging way which no other music group had ever done before. Quite similar to viral marketing today, the Grateful Dead pioneered the strategy before the internet ever came to be, and their music and name were spread coast to coast, and from continent to continent.
Something that drastically set the Grateful Dead apart was their attitude towards music bootleggers at concerts. While other bands saw bootleg recordings from shows as something that could damage their record sales, the Grateful Dead saw the opposite. They viewed bootleg recordings as something not only positive for their fans but as something positive for the band as well. It made their music incredibly accessible, thus attracting an ever-expanding audience. As a matter of fact, the Grateful Dead actually encouraged music bootleggers and even provided dedicated space for recording equipment to be set up at their concerts to ensure the best audio quality.
Different from other music groups, the Grateful Dead’s bottom line wasn’t counted by record sales. Instead, it was all about ticket sales. What made seeing the Grateful Dead live such a religious experience for so many deadheads was every concert was never the same. Because of their improvisational style, every show was a truly unique experience that would never be able to be replicated. Thus, fans became enthralled by their concerts, and the group recognized this. The band created a mailing list to keep their fans updated on their shows, and would reward their greatest fans for their loyalty. Fans on the mailing list would be reserved the first chance to purchase tickets first, and get the best seats for the show. They sold their tickets directly to their fans instead of how tickets are traditionally sold through box offices.
Similar to how the Grateful Dead saw bootleg recordings, they felt the same way towards bootleg merchandise. Whereas other music groups prohibited the sale of bootleg merchandise outside of concerts, the Grateful Dead encouraged it. As a result, communities sprung up overnight in the parking lots outside of every Grateful Dead show. Not only was it free publicity for the band, but it also empowered artists to use their talents to share their love for the Grateful Dead with others. Every parking lot outside their shows became a festival in their own right. The main event wasn’t just the show, but the many stands that popped up outside that fans enjoyed spending hours and hours at before shows.
Just as viral marketing works today, the same can be said for how the Grateful Dead became so popular. Their music was spread far and wide through mediums that made their music incredibly accessible. Rather than seeing their music and merchandise as something they should have absolute rights to distribute, they saw it as something deeply meaningful to their fans that should be shared in as many ways possible, and as a result, the name of the Grateful Dead spread like wildfire.