Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown Records, was a notoriously mercurial and mercenary businessman. Although Gordy was responsible for some of the most powerful, popular, and passionate R&B and soul music ever created, the stories of him making musical decisions based on finances instead of aesthetics are legion. What’s more, Gordy insisted on ironclad creative control even though he was working with many of the best artists in the world, including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, and so many more.
One of Gordy’s most famous mottos was, “Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus.”
If you’re not familiar with musical terminology, the chorus is the part of a song that recurs at regular intervals, usually following each verse. The verse is the part of a song following the introduction and preceding and following the chorus and it’s usually sung by a solo voice. The verse tells the unfolding story of the song, the chorus repeats the theme of the song.
Put in Motown song’s terms, “I heard it through the grapevine. Not much longer would you be mine” is the chorus. So is “So take a good look at my face. You’ll see my smile looks out of place. If you look closer it’s easy to trace, the tracks of my tears.” And so is, “I guess you’d say, ‘What can make me feel this way?’ My girl (my girl, my girl), Talkin’ ‘bout my girl (my girl).”
Hard not to sing along with the chorus, isn’t it?
Gordy wanted his stars to get to the chorus because the chorus is the hook of the song that we all know and love. While the verse is where we might mumble the words, the chorus is where we all sing along.
Take Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” for example. When you sing along, it sounds like this:
“Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’
But then I know it’s [mumble mumble mumble]
Was in the spring, and spring became the summer
Who’d have believed [mumble mumble mumble]”
We’re mumbling because we don’t actually know all the words to the verses. But then we get to the chorus and everybody sings out loud…
“Sweet Caroline (bum bum bum), good times never seemed so good!!”
It’s the same with “America the Beautiful,” most Bruce Springsteen songs, and absolutely everything ever written by Bob Dylan. (Except for my friend Phil Allen, who knows every single word to every single Dylan song. But that’s a whole other conversation for a whole other blog.)
“Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus.” What does this have to do with your business and your brand?
It’s simple. When you’re marketing yourself and your company, stop talking about all the things you have and all the things you do and all the things you offer. Those are the verses.
Instead, sell yourself by getting to your chorus – because that’s your brand value.
Volvo’s verses are metal and rubber and leather and fuel injection systems and engines and upholstery and glass and transmissions.
Volvo’s chorus is safety.
Las Vegas’ verses are hotels and shows and restaurants and casinos and bars and boutiques and neon lights and performers and swimming pools and hot weather.
Las Vegas’ chorus is sin.
Your verses are everything you do. Your chorus is everything we remember about you and care about.
If you want your business and your brand to be successful, do like Berry Gordy Jr. Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus.
I love the message or “chorus” of this blog! I will have to hone my chorus because even tho I know what it feels like it’s hard to put into just a single word or few words.
Illuminating as always, Bruce.
A brilliant analogy. You always find new creative ways to describe branding.
I love “the way you do the things you do”
Keep those hits coming .
hmmm, now, what would the bridge be… 🙂
Thanks, Bruce. This was a great read!
Thank you, Bruce ~
Wonderful reminder of how our message is perceived and understood — and must needs be conveyed. If your verse is boring and all they remember is the chorus that’s cool, because the chorus is the theme; HOWEVER when your verse builds and gives meat and meaning to the chorus — that’s when the chorus swells.
There are many songs out there that are just chorus — little verse — no meat — and that pounding repeating chorus bores us!
Yes, you are right, my friend, I strongly agree with your message today — with this addendum: PLEASE don’t JUST get to the chorus. Start with the chorus, then give us stories, anecdotes examples, audience inter-activities that are wonderfully meaningful and entertaining, and do NOT bore us on the way to the chorus then end with the chorus and leave us inspired!
One of my all- time favorite stops was the Motown headquarters in Detroit…..Total goose pumps. Cannot recommend it highly enough.
Barry ran it like the assembly line he came from and changed popular music forever.
Hope all is well.
WOW!!! what a great way to look at your brand, your company, your friends, your priorities and your self.
Thank you for sharing. Very Interesting! I will share this with many people.
I loved this! I only wish I would have known that Gordy line when evaluating startups and listening to their founders’ pitches. A good lesson for all.
Oh, man, I have been involved in music all of my life and I never heard that great Berry Gordy quote. How did I miss that gem? Love the quote–but especially love how you’re able to tie it to business.
So I came up with a version for comedy, too, but it doesn’t work as well: “Don’t hunch fine. Get to the punchline.” I know, I know, it makes no sense. But I’m working with limited rhyme options here.
Great column, as always, Bruce!
Such a great post. I love your writing. Makes me think and rethink again. Love the Motown reference and so true. And then there are those artists who just ignored completely the verse and even made their intro the chorus (Twisted Sister “We’re Not Gonna Take It”). Thanks for the fun read.