Ever wondered how to develop and market a successful boy band? Build a multimillion-dollar commercial aviation enterprise? Own your very own blimp? Entrepreneur and self-professed “Big Poppa” Lou Pearlman has braved public ridicule and industry skeptics by making millions with all those endeavors, and he claims in that the skills behind that success can transfer to just about any start-up business. Pearlman — pop guru behind prefab bands like Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and O-Town — shares his both life story and his business acumen in “Bands, Brands and Billions: My Top 10 Rules For Making Any Business Go Platinum.” As a motivational text, “Bands” is generic at best, and woefully clichéd in its weakest moments. Pearlman acolytes are treated to such business platitutes as “marketing matters” and “your employees are your best resources.” Big Poppa promises that the satisfaction of watching your business will be “awesome times 100 — even awesome squared.”
The book is intended as a how-to manual for starting, funding and growing your own business. It is replete with prepackaged slogans — “Dream It and Do It!” is Pearlman’s No. 1 rule — that could make even beatific self-help guru Deepak Chopra discover his inner cynic.
But it isn’t until Pearlman doffs his professorial robes and digs into his own expericence — ostensibly to illustrate his rules for success — that things really start to get rolling. From his modest beginnings in Flushing, Queens, to the machinations behind the multiplatinum success of ‘N Sync, the author’s life history is an engaging read on its own merits.
Pearlman’s genesis as a self-made man could have been pulled from a Capra movie. He ran a lemonade stand at eight, and by ten ran a paper-delivery racket with a clutch of neighborhood kids on the payroll.
His resourcefulness showed through at an early age, when an older mentor offered to sell Pearlman his paper routes for $500, Pearlman doorstopped customers all over the neighborhood for advances on subscriptions to raise the seed money.
His involvement in both of his main businesses — aviation and music — also dates back to grade school. Pearlman watched with fascination as blimps from Queens’ municipal airport floated over his house. He followed them to the airport, and volunteered to work in the hangar. Pearlman later parleyed that experience into a successful air-charter business, making his first million at 21 years old.
As for music, Pearlman was a singer and guitarist in a band called the “Flyers” (career highlights included opening for Kool & the Gang). But he found early that his talents lay more in producing than performing.
That discovery would pay handsome dividends decades later, when Pearlman leased a jet to late-80s boy band New Kids On the Block. The group’s success fascinated him, and he set out to improve upon their model.
The results are well-known ‘N Sync and Backstreet have sold tens of millions of CDs worldwide. But some of the book’s most interesting passages document the legwork needed to manufacture that success, including the marathon tours, promotional blitzes and missteps along the way.
In one anecdote, the Backstreet Boys are inches away from a contract with Mercury Records, only to lose it when one of the label’s stars — John Cougar Mellencamp — complained that the boy band would dilute Mercury’s credibility. (Backstreet eventually signed with Jive Records, and the rest is history).
Pearlman may have been ensnared by his own entrepreneureal drive when he saw a chance to cash in on America’s obsession with the self-help section of their local bookstore. While there are some worthwhile business tips on offer in “Bands,” the book is far more engaging when it sticks to the story of its dynamic, outsized author.