For Every Successful A-Side, There’s a Suprising B-Side

For Every Successful A-Side  There's a Suprising B-Side

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A B-side was the song on the flip side of a 12" or 7" vinyl single that backed the A-side originally. That's where you put the song that wasn't going to be promoted or receive radio play. They were meant to make it worth your while to buy the single. You'd know the songs because diehard fans raved about them initially, then they spread.

Metaphorically-speaking, B-side stands for for the less-obvious part of a story, personality, or other. It gets less attention, but it has more power. Because a B-side contains more clues on what got an artist, author, product, or service to its polished version.

When you want to figure out why and how something works, you look under the hood, behind the scenes, to the path that got it there. For every successful A-side, there's a surprising B-side.


Cultural meme origin

After studio sessions for a band's album, the songs that weren't quite good enough became B-sides. They went on the reverse side of a single. It was a bonus track, made it worth buying.

But the truth is that many B-sides were better than A-sides. As fans quickly discovered, U2's “The Sweetest Thing” was the treasured B-side of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” Paul McCartney's  “Hello Goodbye” had the excellent John Lennon's  “I Am the Walrus” as B-side. 

And since we're talking singles, culture borrowed liberally. “Il lato B” is an Italian expression typically used when admiring someone's backside. In English, your B-side can mean the uncensored, unadorned you. There's an element of surprise in it, too.

In B-sides, artists could push themselves intellectually and experiment without being constrained by the forms their record labels believed would be a commercial success. In fact, when the format disappeared due to the rise of cassette tapes, artists, continued to distribute their expertise with mix tapes who could not get produced in a studio.

Today, collectors appreciate musicians' B-sides for the nuances and intricacies of talented recording artists. Connoisseurs love to get their hands on unedited work for they can hear the early signs, or discover talent and possibility.


Appreciating nuance

Nuance is critical to understanding how something works. Your product is likely not a poem or a musical hit. But the part in it that is you is still important. What you've experienced and learned, the issues you want to address, the gap in the market you found are the motivation to get going.

Every single product—real or virtual—we use today started with someone looking for a solution that didn't exist. The more real and urgent the problem, the more work in finding the solution that went beyond being a stopgap. Many didn't make it. Few survived. But that's what makes B-sides more useful to retrace steps in a process than A-side or finished product.

Go back to the trade-offs others made and you can make different ones. It's the concept of Sliding Doors, but you get to build a parallel path. Maybe there's more information, or the market has matured and current solutions have not kept up, the tools still wanting.

Your expertise can be your lifeline: be it strategy, operations, art, craftsmanship, finance, management, or something else. You don't have the reinvent the entire wheel, but capitalize on what you know and can do.


Media's A- and B-sides

“People are surprised that in the early days of Netflix, we didn’t have automation in our warehouses when we were shipping hundreds of thousands of DVDS, but automation is antithetical to what a startup is. Machines are great at repeating and scaling up. They will do exactly what you tell them to do — forever,” says Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph.#

“But a machine can lock you into a specific way of doing things. In a #startup, you don’t always know what you want at the outset. You have to search, to try new things. You have to experiment.” This is also true of the media side of business, which includes marketing. Things work until they stop working.

Last week, I shared some thoughts on media production, media distribution, and community impact. Everyone focuses on those three. The polished side of media. But few take an in depth look at the effects of media consumption, media sources, and community participation on their output. These will be the topics of this week's note (subscribe here.)

As Randolph says, there's more nuance to it.


Look both ways

You wouldn't cross a busy road without first looking both ways. And yes, you want to do that even when it's a one-way street. Because you could be looking on the wrong side, out of habit. When you're working on production, consumption gives you ideas that can help with formats and quality, for example.

As you think about distribution, vetting sources is useful. You learn who's credible and why, and avoid a potentially painful association through ad:tech. Impact is a direct result of participation, so it could be easier to see how they're each the flip side of the other. But, as is often the case, the degree of importance determines execution.

There are many digital services, and newer options may be available quickly. In fact, there could be infinite versions of something you're working on. But what makes your version valuable is the skill, talent, and practice you put into it over time. The tweaking and experimenting with love and care, the honing through elimination of what's superfluous, the refinements and craftsmanship are all part of the appeal.

Build on your strengths, what makes you unique, the intersection of things and experiences only you have. That's how you differentiate.

It's never the right moment to do or act on something. You make it right by working on it. For every successful A-side, there's a surprising… number of B-sides.


This is my work. I'm a cultural lens for reading the world. I do the work so that your work becomes easier, richer, and more satisfying. Durability comes from having a cultural link.