Angus Young of ACDC on stage

Career lessons from AC/DC

Elizabeth Bromstein|

There’s a lot of rumbling about Australian rock band AC/DC this week. Good news for fans, however: Rumours of the band’s retirement are grossly exaggerated.

Word has been all over the web that the 41-year-old rock band is calling it quits due to the ill health of a member – rumoured to be rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, said to have suffered a stroke and to be unable to play. But frontman Brian Johnson has told the UK Telegraph the stories are not true. He said that, while an unidentified band member is suffering from a “debilitating illness,” the group still plans to get together soon and write material for a potential new album.

“We are definitely getting together in May in Vancouver,” he told the Telegraph. “We’re going to pick up some guitars, have a plonk, and see if anybody has got any tunes or ideas. If anything happens, we’ll record it.”

If they had called it quits, no one could say AC/DC’s career hadn’t been a long and illustrious one. This got us thinking about what you can learn from the “Thunderstruck” rockers and apply to your own career. Here’s what we came up with.

Do one thing well. Everyone always says AC/DC “only plays three chords,” but that formula works for them. It’s been working for them since the 1970s. AC/DC has sold over 200 million albums and one of those albums, Back In Black, is the fifth bestselling of all time. So, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Lead guitarist Angus Young is quoted as saying – likely in the late 80s – “I’m sick and tired of people saying that we put out 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve put out 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”

Find one thing you do well and do it. Build your career around that thing. Be an expert. Be the best at that one thing.

Know your audience. In this “Rockstar Branding” podcast, Steve Jones, author of Brand Like a Rock Star, talks about AC/DC’s understanding of their audience and what it wants. Namely: Rock. Though he’s talking about branding your band, the advice actually applies to branding yourself in the job search and your career.

Jones says, “What is so brilliant about a band like AC/DC, they recognize what their customers expect. If you look over the course of the 16 studio albums they’ve released, there have been 20 different songs that have the word “rock” in the title. Everything with AC/DC is rock, rock, rock.”

Jones also talks about how frontman Brian Johnson loves Rodgers and Hammerstein and has worked on a musical theatre project himself, but has taken care to keep such projects separate from his work with AC/DC.

“He’s smart enough to know that AC/DC fans don’t want that. It would be a branding disaster.”
This translates into knowing what employers and/or customers want and giving it to them. This is how you bring value to employers and clients.

Have an image. Angus Young has been wearing that schoolboy uniform forever. It works for him, and everyone knows exactly what he looks like wearing it. Similarly, Brian Johnson’s newsboy cap has been a part of his image since his pre-AC/DC days, when he was in another band.

He explained,, “…I had a band at night and we were very popular in the pubs. I kept wearing the hat because I’d come straight from work and run onto the stage. It became a trademark – it became my lucky hat.”

Consider streamlining a signature fashion style, and using a signature style and colour theme across your web presence – personal website and social media. Be consistent with the quality of your work and, where applicable, the style and tone of your work, so that employers and customers know what to expect, always.

Work well with others. Resolve conflict. Be loyal, be flexible. There’s a rumour that AC/DC once made a pact that, should a band member leave, he would not be replaced. If true, it was obviously made after 1994, when Phil Rudd returned after an 11 year absence, during which time he was replaced by Simon Wright and Chris Slade (and, of course, there were myriad lineup changes before 1980, including the replacement of Bon Scott, who died). Still, the fact the Rudd and Malcolm Young – who reportedly came to physical conflict before Rudd left the band – managed to put aside their differences and stay together for another 20 years for the sake of rock, shows that there must be enough open communication and give and take in the band to make things work.

And they all really do seem to like each other. Johnson said of the ill band member “I don’t want to say too much about it. He is very proud and private, a wonderful chap. We’ve been pals for 35 years and I look up to him very much.”

So much more dignified than bitter recriminations and mocking each other’s “tiny todgers” in print, like the Rolling Stones.

There you have it. Do one thing well, know your audience, be consistent, work well with others. And you too can have a career like AC/DC.

For those about to job search, we salute you.

(Image: Matt Becker, Wikimedia Commons)


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  • ZacharyGoatflirter

    I hate to correct my betters, but the band’s Facebook account today confirmed that Malcolm Young is ill and will be taking time off from the band

    • Ruth Elizabeth Bromstein

      How dare you correct your betters? Thanks for the tip. I will update accordingly. “Zachary”