In a creative industry, what pattern of artistic influences increases the likelihood that an artist will produce innovative products? Building on a forthcoming book chapter, this research examines all major artists in popular music between 1951 and 2008, their unique historic network of artistic influences, and their innovation achievements in the Popular Music Industry. The research applies network analysis to the social structure of the industry to see: do artists who create innovative products occupy unique structural positions in the complete network of artistic influences?

Individual positions in networks are known to impact the likelihood that an individual will recognize entrepreneurial opportunities and develop new venture ideas (Singh et al., 1999). Relatedly, Structural Hole Theory suggests that innovators will be more likely to have structural holes (disconnects) in their networks, allowing them to combine and exploit information which is inaccessible to others in the network (Burt, 1992, 2004). Applying Resource Dependency Theory to the network context (Pfeffer and Salancik, 1978), artist positions in influence networks should therefore enable or constrain access to resources from which artists might fashion new innovative products. Specifically, here we examine how one’s structural pattern of artistic influences make it more or less likely one will create innovative products in the Popular Music Industry (1951-2008).

Artistic influences are the set of recognized social predecessors in a Creative Industry (“forefathers” or “foremothers”) who are credited for prior achievements in a Creative Industry (Caves, 2002). The creative influences of artists in a Creative Industry can and do vary widely, but they are particularly interesting because artists openly recognize and celebrate their influences—the raw material from which they attempt to fashion industry-changing innovations (Theberge, 1997). For example, The Beatles report they were strongly influenced by Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison who, respectively, were influenced by Elvis Presley, The Clovers, Hank Williams, and Hank Ballard. Influence networks of this type, for each artist, can be assembled and traced back to before the creation of recognized innovation achievements in the industry to determine what patterns of influences are most productive for fashioning innovative products. We examine each artist’s structural pattern of artistic influences as idiosyncratic resources from which they may develop new music.

The popular music industry is of interest for research in entrepreneurship because it is a rich environment to explore the evolution of an industry, because musical innovations can be tracked, and because social networks are an important element in how innovations are assembled and diffused. Each artist is embedded in, and therefore occupies a unique position in, the historical/longitudinal network of musical influences (Granovetter, 1985). As such, one can study artists as a type of entrepreneur that looks to bring change to an industry by exploring and exploiting new combinations of resources (Schumpeter, 1934).

Our dependent variable isnumber of Grammy Awards won, the industry’s standard of an artist’s innovativeness. Grammy Awards are not bestowed based on an artist’s album sales or chart performance. Rather, the Grammy Foundation states, Grammy Awards are “the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry”. We find that musicians with structural holes (disconnects) in their influences network—those who are brokers between otherwise disconnected artists—are most likely to create innovative products as measured my Grammy-winning. While generally consistent with research on structural holes and innovation, this finding is particularly interesting because of the scope of the data (14,000+ influence relationships) and the demonstration of the phenomenon across extremely indirect relationships across six decades.