Grade: High
Subject: CTE

Essential Question

How did the Grateful Dead’s business practices create a dedicated fan culture and ensure the financial success of the group?


In this lesson, students discover some of the steps the Grateful Dead took to develop a robust and dedicated fanbase and maintain financial success.

In the 1960’s, popular American music transcended its limited role as mere entertainment to become an integral part of American identity. No longer merely fodder for variety television shows or FM/AM radio dials, music in the 1960’s became a proxy for cultural identity amongst the changing landscapes of contemporary values and ideals. Music was not merely a passive activity to observe – it demanded active engagement and informed how people lived their lives, formed their communities, and found their place in society.

Perhaps no band in the history of American Rock and Roll developed a more tight-knit community of fans than the Grateful Dead. The band formed in the 1960’s Bay Area – the epicenter of the burgeoning counter-cultural movement. The Bohemian neighborhood bestowed a sense of experimentation and spirituality to the band’s early development, and they developed a unique sound and repertoire that attracted fans eager to divorce themselves from the restraints of modern society. The combination of this counter-cultural zeitgeist and the band’s relentless touring and performing schedule created a massive fanbase for the Grateful Dead that ultimately gave birth to an entirely unique American identity: the Deadhead.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the Grateful Dead’s musical and business decisions helped cultivate this large and dedicated fanbase. Rather than focusing on studio recordings, the Grateful Dead sought to provide live experiences for its fans. The improvisational nature of Grateful Dead shows promised a unique experience each night, beckoning the fans attention at every turn. Deadheads saw the band as conduits of spiritual energy, channeling a higher power through the medium of improvisational jamming. Each show’s unique performance provided more material to study, more lore to build the holy scriptures, and more clues to deciphering the cosmic meaning of the Grateful Dead’s message. For their part, the band fostered this culture, allowing their shows to be recorded and shared widely, and ensuring that their concerts were accessible to all, either by providing some for free or even hiring sign language interpreters for hearing-impared fans.

The Grateful Dead established a fan culture that paved the way for a robustly successful business model based on years of steady product generation. Whether through live concerts, studio records, live performance records or merchandise, the Grateful Dead constantly released and promoted a stream of material for generations of eager fans to consume. Through decades of innovative engagement with their fans, the Grateful Dead imbued their products with a sense of purpose, quality and importance that demanded their fans attention.

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  1. Know (knowledge):
    • How the Grateful Dead created a successful business model through their approach to live events, recording, and trademarking logos.
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Students will develop strategies for successful band management by investigating the Grateful Dead’s business model as a case study.


Motivational Activity:

  1. Ask the students to think of a live entertainment event they have experienced. It could be a concert, a sporting event, a play, a fan convention, or a live streamed/televised performance or sports game. Then, on a scratch piece of paper, ask them to list everything they remember about the event, being as specific as possible.
  2. Next, ask students to underline every item on their list that relates to the performance itself (the songs being performed, the sports teams involved, etc.), and circle every item on their list that does not relate to the performance specifically (the people they were with, the food at the venue, the journey getting to the event, etc.)
  3. Ask students:
    • What event did you choose?
    • What were some things that made the event memorable?
    • How many items on your list were underlined? How many were circled?
    • How might a live event entail more than just the performance itself?
    • How might a live event have a lasting appeal, and help a band, team or artist receive income well after the original event?


  1. Tell students that in class they will be looking at a case study of the band Grateful Dead, to see how a performing group is able to develop a substantial and dedicated fan following.
  2. Show Clip 1, Deadheads: Family, Ritual, Spirituality. Ask students:
    • What might incentivize Grateful Dead fans to continually want to attend the band’s “next show”?
    • What might make a concert both “reassuringly familiar and excitingly new”?
    • Why might the people in the clip compare a Grateful Dead concert to a religious event?
    • In the clip, John Berry Barlow suggests that the almost religious appeal of a Grateful Dead show wasn’t coming from the stage. Where might it be coming from?
  3. Tell the students they will now examine different strategies the Grateful Dead pursued in order to create a live event that fans wanted to repeatedly attend. Split students into groups, and assign each group to one of the following stations. After they have finished answering the corresponding questions on the station handout, rotate groups to other stations.
  4. Ask student groups to share their answers with the class for each station.
  5. Have students return to their groups and list 3-5 strategies the Grateful Dead drew upon to develop their fanbase. Afterwards, ask students to share their responses with the class.
  6. Ask students:
    • In what ways does developing a strong fanbase lead to the financial success of a band or group? How are live events important to both developing a fan base and ensuring the financial success of a band?
    • Beyond concert ticket sales, what other possible ways could have the Grateful Dead generated income from their fans?
  7. Display Image 1, Grateful Dead Live and Studio Album Discography, 1967-2010. Have the students analyze the chart. For additional context, explain that the Grateful Dead stopped touring in 1995 after the death of their founder Jerry Garcia. Ask students:
    • What is the date range of these live releases?
    • How often did the band release an album? How might this schedule compare to other band’s or artist’s album releases?
    • What might be the appeal of these albums for Grateful Dead fans? Based on what you learned about the band, why might they be interested in buying recordings of live shows in addition to studio recordings?
  8. Pass out Handout 1 – Trademark Portfolio of the Grateful Dead. After students have read the handout, ask:
    • Why do you think the Grateful Dead trademarked their logos, in addition to their name?
    • What advantages do their trademarks confer to their business?
    • How is the Grateful Dead able to use their trademarks to monetize different aspects of their fan culture?
  9. Display Image 2, Grateful Dead Fashion. Tell students that the pictures depict high-fashion products decorated with Grateful Dead iconography currently available for purchase. (Optional: for more context, the students can read Handout 2 – “It’s Hip to Be Hippie: Why Fashion is Obsessed with the Grateful Dead”.) Ask students:
    • What are some observations you can make about the clothes featured in the image?
    • Have you heard of the brands before?
    • Are you surprised to see these brands making apparel with Grateful Dead logos? Why or why not?
    • Who do you think is the target market for these clothes?
    • What do the styles, brands and prices say about how the apparel companies view Deadheads and the Grateful Dead culture?
    • How do you think the Grateful Dead’s ownership of trademarks influenced the development and proliferation of these products?

Summary Activity:

  1. Display Image 3, Developing Your Band’s Strategic Plan. Have students reconvene in their groups and develop a strategic plan based on the instructions in image 4.
  2. Ask student groups to present their strategic plan to the class.

Extension Activities:

  1. Scenario: You are the manager of a band that is playing at small to medium sized venues. Lately you’ve noticed fans outside the concerts are selling homemade, unlicensed merchandise with the band’s logo. You’ve also begun to see fans bringing in larger, professional cameras to tape the performances. Do you allow these practices to continue, or do you work more closely with the venues to ensure they end? Explain the rationale behind your decision.
  2. Read this article in Forbes magazine on the business model of Chance the Rapper, and outline some of the strategies he used to achieve financial success.


Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for English Language Arts

  • Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Craft and Structure 4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • Craft and Structure 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing for Grades 6-12

  • Text Types and Purposes 2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • Production and Distribution of Writing 4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12

  • Comprehension & Collaboration 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • Comprehension & Collaboration 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • Comprehension & Collaboration 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
  • Presentation of Knowledge 4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12

  • Language 1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • Language 2: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
  • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use 6: Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 7: Production, Distributions, and Consumption

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response. Describe how the elements of music and expressive qualities relate to the structure of pieces, including contrasting works and programs of music.

Enduring Understanding: Response to music is informed by analyzing context (social, cultural, and historical) and how creators and performers manipulate the elements of music.

Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’/performers’ expressive intent. Describe a personal interpretation of works or contrasting works and explain how creators’ and performers’ application of the elements of music and expressive qualities, within genres, cultures, and historical periods, convey expressive intent.

Enduring Understanding: Through their use if elements and structures of music, creators and performers provide clues to their expressive intent.

Essential Question: How do we discern the musical creators’ and performers’ expressive intent?

Core Music Standard: Connecting

Connecting 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make music. Demonstrate how interests, knowledge, and skills relate to personal choices and intent when creating, performing, and responding to music.

Enduring Understanding: Musicians connect their personal interests, experiences, ideas, and knowledge to creating, performing and responding.

Essential Question: How do musicians make meaningful connections to creating, performing, and responding? Demonstrate how interests, knowledge, and skills relate to personal choices and intent when creating, performing, and responding to music?

Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding. Demonstrate understanding of relationships between music and the other arts, other disciplines, varied contexts, and daily life.

Enduring Understanding: Understanding connections to varied contexts and daily life enhances musicians’ creating, performing, and responding.

Essential Question: How do the other arts, other disciplines, contexts and daily life inform creating, performing, and responding to music?

National Core Arts Standards


  • Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standards 11: Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Career Technical Education Standards (California Model) – Arts, Media and Entertainment Pathway Standards

Design, Visual and Media Arts (A)

  • A1.0 Demonstrate ability to reorganize and integrate visual art elements across digital media and design applications.
    A1.1 View and respond to a variety of industry-related artistic products integrating industry appropriate vocabulary.
    A1.4 Select industry-specific works and analyze the intent of the work and the appropriate use of media.
    A1.5 Research and analyze the work of an artist or designer and how the artist’s distinctive style contributes to their industry production.
    A1.9 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work. ia, and Entertainment |
    A3.0 Analyze and assess the impact of history and culture on the development of professional arts and media products.
    A3.1 Identify and describe the role and influence of new technologies on contemporary arts industry.
    A3.2 Describe how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence and are reflected in a variety of artistic products.
    A3.3 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in art work in an industry setting.
    A3.5 Analyze similarities and differences of purpose in art created in culturally diverse industry applications.
    A4.0 Analyze, assess, and identify effectiveness of artistic products based on elements of art, the principles of design, and professional industry standards.
    A4.2 Deconstruct how beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence commercial media (traditional and electronic).
    A4.3 Analyze the aesthetic value of a specific commercial work of art and defend that analysis from an industry perspective.
    A4.5 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and effectiveness of an artistic product.
    A5.0 Identify essential industry competencies, explore commercial applications and develop a career specific personal plan.
    A5.2 Explore the role of art and design across various industry sectors and content areas.
    A5.3 Deconstruct works of art, identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images and their relationship to industry and society.
    A8.0 Understand the key technical and technological requirements applicable to various segments of the Media and Design Arts Pathway.
    A8.1 Understand the component steps and skills required to design, edit, and produce a production for audio, video, electronic, or printed presentation.
    A8.3 Know the features and uses of current and emerging technology related to computing (e.g., optical character recognition, sound processing, cable TV, cellular phones).

Performing Arts (B)

  • B2.0 Read, listen to, deconstruct, and analyze peer and professional music using the elements and terminology of music.
    B2.2 Describe how the elements of music are used.
    B2.5 Analyze and describe significant musical events perceived and remembered in a given industry generated example.
    B2.6 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements in a given professional work that makes it unique, interesting, and expressive.
    B2.7 Demonstrate the different uses of form, both past and present, in a varied repertoire of music in commercial settings from diverse genres, styles, and professional applications.
    B8.0 Deconstruct the aesthetic values that drive professional performance and the artistic elements necessary for industry production.
    B8.1 Critique discipline-specific professional works using the language and terminology specific to the discipline.
    B8.2 Use selected criteria to compare, contrast, and assess various professional performance forms.
    B8.3 Analyze the aesthetic principles that apply in a professional work designed for live performance, film, video, or live broadcast.
    B8.4 Use complex evaluation criteria and terminology to compare and contrast a variety of genres of professional performance products.
    B9.0 Explore the connection between artistic preparation and professional standards and practices.
    B9.5 Contrast differing roles in professional skill sets of creators, performers, and others involved in the production and presentation of the performing arts.

Production and Managerial Arts (C)

  • C3.0 Analyze and differentiate the function of the various members of a production team.
    C3.1 Identify the skills and competencies of the various members of a production team including producer, production manager, director, assistant director, stage manager, production designer(s), post production, etc.
    C4.0 Demonstrate key skills and an understanding of the complexities of production planning.
    C4.1 Know the main elements and functional responsibilities involved in the production and presentation of the performing, visual, and media arts.
    C4.2 Know how artistic processes, organizational structure, and business principles, including funding and budgeting, are interrelated in both live and media production.
    C5.0 Apply knowledge of services, equipment capabilities, the workflow process, data acquisition, and technology to a timely completion of projects.
    C5.1 Identify essential qualifications and technological competencies for each team member, including artists, designers, performers, composers, writers, and technicians.


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