Expensive Problems: John Mayer edition

Sent by Jonathan Stark on February 9th, 2019

The first two weeks of TPS is focused on exercising your “expensive problem” muscle by recognizing pains that people would gladly pay good money to remedy. Not just the stuff you can help with... any and all expensive problems - e.g., distracted driving, underfunded public schools, squirrel infestations, and so on. We are surrounded by them constantly. They’re everywhere if you learn how to see them.

Since we just kicked off a new session of TPS, I’m hyper sensitive to expensive problems right now. Sure enough, two great examples smashed me in the face this week. One is about John Mayer and the other is about Jeff Bezos. I’ll do Bezos tomorrow. Today, let’s talk about Mayer...

In a radio show interview, popular singer-songwriter John Mayer revealed that his least favorite song to sing was Waiting on the World to Change. When the host asked why, Mayer explained that after he had surgery on his vocal cords, he no longer had the range he needed to hit the high notes in the song.

Some context: John Mayer has won 7 Grammy Awards, including “Best Male Pop Vocal Performance” for - you guessed it - Waiting on the World to Change. The song was a pretty big hit and I’m sure his audience expects him to play it. So... every night, he has to struggle through a painful reminder of having lost a physical capability that he once had.

It’s one thing to witness your body starting to deteriorate in private. It must be quite another to have it on display nightly for 10,000+ people. I’m just guessing, but it seems like this might carry a non-trivial emotional sting for Mr. Mayer. Even if I’m wrong about the emotional impact, he did explicitly say in the interview that it was physically uncomfortable for him to sing the song.

More context: John Mayer is extremely wealthy. He has a collection of wristwatches that is valued in the tens of millions of dollars. Wrist. Watches. $10M+. I can only imagine what his collection of rare guitars set him back.

Here’s the thing...

This combination of an acute pain plus significant buying power equals a very expensive problem. If you could wave a magic wand and give John a half an octave on the high end of his vocal range, would he pay $10,000? Or $100,000? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d pay upwards of a million dollars to get those notes. Remember, this guy is a Grammy winning singer who regularly spends six figures on a single piece of jewelry.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a magic wand, but lets say you were a singing instructor or a vocal coach or a laryngeal surgeon or anyone else who could credibly claim to increase vocal range. Would it be more profitable to spend your time and money trying to attract signers from local garage bands, or to spend your time and money trying to attract folks like John Mayer (or Sam Smith or Lindsey Buckingham or etc etc etc).