For his first 8 years out of college, Sam Thacker took his musical talents all over the country. Based in Atlanta, he toured up and down the east coast, opened for major artists like Sister Hazel and Corey Smith, played gigs on The Rock Boat, a floating music festival, and participated in charity festivals like Rock by the Sea. He had a full band and made a decent living. In fact, as he told us on Episode 17 of the Agents of Innovation podcast, 8 years in music makes most people who know this challenging industry consider you to be a veteran.
During those last few years as a professional musician on the rock and roll scene, he was constantly consulted for advice by other emerging artists. Many independent artists barely stay afloat and don’t last out there long without secure funding — which is why many will end their careers or sign with a label, and often times that means losing their creative control or “selling out.” But Sam was able to maintain his creative control and make a living.
One day he was sitting down for lunch with a friend from college who had gone into business. He told Sam that what he was doing for other artists was “consulting” and that people make money doing that for a living. It planted a seed in his head. As an Emory graduate, Sam was a pretty smart guy and thought business school might be something he was interested in. In between gigs, he studied for the GMAT, applied to a number of business schools, and was accepted into some of the top business schools in the country. He decided on the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, where he started in the fall of 2012.
After graduation, he got a job with McKinsey and Company, one of the top consulting companies in the world. As an Associate, he helps businesses of all kinds overcome challenges they face. He puts in a lot of hours, but as he says, “They are exciting hours. You are doing work that matters.” It was a big decision for him to leave music and go into business, but for Sam, it was “the right time to try something new.”
He was recently married, with no kids (today he now has a 19-month son), and “if we were going to take a chance like this, now was going to be the time,” Thacker said, referring to the decision he made to go to business school in 2012.
After two years at McKinsey, and four years away from the professional music scene, he has found a few things he’s learned from both.
“The number one common thread is a comfort with ambiguity,” said Thacker. “You don’t know what’s coming around the bend. The second piece is that no one is going to give you anything… and sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you work… your effort is not perfectly coordinated with your success.”
Whether it’s a career as a musician or a career in business, “no matter how hard you work at it, [success] is not a guarantee.” However, he was quick to confess that in business consulting, with a lot of data analysis at your disposal, it is a lot simpler than trying to figure out how to turn a song into a big hit. “After 8 years of trying to figure out a lot of loose ties [in the music industry] it is kind of refreshing to be on the side of the world where there is at least that 50 to 80% that you can rely on data and metrics and numbers.”
Recently, Sam jumped back on stage — after four years — to play the Rock By the Sea charity music festival that he was once so much a part of. He found he had “starved the market” with a fan base that was eager to see him and his band back in action. There were moments where many were singing his lyrics back to him in the middle of the show. It was these moments that were among many that were pretty special to him and, as he said, reflective of what the Rock By The Sea community represents to him. It’s also pretty impressive for an independent artist who had not played a live show like this in over four years. He gave those who were there a reminder of his musical talents. And on Episode 17 of the Agents of Innovation podcast, he talked to us about how he transitioned his other talents to a new life that offers its own excitement, while still holding on to his passion for music. Aside from an occasional charity music festival, today most of the songs he plays, such as “You Are My Sunshine,” are for his 19-month old son, who is undoubtedly his biggest fan.