The Anatomy of Greatness
A Brief X-Ray Of How the Greats Succeed In The Music Business
by Michael Bearden
From the outside looking in, the music business seems glamorous, exciting, lucrative, and to the misinformed, like not much work is involved. “Aw, that ain’t workin’. That’s the way you do it. Get your money for nuthin’ and your chicks for free!” as, the popular 80’s song from the band Dire Straits suggests. In fact, the music business is all of these things yet, also a lot of work!
However, before anyone starts the journey into their music career, (and I’m assuming they’ve already discovered their individual musical talents), the first thing they should do is ask themselves, “Why am I doing this?” Be Honest!
Be brutally honest about why you want to be in the music business! Honesty will save you a lot of time in choosing your pathway into the business. There are many ways to enter the music business. However, not every pathway will keep you in it for a long time. If you’re pursuing it only to be popular and to try to make a lot of money, then be honest about that and act accordingly. But, if you’re in it to leave a lasting musical legacy in the world, (which can also be lucrative in many ways, including money), then proceed to the next step.
Once you’ve been honest about why you want to be in the music business? The next step is, Do The Work! This is where you must put in the necessary hours. If you want to be a great musician, singer, etc...You must practice your craft. There are no shortcuts. The same goes for rapper, producer, engineer, etc...practicing and studying is the key. Sure, there are artists who’ve “made it” seemingly with no discernible talent whatsoever. The probability of that is hit or miss. But, the greatest artists have a work ethic that’s unparalleled! They have an unwavering dedication to their craft and unyielding attention to details. Ambition must be met with preparation! And, the work never stops! That’s the price of greatness!
Once you’ve done the work and your art, skill, craft has taken shape, next up is Attention. Attention is the biggest commodity in the music business! Everyone, like you, wants the same thing. They all want to be in the business. So, why should we care about you? What is your unique value, your unique voice? This is where many artists fail. They don’t have a discernible identity. Or, they don’t trust the work they’ve put in. Or, they don’t trust the process. If they have more than two or three failures, they more often than not, start emulating what’s already out there. This is a loosing strategy. Once you start emulating or chasing, you’re already too late!
The truth is, in this overcrowded music market, garnering an audience’s attention is extremely difficult. As Milan Kordestani writes in a July 9, 2021 Rolling Stone article, “To be noticed, you have to do something worthy of people’s attention — which often means doing something completely unexpected.” This doesn’t necessarily mean to go for the most controversial or shocking thing you can do to garner attention. This is where you have to be really creative in how you get people to notice you. It’s not an easy assignment. However, if it were easy, everyone would do it! If you do decide to go the “shock” route, no doubt most will judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it. Once the “shock” wears off, it could trigger the career falling off as well.
Technology has the ability to know everything about us! Trading in “human futures” as said in the documentary/film Social Dilemma. The race for keeping people’s attention is not going away any time soon! As an artist, it’s up to you to be well versed on how to keep up.
If you are lucky enough to carve out your own niche and gain a following for your art, Perseverance is the next step. For some, getting that first hit happens fairly early on in their careers. The challenge is, how does one keep it going? How do you continue to maintain an audience? The short answer is to be excellent! Never stop doing the steps you did to get you there in the first place. If you stay authentic and true to yourself and your art, your audience will stay with you for as long as you’re creating. As soon as anyone detects even a little hint of something that’s not authentic, they will leave. Of course money and connections always helps. But, you can’t sell inauthenticity for too long. Sooner or later, the lack of excellence will stall or end ones career.
It also doesn’t hurt to keep learning about your craft, even after you have success. The great CEO’s still attend seminars, read books, listen to podcasts, etc...The greatest artist still practice and study other creative disciplines within the business to maintain their creative edge and build their empires.
Now that you’ve built your audience/brand, and have demonstrated Perseverance, the next key step is Agility/Reinvention. In today’s music business, taste and attention spans are fleeting. Everyone seems to be on to the next “hottest thing” in record time. Focus on being one step ahead. Be agile enough to pivot when you see something is going stale or out of fashion. All the while, maintaining your authenticity. This is one of the most difficult steps in the music business. Transitioning smoothly with the times while not abandoning your audience all together. Having a good, trustworthy team around you helps with perspective. And, helps the artist figure out what success is for them at this stage in their careers. Not many artists make it to this level. The ones who can master all of these steps over decades will have achieved greatness! Being able to do what you love doing on your own terms, with an audience that loves what you’re creating in all areas of your creativity is the ultimate goal of an artist. With a little bit of luck, you can then build what’s known as, Legacy! This is how, as an artist, you live forever. This is the anatomy of Greatness!