photo by Don Chisholm ©2008

Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You!

Bob Lefsetz

Sounds simple.  But most people don’t heed this advice.

Practicing the piano for ten years does not make you creative.  It just allows you to replicate what’s been done before.  But writing something new?

People put in the effort and wonder why they’re not famous.  The world is filled with journeymen, skilled at their jobs, just check out the band in the lounge, frequently those cats can play.  But they’re not famous.  Because to be famous you’ve got to make jaws drop, people have to forgo other activities to see you, people have to want to tell others about you.

In order to succeed, you’ve got to innovate.  In such a way that a large percentage of the public cares.

There’s always someone who is breaking so many rules that few can get into their music.  You know, the lead can’t sing, but that’s intentional, why be like the guys on Top Forty radio?  And the time changes are there to demonstrate they’ve got chops, not just anybody can play this music.  And the noise represents anger…  Why is it so many unlistenable acts can write a complete thesis on why their music sounds like it does but you don’t want to listen to it?

Conversely, there are those who insist on playing by the rules, taking the easy way out.  You might make it, but it’s going to have little to do with your talent.  It’s gonna be about your relationships and your marketing, and your spot in the firmament is always at risk, someone may steal your thunder, whereas nobody’s gonna steal Springsteen’s thunder.

Bruce’s way out was the live show.  In an era where bands were four or five pieces, the E Street Band was huge.  And they were honed and practiced.  To the point when you saw them live, you were blown away, even if you didn’t know the material.

This is the essence of Phish.  With a few additional elements.  A sense of humor, a willingness to take risks, the choice to not do it the same damn way each and every night.

Then there’s Elton John.  A nobody one day, everywhere the next.  That was the power of “Your Song”.  Furthermore, when you bought the album you found out Elton wasn’t a one hit wonder, and that NOTHING ELSE ON THE RECORD SOUNDED LIKE YOUR SONG!

You never know when the audience will get it.  I keep talking about seeing Prince at Flippers Roller Disco.  I liked “Dirty Mind”, but I had no idea this guy took his music this seriously, that he was this good a guitar player, this good a performer.  I went home and played the album incessantly, and am still testifying about this show DECADES later!

It’s an incredible challenge.  To employ a classic art form, pop music, but come up with something new.  But it’s this new thing that excites us, that not only makes our blood boil but makes us tell everyone.  Kind of like “District 9”.  My inbox is filled with fans.  People saying it was their favorite movie of 2009.  The establishment didn’t get it, they’d rather fawn over “Avatar”, but “District 9” got inside your system and affected you much more than James Cameron’s opus.  “District 9” had allegory, had humanity, felt real even though it was science fiction, the film could not be denied.

Too much of today’s music can be denied.

You can play it for a friend and he can ignore it.

But you could not ignore Jimi Hendrix…  Nothing else sounded like “Are You Experienced”!

“Like A Rolling Stone”?  Like nothing else on the radio.

And my go-to track from this decade, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”.  It sounded like a late night gin-soaked romp, you heard it once and needed to hear it again and again.

We’re in the era of marketing.  Because it’s so damn easy.  You can just go online and tell your story.  And isn’t it interesting that as more people are selling, fewer albums are moving…both sales-wise and emotionally.  (Album Sales Plummet To Lowest Total In Decades: http://bit.ly/92jZnd)

The key is not to find a way to get your music in front of people.  The key is to create music so good that it builds its own audience.  You’ve just go to put the track online and people find you!

This is so hard.  It not only requires perspiration, it demands INSPIRATION!  And inspiration comes in a flash after tons of hard work.  It’s not about coming up with a track in service of your image, that’s the Pussycat Dolls, which have the lasting power of a popsicle.  It’s about having a song so good that people need to play it not caring what you look like.

The basic tools have been denied.  No one wants to work on songwriting craft, they’d rather come up with something alternative and different.  But Hendrix was a very good songwriter.  And as out there as Dylan was on record, his songs went on to be hits for numerous people.  Hendrix did a great job with “All Along The Watchtower”.  And Rod Stewart did a great take of Jimi’s “Angel”.

These songs had verses, and choruses.  “All Along The Watchtower” had lyrics that could not be written by Justin Bieber.  “Angel” had an innovative intro and changes that hacks would not even risk.

Don’t throw out the verse, chorus, bridge paradigm.  Refigure them in such a way that your music is still appealing, even though it’s slightly different.  And great vocals never hurt.

That was the Beatles’ genius.

That is your challenge.

Inspired by: http://calnewport.com/blog/2008/02/01/the-steve-martin-method-a-master-comedians-advice-for-becoming-famous/