Beyond 11: The Music Industry Epidemic
By Phil O'Keefe |
There's a reason why we keep getting more of the same…
There's an epidemic in the music industry that's impacting people at all levels and in many associated fields - from songwriters to instrumentalists, from manufacturers to managers, producers and artists (both new and established), label executives and yes, even music journalists.
Everyone is afraid to fail.
Sure, no one ever wants to get laughed at or have their project fail, but no matter how hard we try, people will inevitably fail occasionally whenever we're trying something new. The newer and more innovative your ideas, the more likely that they require significant effort to develop. New ideas require you to be more persuasive if you want others to consider them, and even with the effort, there are no guarantees. Innovators have always run into setbacks on the road to success, and creative people are no different. But today, the industry's attitude is that failure is unacceptable, and many fear that a single failure might ruin their career.
Creativity can not function in such an environment.
Fear of failure is an impediment to creativity. Good artists fail all the time. No one bats 1,000. No matter who your favorite songwriter or band is, odds are you like some of their songs more than others, and some you might not like at all. If you work at a label and are afraid that signing a new and "different sounding" band that you really like will result in your getting fired if their record stiffs, you probably won't sign them. The same is true for producers - the fear of trying something new can keep them from working with innovative artists, or trying new approaches on their records. Every label in Europe passed on the Beatles, but George Martin was willing to give them a shot. Had he been afraid of losing his job if they didn't succeed, he would never have done so. Had he not been willing to work with them as a producer, and try new, experimental approaches, the music would have suffered.
There's an important lesson there: when you don't take a chance on something you believe in, we're all deprived of whatever good may have come from it.
Today's record companies are not going to fund anything unless they feel it has a high likelihood of success. Because of that, in place of musical innovation, we often end up with "more of the same." The same types of music, being produced by the same people, and played by the same A-list studio cats. They'd all rather stick with what has worked for them in the past. If labels don't make an effort to develop new artists and put out new and innovative music, then someone else eventually will. Will that person be you?
If you don't have faith in yourself and your music, how can you expect it from anyone else? Labels that don't take chances creates opportunities for unsigned artists. So don't be afraid to stretch out, try new things and take risks. Throw that harpsichord solo into your Hip Hop track, combine elements of dissimilar styles in new ways, include the extra-long introduction. Take a controversial position or point out an injustice with your lyrics. Say something! Do the things that the industry experts recommend against. Take chances and forge new paths. Don't get stuck in the land of "me-too" - do something new and original.
Taking risks is far from a guarantee of success. Not all of your experiments will pay off. In fact, you can expect a lot of your efforts to fail. While that can be a bit frightening, persevere - it's important to keep fostering an attitude of creativity and experimentation. Sooner or later some of those ideas might just pay off; even if they don't, you're probably no worse off than if you followed the crowd and did what everyone else was doing. In fact, you'll be ahead of the crowd because you're not just copying everyone else.
We need to redefine "success" in the music industry. Financial results should not be the only measure of success in an industry involving a creative art like music. Innovation and creativity should be more highly valued - even if nurturing them means the occasional flop. What are you afraid of? Failing? Yes, it's very true that you may fail if you try something new, but one thing I can guarantee you is that you'll never accomplish anything if you're unwilling to try. At least if you try, the possibility of success is there. Do something brilliant today, and the failures of yesterday will quickly be forgotten.
It's your move. Don't be afraid to make it.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.