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February 01, 2007
The Talent Myth
It once again stirred up those age-old, evergreen debates about making money vs. having talent, and doing music for the love of it vs. a financial payoff. I've addressed these issues countless times over the years, so admittedly, it's easy for me to lose sight of the fact that people reading my writings for the first time will make assumptions about my true meaning.
So, to clear the record ... again:
- Yes, you should be motivated to play music just for the love of it. It would be dumb to drag yourself down a music career path if your primary goal is to make money or be popular.
- Yes, I agree that no amount of marketing will overcome music that doesn't connect with an audience.
Okay, I feel better now. But there's still this gnawing problem I have with some of the comments surrounding this well-intentioned but misguided notion that talent carries more weight than popularity.
I get where the idea comes from. We all see amazing musicians who don't have much of a following; then floozies or pretty boys with little or no "talent" who suck up all the limelight.
Fine. Life and the distribution of wealth and fame can seem unfair. If that's hard for you to bare, wear a helmet.
But let's take a closer look at this talent thing. The pontificators talk about it like it's some absolute quality that only certain artists possess. When in reality, being "talented" is a purely subjective opinion.
Consider this quandary: If a guitarist played a smokin' lead solo in the woods and nobody heard him, should he be considered talented? The only way he could in that situation is if he decided for himself that he had "talent."
So, is it an artist's opinion of his own talent level that makes it so? Most people would not agree with that.
If Joe Satriani Jammed in the Woods
Now let's take the same guitarist and his smokin' solo and add 10 people to the forest. Seven people describe him as "talented," three people aren't that impressed, and let's say the guitarist himself is not happy with the way his fingers were moving that day.
Is he talented, or not? Who decides?
Consider Bob Dylan and Neil Young, two hugely popular and "successful" artists. Millions of people love them, but I've never tapped into that affection. I don't get what people see in them.
I have, however, admitted that I respect their place in rock and roll history. I admire the impact they've made on music, which took place because they connected with an audience and reached great levels of popularity.
Oh, there's that evil word again: popularity.
Here's the problem with the Talent Myth. You can only be perceived as "talented" by one person at a time. It's an individual choice. What makes your mouth water may make my insides shudder. And who is ultimately right in the "talent" label competition? Do you win if you can get a greater percentage of the population to deem you talented?
Ah, but if you did that, you'd be right back to playing the ugly popularity game.
A New Perspective
So let's reframe the subject. Instead of saying Artist A is cheesy and Artist B is truly talented and "deserves" this or that, let's think of it as each artist's ability to connect with an audience.
It really doesn't matter how you rate on the Talent Meter, because you'll have as many different scores as there are people in the room (or in the forest). But it does matter if you can connect with an audience that's sizable enough to give your musical effort meaning.
The more people who like you and your music, the better you feel about your craft, and the more options you have for career development.
Does this make sense, people?
It's not about good and bad, or talented and untalented. It's about who can touch people through their music in meaningful ways.
-Bob Get more tips like these when you subscribe to my free Buzz Factor ezine — the longest running music career tips email newsletter on the planet. Since 1995. Learn more about the free subscription here.
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What About Bob?
Bob Baker is an author, speaker, teacher, indie musician and former music magazine editor dedicated to showing musicians of all kinds how to get exposure, connect with fans, sell more music, and increase their incomes.
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