Built for the System or Not
by Tom Jackson
I was recently inspired by a Seth Godin blog, “Is a famous thinker better than a great one?”
Seth’s concept applies to artists and musicians, I think. Only the question for us becomes, “is a famous artist’s music, creativity, & show better than yours?” Because someone is famous, are they more creative, is their show better, and is what they have to say more valid than what you have to say?
Maybe… maybe not.
I like some popular music (pop, country, rock, etc.). There are a lot of great producers out there, as well as some very creative players with really good songs. But there are also a lot of artists that remind me of fast food.
Not that all fast food is inherently bad. In my travels I eat at some fast food places: El Pollo Loco (on the west coast), Taco Cabana (when I’m in Texas), El Pollo Tropical (in Florida)… those are some of my favorites.
But then there’s McDonald’s. McDonald’s has great branding, great marketing, and it’s conveniently located everywhere. But is it good food? I don’t think so.
A lot of popular music is like that: it has great branding, great marketing, and it’s conveniently located everywhere (on radio, TV, internet, etc.). But is it good music? Not always.
To be honest, when I go out to eat, I prefer going to a place where the chef is creative and not in a hurry. Not necessarily a famous chef. It might even be a good family restaurant that will never have a big world-wide chain. The chefs there get to do what they love to do, and they get to build a relationship with a community of people who keep on coming back. But they probably won’t ever be famous.
It’s that way with great music. Some artists will never be “famous,” but they “cook great food” (I mean make great music!). But they love what they do, and they make a living doing it. They’ll never (did I say “never?”), never get played on the radio. Does that make them any less valid or creative? I think not.
When I’m not working I like to listen to music many people have never heard of (because they’re not played on radio). Some of my favorite artists are groups like Shpongle, Afro-Celt Sound System, Zero 7. And I still love progressive rock bands like Yes, Gentle Giant, and others. I personally like trippy, creative, outside the box artists when I listen to music.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like popular artists who work inside the box, too. There are a lot of awesome artists who work within that popular music “box.” That’s because they’re still creative, they know how to work within the system, and their music, personality, & message fit into that system.
They were built for that system; some people aren’t built that way. And that’s OK.
Just because some of you haven’t achieved fame, fortune, and become a household name, doesn’t mean your music isn’t great. Because someone is popular, does that make them more important, more valid, worth more to people? I don’t think so.
So, for whatever it’s worth, I encourage you to:
be true to yourself,
be smart (know what it takes to work within your system),
and don’t compromise just to make yourself “fit” into the wrong system.
Because if you are creative, your music is extraordinary, and you have the ability to communicate that in a live performance – you have a shot at a career doing what you love to do!