I like to think that there are three types of music artists.
Journeymen Music Lovers. The first kind are carefree and perform music that makes them happy. They tend to have a small tribe of loyal fans who swear the rest of the world is missing out. They create and perform for the love of music. Nothing less and nothing more.
Timid Fame Chasers. The second kind of artists want to be famous, but are afraid of being original for fear that no one in the “industry” will be willing to support them. A word of caution, the “fear” is usually masked in over-confidence and arrogance. These artists usually have no fans and spend their time trying to get meetings. Their songs usually closely resemble one or two popular artists of the moment. Except the songs aren’t written as well and the recordings aren’t as powerful or polished.
Original Music Stars. Finally we come to the third type of artist. To the indiscriminate observer, their music might appear identical to the second kind of artists. They often rise to fame quickly. Their music is popular and accepted by the masses. Detractors and critics develop as well. Cutting them down because they don’t understand the new sound or why fans are drawn to these artists.
What is different about the third type of artist? If they closely resemble the unoriginal, Timid Fame Chasers, what sets them apart?
Timid Fame Chasers often mimic the sounds and styles of Original Music Stars. Originality within a defined genre is subtle but profound. Listeners unfamiliar with the genre won’t be able to detect a difference, but they still might be drawn to the stars.
By now I’ve participated in dozens….probably hundreds of signing meetings with artists. Artists of all kinds. Pop singers, rappers, bands, pop-violinists, you name it.
I’ve witnessed many artists exclaim that they could perform rock, pop, country, “whatever you need!” Nothing is more un-appealing. Sadly, these artists believe they are being “easy to work with” or “flexible.” All characteristics that are generally positive for human beings, but show instability in the core of an artist.
The characteristics that set an artist apart are usually more about what the artist isn’t vs. what they are.
Knowing what you stand for and what you don’t stand for is essential to planting your flag in the ground as an artist.
Here are a few intangible, but real, attributes that Original Music Stars possess in abundance.
This is the “It Factor.” Very difficult to detect. You can more easily recognize when someone doesn’t have the “it factor” than when they do.
Don’t rely entirely on this. All artists with magnetic charm don’t become successful. All successful artists don’t possess magnetic charm.
I never said these were hard and fast rules, but they are commonalities I’ve observed over a decade of watching new artists blossom into stars….or fall by the wayside.
CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THEY AREN’T
Original Music Stars aren’t afraid to say no. They don’t say no out of arrogance. They don’t say no because they want to claim their turf.
They simply can’t say yes to something that doesn’t agree with their core mission and beliefs as an artist.
This might mean saying no to a particular song selection for a radio single. This may also mean turning down a lucrative brand offer because the partnership doesn’t feel right and won’t resonate well with fans.
They know who their music influences are, and they know exactly the artists who resemble what they don’t want to be.
I am a little hesitant to suggest that successful artists express energy and enthusiasm all the time. Too much of this is annoying. Don’t be annoying.
What I am suggesting is that when you’ve built a sound foundation of talent, skills and direction, you naturally will radiate energy either in a room or on stage.
Conversely, Timid Fame Chasers have a nervous energy. You don’t buy what they’re selling. In fact, they don’t even know what they are selling.
They aren’t enthusiastic because they are waiting to see what you will be enthusiastic about.
The music industry looks for artists they can believe in.
When you invest time and money into someone, you want to believe their message. You want to be in their tribe.
We’ve been discussing originality and how it manifests in successful artists. So how do you define the difference between Journeymen Music Lovers and Original Music Stars?
This delineation is equally subtle as trying to separate the originals from the me-too’s.
Becoming a truly original artist isn’t for everyone. It isn’t possible for everyone. Some just don’t have it in them.
I think what separates Journeymen Music Lovers and Original Music Stars is that the latter find a way to be unique within current and “defined” genres and formats. We touched on this when discussing common music business lies.
Let’s break it down.
DESIRE FOR COMMERCIAL SUCCESS
Journeymen tend to be what’s called a “musician’s musicians.” Just like it sounds, these are artists known for their technical skills and performance ability.
They are looking for peer approval. Mass approval and success is viewed as selling out and they prefer “fans” that are connoisseurs, not just listeners.
John Mayer may be one of the best blues guitarists of our generation. He is admired by blues “lovers for his technical skills.
But what separates John Mayer from all the other great contemporary blues guitarists is his ability to release songs that are so catchy that they are played by commercial radio and accepted by the masses.
Original Music Stars are Journeymen who took their music a step further. They either developed outstanding songwriting skills or were humble enough to collaborate with songwriters who complemented their core competencies.
There is nothing wrong with a noble path as a journeyman musician. Original Music Stars just desire a greater platform and develop the additional skills or relationships to get there.
UNDERSTANDING OF FORMAT
I would put the Zac Brown Band in the category of an Original Music Star. But are they pre-packaged, standard country fare at their core? I think not…
ZBB first developed songs that would resonate at country radio. The success of these singles gave them an enormous platform of loyal fans.
Now that they’ve established their tribe, they are free to expand their range of genre and styles of music. Their fans will follow.
Core radio formats of Pop, Country, Rock, Urban and Latin still dominate as distribution platforms. Original Music Stars find a way to shine within a format that delivers a large audience.
A LOVE FOR A POPULAR FORMAT
As critics bemoan the demise of “real music” there is a tsunami of new artists who worship at the feet of artists like Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, and Jay-Z. These artists define a new generation that has moved beyond traditional guitar-driven rock.
Successful Original Music Stars tend to extol very popular artists and Journeymen Music Lovers often most admire technical wizards toiling in obscurity.
Before you accuse me of bias towards only commercial artists and music, let me remind you that the mission of this site is to simplify the music business and offer a view on what works and what doesn’t.
We are here to help define the nuances and specifics that contribute to commercial success.
It’s up to each individual artist to dig within and discover the type of artist they are meant to be.
Leave a comment and give your opinion about the categories of artists. Do you agree with the definitions and separation?
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