This is an article by Bob Lefsetz, a music industry commentator. He is a lawyer, not even close to being a musician, but has been around the industry for years. He finally said some stuff I agree with:
“Coaching” by Bob Lefsetz
“We’re just not helping the wannabes.
There are endless conferences, usually sponsored by governments, most of them generating profits to the promoters, that will agree to expose your music, that will tell you how to make it in business, but none of them criticize the music itself. Oh, there’s an occasional listening panel, but players don’t utilize them to get better, they utilize them to get noticed. You see today’s wannabes are perfectly formed, they’re incredibly great, their only problem is the gatekeepers and the great unwashed don’t know it yet. They believe their real stumbling block is exposure, and they’ll beat you down trying to get it. If you criticize their material they don’t want to hear it, they argue, tell you just don’t get it and after insulting you move on to another mark they hope to convince.
Which is why you just can’t get honest feedback in the music business. A label won’t reject you by telling you your material is substandard, it will say it’s not signing anybody right now, or that you’re just not a proper fit, fearful of deflating the player, they’re dishonest. No one likes delivering bad news, but it’s hard to gain quality if there’s no positive feedback.
I just finished reading an article about coaching in the October 3rd “New Yorker”. I’d missed it, but a reader pointed me to it and it’s a winner. The author is a surgeon, who reached a peak and then stopped there, like an artist with a bunch of hits who never had another one. He wanted to get better? How?
He employed a coach. Who focused on the little things. Like how the surgeon draped the patient. Sure, it was right for the doctor, but how about the surgical assistant? John Wooden famously started his charges at UCLA by teaching them how to put on their socks. Blisters cost playing time. But kids also need to learn that the difference between winning and losing at the elite level is not the macro issues, but the micro.
Turns out Julliard students practice at least five hours a day. And they focus on the fundamentals. Imagine telling a wannabe that he’s got to forgo texting, forgo social networking and practice. You’d get howls. He’d tell you he’s furthering his career! But when you start with little, you rarely gain much. You must have a broad foundation to be great. The wannabe believes the audience just hasn’t heard his music, the real story is people hear it and reject it, don’t make it go viral, because it’s just not good enough.
“Elite performers, researchers say, must engage in ‘deliberate practice’ – sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires. You have to work at what you’re not good at.”
Mmm… One could argue that the best rappers would not be those who solely knew how to rhyme, but those who also knew how to play an instrument, create beats and work the board. Knowing all these components, you can reach a point of unconscious doing, a confidence that allows you to glow. But that’s a lot of hard work. Anathema to multiple generations exposed to instant stardom on TV. They don’t want just to work hard, they want opportunity.
As for the coaching you get on televised singing programs, to the degree it’s any good, it’s so narrow as to be barely more than worthless. The best singers don’t make the best recording artists. It’s more than that. But these coaches don’t reference these other qualities, there’s only so much you can accomplish in a sixteen week season.
As for record labels… There can be nurturing, but it’s within such narrow confines as to stifle the art form. Record companies only want what they can sell, instantly. They don’t want to inspire you to grow and be different, that’s horrifying to them. They want the same thing over and over again.
And then there are the superstars who peak and are done. Because they now believe they know it all, they believe everything they do is great, they’re no longer hungry, they won’t listen to anybody.
That’s the secret to Rick Rubin’s success. He inspires superstars.
But we’ve got one Rick Rubin and a bunch of yes-men.
And this article goes on to say that expertise in the art form is not a requirement to be a great coach. Bela Karolyi couldn’t perform any of the routines, but he was a fantastic gymnastics coach. The old saw that you must play in order to hear a hit is b.s. The outside observer may not be able to create a hit himself, but he can inspire someone else to make one, and knows what works and what does not.
So we need a system, kind of like sports, that instills fundamentals and teaches kids to grow. This is the secret to Adele’s success, her training. She’s trouncing everybody else on the chart, even Lady Gaga, who’s got more press. Because the Adele album is just more musical, it affects you in a way that can barely be verbalized, it touches your heart.
Can we change the culture of popular music in a nation that gives all participants a trophy? Wow. That’s why America’s lunch is eaten by foreigners, they’re willing to work, too many of our children are not. But we could inspire them.
Not that all superstars need to listen to their label or manager… The wrong coach hurts more than no coach.
But we can all become better. Not by saying we’re inadequate or not good, but by trying to gain that little bit extra, that separates those who gather notice from those who do not.
The problem we have in popular music is not a plethora of unrecognized greatness, but a dearth thereof. Adele demonstrates the public is interested in popular music and will pay for it if it believes it’s great. But too much of what’s out there is not, or is good…and good just isn’t good enough.
Kind of like the Republicans, who famously had a decades-long plan to achieve their present success, someone who was willing to coach inspired youngsters to greatness could reap huge rewards in the future. But it’s hard to find someone to dedicate the time and money when we live in an instant reward culture. The businessmen are as bad as the wannabe artists. They want to be overpaid today, the biggest goal is to cash out. A great artist never cashes out, he’s a lifer.
You’ve got to be open to help and you’ve got to find people who can give it without turning your stomach, causing you to run away.
Steve Jobs’s style was less than perfect, but Apple’s success was based on his inspiration of his troops, all of whom had great expertise before he hired them. That’s how you run a company. That’s how you create great products. Apple was a laughingstock in the nineties and it’s the most valuable company in America now… It took a long time.
It takes a long time in art too.”
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