10,000 hours. Is that really how long you need to practice to be world class? Certainly Malcolm Gladwell seems to think so. Me not so much.
Practice is important but I think there’s more to it. One can’t just practice making songs for 10,000 hours and become the biggest rap star. Even after you’ve made say 2000 songs, none of them could hit. Sure you may get technically better at rapping but will your songs mean anything?
Practice doesn’t mean anything unless it is meaningful practice. That is are you learning from your mistakes? Are you learning what not to do? Are you learning what to do? What works? The only way to do that is by putting yourself out there. What does that mean?
People think that if they only practice a little more they’ll get better. But they won’t if they are not getting the “right practice”. For basketball players this doesn’t mean just practicing your shot all day, this means playing real games with your peers and taking shots in less than ideal circumstances such as when a huge defender is standing in your way. For artists this means putting your work out there even though the situation is less than ideal and seeing what the hell happens.
For most artists releasing music online nothing big happens. And that’s okay. What matters is are you seeing all the little things that are happening? Are you seeing people retweet your songs? Are you seeing people share your songs? Are you seeing people download your songs?
At this point the numbers for you are very small so your sample size isn’t representative. So how do you grow it? How do you make it big? How do you take the spotlight?
I think three key things have to happen (1) you have to innovate (2) the market has to be ready and (3) you have to figure out an interesting delivery mechanism.
What Is Innovation?
Everyone claims to be innovators these days. From tech companies to musicians everyone is dropping this buzz word either because they think it’s good marketing or because everyone else is saying it. I think innovation is about building on what those before you have done and at the same time doing something that is daringly different than what anyone else is doing currently.
Are The Fans Ready?
Your potential fans have to be ready to hear your message in order to believe in you and eventually support you. If you were pro gay marriage 100 years ago, nobody would follow you unless they were coming to beat you up. Today gay marriage is much more accepted by the public and we see more and more politicians getting behind it. This is the same for a new artist as it is for a new tech gizmo and anything else.
Sure you can be innovative but if the public is not ready to hear your message nothing will happen for you. It may also be that you are not ready to deliver your message. If Macklemore had released “Same Love” ten years ago without releasing “Thrift Shop” first, his message wouldn’t have got across.
When was virtual reality invented? Probably in the early 1990s. Back then I’m sure many people thought VR would be in every gamer’s home by now. But it never caught on because the market just wasn’t ready (Only now it seems like VR has a future with Facebook acquiring Oculus Rift).
We obviously don’t want to be too much behind the times but we also want to be sure we are not too far ahead of the times. We do have to remember we want to lead and not follow.
Delivering The Goods
You know that saying “The medium is the message”. It means how you deliver your message is just as important as what your message is. Right now the medium I’m using to talk to you is this blog. How you receive the things I’m saying is based on your past experiences with blogs. If I had done a youtube video speaking about this, your perception of the message I’m trying to give may be different. It’s just like how a music video can make a song sound better (or worse), cause after you watch it, you “get” the song more – what you’re getting is “the message”.
With music, we all have the ability to upload our music on a growing number of choices from Soundcloud to Youtube to even iTunes. Because the playing field has been leveled, the medium artists use to connect with fans has become saturated in these areas. Where it is not so saturated is in things like radio play and television, as it’s much more difficult for an unsigned act to get national radio play or be able to go on talkshows and promote their albums. It’s even become increasingly hard for artists to get their music on popular blogs as the bar has been set so high as to what is great and what is not – again due to over-saturation.
So how do you overcome this? I don’t think you really can other than by making really great songs and presenting them as best as you can.