The Adele cover story in the latest issue of Rolling Stone (a magazine I have barely even thumbed through since I was a freshman in high school in 1990) got me thinking about the same old thing that all musicians ask when someone (else) is chosen by the industry to be a star – why her?
This is not to disrespect Adele – and certainly not to say I think it should be me instead of her.
“Tha Adele Triumph,” a story of the making of 21 (Adele’s hugely successful album), is the typical Rolling Stone post-prophecy chronicling of someone’s seemingly inevitable rise to the top because of his/her uncanny talent. But it’s not Adele’s ability to stay out all night drinking and then come into the studio and nail a song on a first take – even I’ve played with at least one singer who has done that. It’s not the fact that she was a child prodigy with star potential – Texas is full of those. Sarah Jarosz and Ruby Jane come to mind. It’s not even that she has an instantly recognizable and unique voice.
The really special thing about Adele that makes her so worthy of our attention is her luck.
The overall point of interest for me about “The Triumph of Adele” is the influential, well-funded people in the music industry behind her. A team of corporate rock pros somehow assembled and dedicated themselves to making 21 a hit from the outset. They managed to release an album that resonated with people and filled blank space in “the market” – a truly talented, unique, soulful singer performing well-written, emotional songs. Aren’t there a ton of those out there? Well… yes. So why Adele? Somehow, she impressed the right amount (lots) of the right people (inside and outside the industry) at the right time.
That’s what’s really newsworthy about Adele and 21. Unfortunately, we can’t all be as lucky – even if we’re as talented.
Most of us can only hope to be on the cover of our local weekly entertainment paper. But do we even need that to be good? Think of all acts in Austin can fill a club but rarely get mentioned in the Chronicle.
Being NEWSWORTHY itself isn’t lasting or even rewarding. Being good can be both. To be newsworthy, something must only be remarkable… not necessarily good.
Stuff that’s good but not remarkable
- Writing a new song – awesome! So did the other 1500 bands in Austin.
- Releasing a new album – awesome! So did 50 other bands in Austin last weekend.
- Selling out a club – Magnifico does this all the time but there’s not a lot of interest from the press in a tribute band no matter how good they are.
- Finding funding for your independent film – amazing, but not of interest to most people.
- Playing a high paying gig – there’s money in “wall paper” gigs like weddings, cover band gigs or corporate events – but you’re still just wall paper. Not remarkable. In fact, for these gigs, the LESS remarkable/noticeable you are, the better!
- Getting married – happens every weekend in every city in the world. Only special to you and your family/friends.
- Having a healthy baby – many born in every city daily worldwide.
Stuff that’s remarkable but not necessarily good
- Complete – so bad they’re… at least worth laughing at.
- Rebecca Black’s Friday – love it or hate it, she got a LOT of attention for this
- The Jamaican Bobsled Team – who can’t love these guys? Still, who would bet money on them winning?
- Rudy – the luckiest and most well-known below-average college football player ever.
- Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
- The Kardashians – why? doesn’t matter. They resonate with millions of mindless viewers who don’t ever ask that question.
So when do good things become remarkable? When the big picture we create resonates with enough other people to cause a sensation. This happens little by little. It took a lot of good decisions, time and luck for 21 to resonate enough that Rolling Stone deemed newsworthy Adele’s hung-over single take of a song. No matter how many other singers may have done it before her, Adele was newsworthy because her enough people cared. Her talent was only part of the reason they cared. Her team’s efforts to market her was essential.
(This reminds of a day-job co-worker who told me when I left the job that he just knew one day he’d see me on TV and I be the latest overnight success that was 20 years in the making. What an accurate assessment of the entertainment world!)
So should we go out there and TRY to make our art resonate with people? Well, you most likely already are. If you have ever played a show in public or released a recording to the world, you’ve attempted to connect and resonate with others.
Regardless of your philosophy, people talk about what resonates with them ALL THE TIME. If your work resonates with others, you’ll be noticed – even if the quality is low.
So I’d say yes, try to resonate! Just choose who you want to resonate with and how.
What if your work doesn’t resonate? Well, that’s only right now. Building up that big picture takes a long time – even for Adele’s team. Plus, simply lasting is often remarkable. Conversely, remarkability isn’t lasting. As soon as something’s not novel anymore, it’s not remarkable and at that point there has to be some serious substance/passion in an artist’s work or its finished – Vanilla Ice. The opposite – David Byrne.
But resonance is hard to manipulate or predict long term. In 30 years, our grandkids might find something special about Vanilla Ice and they’ll be listening to mash ups of “Ice Ice Baby” and “Hoogie Boogie Land” on their Eye-Pods.
I think it’s important not to confuse talent with luck – or success with attention.
When I feel like what I’m doing is unremarkable and I’m thinking clearly, I try to remember that being remarkable doesn’t mean being good – and then I try to find the good in what I’m doing. In the rare moments that I feel like what I am doing actually is remarkable, I try my best to ride the line between novelty and quality and bare in mind that it won’t last. That’s when I fish for what substance I can actually take away from the experience so I can better create unremarkable music that may or may not resonate with people now or later.