Your music is great. You are a genius. You are better than everyone else.

Keep telling yourself that, hold your breath and see what happens. We’ll wait. There are millions of musicians around the world vying for attention but none of them are as talented as you. Amazing how many musicians actually say that out loud on a daily basis. That’s why they live in their parents basement, have no money and have done one gig in the last year; because they are so in demand. They are too good for anyone to like their music. The ignorant masses don’t recognize their supernatural talent so they must live in obscurity. They don’t dare reach out, create an online presence, talk to potential fans, or grace the clubs with their incredible talent. No one will understand them. Yawn.

How do you know that you are the best? How much music do you listen to on a daily basis from around the world? Do you know 90% of the songs ever written and could you perform them for us right now? Without diving into music discovery every day in every genre, you are a dinosaur. The music you are writing isn’t unique, brilliant and ground breaking because you have no sense of history. Have you listened to the masters of jazz, blues, rock, soul, pop, gospel, R&B, classical, Urban and every genre in between? You can’t know where you are going, if you don’t know where you’ve been. Music has a rich history and thousands of fearless pioneers broke sacred ground before you. Their music and their stories are important and necessary in order to create something new and innovative. How can you say, “What I’m doing has never been done before,” if you never listen to anybody else’s music? It’s probably been done to death and done a thousand times better than you. Wake up!

All great artists borrow from the giants that came before them. We are influenced every day by incredible songs that have marked important moments in our life. Your first kiss, your first serious relationship, the first time you___________….well first whatevers are burned into your brain by the music that was the backdrop for those amazing moments. Those songs mean the world to you and nothing can tarnish those memories. That’s what you are making, memories to mark time in the lives of your fans. So that music needs to be undeniable, incredible, and without question powerful. It must be brilliant. The only way to really know if your music is great, is to put it out to the fans and see what happens. And before you do, you better have heard tons of other people’s music so you know for sure that you have fantastic content. Stop deluding yourself about your talent and actually listen with an open mind to what is happening now.

“Now. Now. Now. It’s all about NOW.” – J. Buckley 

Jeff Buckley was an innovator. He had a signature sound that was ground breaking and so distinctive that 16 years after his untimely death, artists are still trying to emulate that ethereal sound. So who influenced Buckley? Jeff was influenced by a wide variety of artists. A few include, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland, Nina Simone, MC5, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Genesis, Weather Report, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who, Patti Smith, The Cocteau Twins, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Merle Haggard, Aretha Franklin, The Pixies, David Bowie, Sebadoh, Stevie Wonder and Louis Armstrong. If you listen carefully, you can hear flashes of all these artists in his work. But when he took a song and made it his own; it was undeniable. In case you never listen to any music other than your own, here is Buckley’s phenomenal interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

It’s tough to listen to any other version after hearing Buckley’s. Ridiculous, stunning work. But you are better than him, we forgot for a moment.

Another ground breaking artist who left us too soon is Amy Winehouse. Her quirky blend of jazz, soul, pop and R&B took everyone by surprise. With her sly delivery and signature vocal sound you knew the second you heard a Winehouse tune that this song was going to take you somewhere you had never been before. So who influenced Winehouse? In a candid interview recorded at the Other Voices festival in Dingle in 2006  edited and extracted by The Guardian, Winehouse said, “When I was younger, I didn’t really listen to a lot of soul. But in the last year I got really into Motown girl groups. I liked Otis Redding from 14 or 15, but I listened to hip-hop and jazz for so many years. It goes jazz, soul, Motown, then hip-hop. Obviously, I’ve gone in the middle.”

Listen to her amazing rendition of, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” with Paul Weller. Killer. She totally commands the stage.

The reason that video has over two million views is because it’s amazing. Period. You want something to go viral? Be amazing.

Jay-Z is one of the most influential and powerful artists of our generation. “The Blueprint” is a masterpiece. Timeless. So who influenced Jay-Z from a young age? In this interview with MTV, a young Jay-Z speaks to those that came before him:

Back in 1998, Jigga revealed that his earliest exposure to music came from his parents’ extensive collection of vinyl. “I grew up around music, listening to all types of people,” he said. “I used to listen to old music like Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and things like that. I’m into music that has soul in it, whether it be rap, R&B, pop music, whatever. As long as I can feel their soul through the wax, that’s what I really listen to.”

Jay-Z is all hype you say and can’t touch what I’m doing. Check out “No Church in the wild” a genius collaboration with Kanye West and then say that again with a straight face. The innovator Frank Ocean is also featured on this track. Ocean was a ghost writer for years before he decided to take the fantastic music he had been writing for others  and launch his own solo recording career.

You need to get educated about music history. Before you talk a big game, know what you’re talking about. Your ego is getting in the way of your art. Listen to everything you can get your hands on, old and new, then go back to the recording studio and start over. You aren’t the chosen one; you might not even be mediocre. Until you can  play and perform every song out there ever written, stop talking and start creating. We will decide if it’s any good. You think you know more than everyone else on the planet? ”You say you got a real solution Well, you know we’d all love to see the plan…”

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10 Responses to Revolution?

  1. Nikki says:

    Here’s My Story in relation to this: I work a day job Mon-Fri about an hour and a half drive from my house. So that is about 3 hours driving time, $97 in tolls per month, and $170 in gas a month. When I get home I take care of my son, do his homework, feed him dinner, play, bath then bed. As much as I want to lounge around and watch all my DVR’d recordings of True Blood, I go all the way to the the city (Chicago) which is about 50-minutes from my house. Me and one of my clients are trying to get him to spit in one of the most difficult Open Mic Freestyle session at SubT off of North Ave. We have been going there every Tuesday for the past 5 weeks, never once will they let him throw some bars. I push him to make a little presence for himself. He goes up to the DJ about 2 times in the night asking if they will just give him a chance. He goes up to the MC asking him to get on the bill. Even though he hasn’t performed, he is still getting his foot in the door to one of the most popular, busiest, well-known freestyle open mics in Chicago. I finally went up to the MC and starting casually talking to him. As a manager, I make my connections feel like they are numero uno. They love talking about themselves lol. I made that connection though. As soon as I knew we were connected, he caved and told me what my client needed to do to get himself to throw down 3 tracks or 10-minutes (whichever comes first). after 5 weeks….I felt like I finally mad a breakthrough. I got home at 2am, woke up at 6, and worked all day, to do it all again that night for another client.

    My point to all of this is you need to learn to be your own sales person. I truly believe in my clients, and I’m talking about talent, education, choices; and when you believe in something, others start to believe in it too. Artists need to believe in themselves so much to go that extra thousand miles to get that ONE step closer. Getting on an “open mic’ may sound really small and to a lot of people they would never try that hard. But these are the tricks to being successful. Persistence, patience, determination, and drive. A lot of musicians become musicians because they don’t want to do anything…and truly, that means, anything but play music.

  2. Scott Alexander says:

    Truth can be very UGLY at times. If I stop learning about music, and think I am Mr Wonderful, Mr No-it-all, I have become stagnant and I begin to stink just like a swamp. It is wonderful to be confident, but not ego-driven. Ego-driven does what it implies, your ego drives away everything good and benificial to your carreer. P.S. I wanted to be one of the Beatles, but there was no open positions at that time.

    • Ghezzi says:

      Every artist has to have their ego intact to step onto the stage, so you are right. Ego-driven is another thing altogether. Truth can be a tough pill to swallow.

      Maybe McCartney needs some backup?:-)

  3. james avery says:

    wow strong stuff,i’m new to this,not music just this blogging stuff.I agree with Ghezzi as well as Bobby jo,I have limitations due to injury I sustaned through my time in the service.I have to work at it,to stay fresh and to help me rember things,do i let that stop me? no.the fact is,music is the “voices in my head” with out them to push me I would go insane,I do believe that there is a distinction between a privaliged few and the masses in music but i also feel how do you mesure that in an applause,in a sing back to you.I wish i could have grown to be 6 foot tall to have it easer to play basketball.I only 5’8″,dosen’t stop me from loving to play or watching a game.I don’t live in my parents basement,i grew up listening to Tammy Wynett and Jeorge Jones (rest in peace Icons of there trade) Dolly Pardon,untill i was allowed to listen to devil music like Led Zeppelin,stones,Pink Floyd,Crean and Eric himself,they moved me,I write a story to every song i write and it would be nice to make money at it,I’m no where near ANY of those guys(and) gals,and i’m certanly not close as a musican,but i do believe in what i do because it keeps me sane. thanks

  4. Greg Holland says:

    Nice article Ghezzi. It reminds me of a point from Zoro’s book, The Big Gig, in which he describes various qualities of a master. The one in particular is being Humble; that a master remains teachable despite their world-class status, and has the spirit to take criticism well. Basically, there’s always something to learn, and growing never stops.

  5. Shecky says:

    Very Nice Ghezzi!

  6. Katja says:

    Fantastic article. We all must approach our craft as beginners no matter how far down the path we are(or think we are)

  7. Hey there.

    There’s good, and then an undercurrent of ‘yeah, but…’ in this post that I want to respond with. It’s lying under the surface, it’s there, so I might as well pull it out into the open and let’s just be honest about it, along with affirming the truths here.

    I should probably drop some ‘qualifiers’ before responding to this. I played over 200 shows last year. I’m a full-time professional singer/songwriter. I won Songwriter of the Year at West Coast Songwriter’s Association, and was recently featured in a commercial for the 2013 Ford Fusion. I won the 2013 Rising Star of the Desert award in Palm Springs, judged by some of the industries top professionals. All that to say, while I’m certainly not Jay-Z, I’m not writing from my basement.

    So first, the truths: You absolutely need to get out there and perform in front of real people, record albums, create interest, and find 1,000 creative ways to do that. Nobody’s path is the same, so there is no book on it – really, there isn’t. And no one can just GIVE you connections, because it’s not who you know – it’s HOW YOU KNOW THEM. You have to go out and meet these people yourself.

    However, there’s an undercurrent here that I feel implies that if you’re good, you’ll get a million views. If you’re good, those connections will magically appear.

    And even a farther undercurrent – if you DO go places and play, and work your ass off, and have really amazing talent, and you DON’T become successful, then it’s because maybe you’re just not as good as you think you are. Or to be put another way, everyone that’s good and plays enough, fans will recognize them, their numbers will build dramatically, and they’ll be capable of achieving greatness.

    I don’t believe that’s true.

    There is a weird, strange ‘rift’ or ‘gap’ between the privileged of the music industry and the unprivileged, no matter how hard working or talented they are, and there is a very strong push by the privileged to try and keep it that way. Even in my experiences, landing the things I have…when I win these competitions, and there’s supposed to be a connection to industry people…those connections just won’t come through, or something won’t work out, or even worse, there will never be a follow-up email whatsoever. 99.9% of ‘contests’ have to do with fans voting, which means that it’s a popularity contest and not a meritocracy contest. And no – being popular does NOT mean that you have talent. 🙂 And even worse, these ‘rewards’ or potential incentives will be completely overblown (see: publicity firms, subscription artist programs, ‘radio promotion companies’ etc) and they’ll ask artists to invest MONEY with no measurable, guaranteed results. This is one of the worst sins, by far, because it takes money out of a working artist hands and gives nothing in return without threat of conviction of a crime.

    I don’t have answers to this, and I want to say at the end of this that I still believe in the music industry. Someday, I’ll be signed, and I’ll be ‘in the machine,’ and that’ll be dandy. But people that are chasing the dreams of being Jay-Z or Elton John or The Killers need to understand that it’s not as simple as “You think you’re good? You’re not that good. You need to be better. That’s why you’re not being successful.” Because there’s a group of people, hard working and very talented, that haven’t made it, and it has nothing to do with staying in a basement – it has to do with a dysfunctional, non-merit based industry that’s holding its assets (and all the cards) tight because it’s scared shitless about the future.

    Just my thoughts. Thanks for the post – any post that makes me think makes me happy. I hope y’all figure this out while I’m still getting your newsletters. 🙂

    Best,
    Bobby
    http://www.bobbyjovalentine.com

    • The Wiz says:

      Thanks for the note Bobby Jo – great thoughts! Glad to see your continuing success and growth in the biz.

      I agree that those with popularity are not inherently talented, and those with talent are not necessarily going to see a meteoric rise to stardom (even when they work their ass off). There’s certainly no formula that works for everyone, but the folks (not unlike yourself) with a willingness to learn, desire to hustle, patience to refine their skill and aptitude for building meaningful relationships are putting themselves in a different class – probably one that hosts less than 1% of aspiring musicians. I think how you and I read the post may diverge in one fundamental spot, which is how you define or assess whether or not you are talented. Saying so doesn’t make it so. YOU know you’re talented because audiences have said so, your fan base has grown and people are listening to what you have to say. The audience decides – not the artist. If an artist keeps hanging their hat on the “I’m talented” line but the fans aren’t showing up, some other cog in the machine may be malfunctioning. If every other facet of their business is shored up and they continue to be confused by the lack of adoption, maybe they aren’t as talented as they thought?

      Side note to anybody reading this: where do you get feedback on your “talent?” Do you dare ask those with an unbiased opinion? It can be a tough pill to swallow, but the feedback from fans or potential fans is infinitely more valuable than from your circle of friends or family.

      I think the article is aimed at the folks who toil away in seclusion without reaching out and saying to new audiences, “hey, what do you think?” Or worse still, those that think they’ve written a killer song without being exposed to other classics, only to find out their hook is the same as a Rolling Stones tune. We’ve heard it, why is it cool coming from you? The artists with talent that haven’t found success are missing something. Hustle, promotion, ability to network, humility, social media savvy, interpersonal skills, etc, etc. Talent isn’t enough (and never has been), but again, the best way to increase your odds of success is to hone your talent while hustling in all of the other areas. I would tell anyone to go learn your favorite 10 albums cover to cover (if you haven’t already) – you’re already a better songwriter!

      While there are certainly gatekeepers in the industry (slowly dying off), I also think that less and less of the industry revolves around those clinging to their positions of power and more on an individual’s ability to leverage the unprecedented direct access to music consumers. Building quality relationships with people that can directly assist you in your specific needs is undoubtedly essential, but hoping for an angel (investor not supernatural being) to swoop in and foot the bill is probably unrealistic. Investors of time or money (labels, promoters, managers, booking agents, banks, etc.) are in it for one reason and one reason only – a return on that investment. Fans are in it for an experience, escape, connection, etc. I think the vast majority of artists are better served cultivating relationships with the latter group and giving that group an opportunity to show their support financially.

      Thanks for your thoughts man! Always love your perspective and keep on rockin’.

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