The new digital world of delivery and streaming has made it much more of a “do it yourself” culture for young songwriters and artists. But it has also cluttered the world of curation because everyone is uploading audio and visual product. It used to be that there were thousands of performances of music on radio and TV. And then came the internet, and the number grew exponentially from billions to trillions.
The great news is that consumption has also grown and music is as popular as ever. The bad news is that there is so much coming at us as consumers and professionals that it is sometimes hard to find that very elite greatness, which has always been elusive. Good is not great enough anymore.
I tell many young up-and-comers that in order to compete and create a sustainable living making music, one must have a healthy obsession to succeed; one must be very intuitive; one must have vision; and one must be prepared to work harder and smarter than the next aspiring singer/songwriter. A lot of the process to success today hasn’t changed from 30 years ago — artists must entertain, be compelling and, if they are high-level and great, they will build their own audience, which in turn will get them attention from the industry people who can jump on board and push the artist to radio, agents, live venues, etc.
Despite the fact that the need for drive and vision hasn’t changed over the years, the songwriting process has, due to technology. Country music songwriting is closer to what writing songs used to be but in the contemporary world. Now, a pop song is a collaboration among three to 15 songwriters in one song (15 being the extreme, and three of four writers to a song the norm). One can look back and see that classic songs from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s were usually written by one or two writers. Now with the advent of long-distance writing over the net, you have a piano player contributing a sound or progression, a drummer with a loop, a guitar player with a lick, the artist, throw in a sample and before you know it, you have five writers on the song.
Yet even with the expanded capabilities technology affords young artists, being great at one’s craft is still the most important ingredient for sustaining a career. One can be great at getting attention on the first breakthrough, but repeating that success that is very hard to do unless the craft, drive and vision are there. For those very elite few who continue to have hits as writers, artists and producers, that combination of ingredients is what sets them apart.