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Heather McDonald

Talent - Does It Matter?

By December 9, 2009

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One of the coolest - and most frustrating - things about the music industry is that there is no one right answer. No magic formula. On the cool side, that means you can always create your own road map and still have a shot at success. On the frustrating side, it means the road maps created by others who have gone before you won't necessarily lead you to where you want to go.

Of course, not everyone shares my opinion that there is no one "right" way of getting things done in the music industry, and I hear about it frequently in my inbox. I always welcome the discussion, and I always come away feeling like I've learned something from these discussions, even though we still might not ultimately see eye to eye. But there is one notion - a theme even - that I hear a lot, that I always find surprising. I need your help figuring it out. This notion is - talent doesn't matter anymore/talent is not enough anymore.

On one hand, I would have to say that talent has never really been "enough". You could be the world's most gifted musician, and if you don't have the drive or the means to let people hear you,  well, it's not really enough (unless of course you play music for your own personal joy and have no need to share it). Nothing has really changed there. Talent has always needed a hard working, business savvy and lucky extra hand on deck. But doesn't matter? Whoa, there. If I could blame the decline on music sales one one thing, I'd blame it on the attitude that talent can be manufactured if the look/style/blah blah blah is right. Talent is our product in the music industry. Why in the world would we think that customers will want to pay for a shoddy product if the packaging is shiny enough?

So I say, ignore talent at your peril if you want to make in the music industry. It may not be enough on its own, but we're nothing without it. But I know not everyone agrees with me. So you tell me - talent - does it matter? Is it enough? Let me know!

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December 10, 2009 at 4:02 pm
(1) Krzysztof Wiszniewski says:

I can just about envision a scenario where talent is enough: it is when there is someone willing to invest in that talent and to nurture the other qualities needed for success. This ought to be the main task of record labels, though I cannot say whether at any one time and place it was realised in its pure form (if so, it would rather be in the early days of the recording industry than in recent times).

Of course, the labels aren’t spending big on artist development these days and when left to your own devices talent isn’t nearly enough. In order to make any impact, talent will need to be married to a number of other qualities.

On the other hand, people aren’t exactly falling over themselves to pay for music and when arists get into monetizing “experiential awareness that surrounds their brand”, talent arguably becomes a non-issue, because it has nothing to do with what you’re selling. In other words, you can be a thoroughly shoddy musician, but so long as the experiential awareness that surrounds your brand (don’t you just love the sound of that?) is top-notch, you stand to make a pile. I’m seeing more and more of those around each day.

The labels are doing it too, of course. Releasing a record by Paris Hilton or the winner of the latest popularity contest on TV is likely to be much better business than seeking out a genuinely talented artist playing groundbreaking new music somewhere in the Mid-West (for instance). For one thing, most of your publicity costs are gone.

Just very briefly, I’d like to touch on the subject of talent boosters that technology has given us. AutoTune is best known, but – if you think about it – even samplers are wonderful in this respect. You don’t exactly need a talent for LEGO.

Perhaps all those people are right?

December 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm
(2) KEVIN MALONE says:

Although the first comment was brief and insightfull (and I tend to agree) I think that the real question is “does anyone really care about talent?”. People in general mass dont give a crap, radio doesnt care and so niether does a portion of record labels. This society is driven by image. This is not to say that there aren’t talented singers, songwriters, and performers (of course there are) but who really cares? Those of us who live by music can hear the real thing (I think) and when in doubt just go see a concert. The true test for me is whether a band/performer can pull it off live! (without the show). Take all the technology to make someone that which they are not and SHUVE IT! As soon as I hear a song with Autotune, or see a performer that relies on image first I TURN THE STATION! So does talent really matter you ask… depends on who you ask, who you are and if you care. I certainly do care. (technology will never equal talent)

December 14, 2009 at 7:24 pm
(3) holly says:

Yes and No. If talent was all that mattered I think I’d have a daughter with a recording contract. It’s so much more, but talent is a large part of it. However, I have gone to my share of concerts and been very dissappointed that what I was hearing on “the CD” was not what I was hearing from the stage and trust me, fireworks, lights, and spectacle cannot cover pitch problems. With the combination of talent, looks, recording magic, and a lot of luck…..a star is born.

December 16, 2009 at 6:24 pm
(4) John Paul says:

I agree with y’all in the first 3 comments (yeah, I’m from the South). But it’s not that the masses don’t want or aren’t aware of talent, they are just more likely to get “snowed” by the all other stuff. And snow them the Big Boys do (look at Nashville now, it’s disgusting). My God, it’s Teeny Bopper Heaven (or hell, more exactly). And SOME of the masses are buying it (more Teeny Boppers I guess). So aim at your own “market” (jeez, like KW above,sometimes I can’t believe I even have to think about this stuff), but above all, keep your own talent honed, and what you’re saying with it, your integrity I guess. And the tech stuff, good to a point. But I know a real fine singer that started relying on the Auto Tune so much, she started losing her ability to stay on pitch. Real singing comes the heart, not some electric box. Thank y’all.

December 18, 2009 at 9:10 pm
(5) Steven Jackson says:

In this day and age talent doesn’t matter.
People don’t care about talent it is all about IMAGE.
When you listen to the CD’s that come out now, the production is slick, polished, pitch-perfect, soulless, and compressed to the point where all the life is taken out of it. Music now is ‘formula-based’ with no sense of adventure.
If you are seeking music now that goes beyond the boundaries and are looking for something different, go to Internet radio, forget commercial radio.
The music that you hear on Commercial radio now is just awful with talentless so-called ‘artists’ that in the 60′s and 70′s wouldn’t even have been considered for a recording contract.
I can understand why CD sales are down.

December 19, 2009 at 3:54 pm
(6) Jenn Allison says:

Yes, talent is everything! I have a PR business. I am not interesting in working with an artist or business if I am not mesmerized by their talent right from the start.

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