Strategy: Something Below the Surface

One great benefit of being a musical artist is that it gives one the opportunity to become a very influential figure in people’s lives. It’s a fulfilling, emotionally driven approach to being a leader. As musicians, we’re in the business of scoring the soundtracks to the scenes of people’s lives – moments that are made so unforgettable thanks to their underscore. I can so vividly recall my first slow dance at my first Homecoming during high school, performed with a girl with whom I’d been infatuated (full disclosure, I’m not shy) – all to the undulating sway of I’ll Be by Edwin McCain. In parallel and contrast, I remember the energizing nature of Eminem’s poetry converting my anticipation to confidence before each lacrosse game; the dilapidated speaker system rattling the further abused green locker that housed it. The music both creates and captures the moment; it’s the ultimate third wheel and the perfect wingman.

Notwithstanding all of the preceding sappiness, I’m really just saying that our connection to musicians can be much more complex than our connections with other shared role models. It all comes down to how compellingly the message is delivered. There are some great opportunities for people who perhaps wouldn’t make it in the film industry or in professional sports – music is an environment for whoever has a voice and for whoever is able to throw it. 

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For the sake of seeking a mainstream example, the below photograph is of the likeness of Ms. Susan Magdalane Boyle. This Scottish pop icon found her fame auditioning for the TV show Britain’s Got Talent. Regardless of any initial chuckles and jokes, there’s “something” about her performance that earned her a bit of attention, as these days she’s a Grammy nominated, platinum recording artist. Her story, however influenced by Syco Records’s marketing efforts, reveals in music the possibilities for a bit of quirk. If there’s passion and a voice, there’s a community of people with whom it’ll click!

I’ll continue along a different vein with one of my father’s personal favorites, Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes. Another example of an unconventional celebrity, Brittany gives one of the most powerful performances around (despite delivering it in perhaps the same outfit she’d buy groceries in.) Though, if there’s anything to observe from Brittany and Susan, it’s that music, emotion, and message reign supreme in the grand scheme of finding an audience. The art itself enough to garner support. They give everything and lack nothing. There’s room in popular music for everyone – those whose careers depend on looks, and those who bring a bit more to the table. 

I’m now going to digress offer an example of a singer who’s really impressed me with just her commitment to her art. I met her during my first week at Berklee and I’ve been around for the past year and a half of her career. She has one of the most passionate devotions to a dream that I’ve ever seen in a performer, and I’m really happy with how things are going for her. Here’s a brief synopsis of her story. Here’s Kate Cameron.

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By some unfortunate astral alignment, my friend Kate became subject to a bit of peer-on-peer denigration early on in our studies at Berklee. For the sake of brevity, she was picking the short straw regularly as the subject of quite a few joking remarks. Despite that vituperation, she’s stayed authentically focused on her music and her craft, and she’s turned the tables. Of all the singer-songwriters that I know, she’s really been the one to improve and to show signs of a very bright future. (For those of you in Boston this summer, she’s got  a 6 gig residency at the Boston Harbor Hotel!)

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For everyone just starting, for anyone out there overly concerned with taking on the biz, consider the success of artists like these. It doesn’t matter how you look, what people think, or even what you’re saying (Jason Mraz’s Geek in the Pink is just uncensored hubris – but it’s great.) If you say something and you say it loud, there’s nothing to stop your crowd from hearing.

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