The Guardian posted a tremendous article that investigates a few odd phenomenons that often occur in a band’s evolution. The all-too-famous sophomore slump, whether it be creatively or sales wise, is at it’s core as it explores the role of an artist’s mind state, fan reactions, song quality and much more.
Singer-songwriter David Gray has a few great insights when it comes to motivation and the emotional roller-coaster ride that follows success:
“What helped me is that I’d been making music for a while when the success came,” he says over the phone from Italy, where he is on holiday with his family. “I could handle it better. But the period after the success is always very difficult. If Radio 1 or Radio 2 don’t playlist your record, it has a profound impact on your sales. When the BBC decided to play Babylon, all hell broke loose, but if you don’t keep that up then you end up back in the Borderline – and when you’ve got used to the Hammersmith Apollo, that can be very depressing.”
“[...] it’s amazingly exhilarating,” he says with a laugh. “But success like that blows your compass completely, it’s so heavy, so all-enveloping. You do begin to think that perhaps you are God’s gift. I spent three years touring White Ladder, but when the festivals and the champagne and the private planes suddenly stop, when reality kicks in again, the shock is numbing.”
An artist has to be an incredibly strong and steady soul to be able to deal with going from being a no-name to everyone blowing smoke up your butt and treating you like a famous person. Do not underestimate how difficult it can be to keep grounded and focused when you’re pulled in different directions by different people, all interested in a piece of you. There’s a great quote from an XXL Mag interview with the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA on the period in which he created the group’s seminal debut album, and two of the first Wu solo albums that followed by Raekwon and GZA, also venerable classics:
The only two albums I did with nobody f*cking with me was [Only Built 4 Cuban] Linx [by Raekwon] and Liquid Swords [by GZA]. I was on a mission. To make all those early albums took three and a half years of my life. I didn’t come outside, didn’t have too many girl relations, didn’t even enjoy the shit. I just stayed in the basement. Hours and hours and days and days. Turkey burgers and bluntes. I didn’t know if it was working. But nobody could hear or say nothing, no comments, no touching the board when I leave. Everything was just how I wanted it. (full article here)
Fully undistracted, focused on the work itself, RZA created a bunch of classic albums in his Staten Island basement. That was the mentality. No partying, no opportunity for others to distract him with fancy parties or crazy thoughts and changes. Later of course RZA moved to LA and the period of Wu dominance, creatively, ended a few years later. But he’ll always have the legacy he built in his basement and he can coast on this forever more. This is not to say you can’t have fun while you’re putting in all the hard work of touring, song-writing and more. Just that ones focus and motivation has to be right. Everything in moderation.
Getting back to the Guardian article, the author shares some interesting comment on Welsh singer Duffy’s experience after becoming a huge success with her first album:
“Duffy is an interesting case,” a music industry lawyer says, “because her story applies to a lot of artists. Buoyed by success, they immediately think, ‘Why am I giving 6% of record royalties, a third of my publishing and a 20% management commission to other people? I am a genius! I will do it myself!’ [Duffy parted company with her manager, Rough Trade's Jeanette Lee, and with Bernard Butler who produced Rockferry, and co-wrote and played on much of it] And then make a bad record without any guidance from professionals. And then they wonder why it’s all gone wrong.”
An artist’s personality, attitude and work ethic is so key to their success. It takes true talent to get there in the first place, but it takes the right personality to stay there for a long time. It takes the right personality to resist all the people that will start whispering things into your ear once they see your successes. People will try to poach you, convince you they can do better, or make it all go faster. And if it’s not others, then it might be the artist themselves, like in the case of Duffy above. I feel very fortunate to only work and have worked with people in the past that I feel have the right attitude to accompany their amazing talents so that when they get to a bigger level of success and grow into national and internationally successful artists they will be able to stick around. That being said, it’s time for me to get to the office and help make that happen with our amazing team by putting in another day of hard work!
- It’s Not Always The Major Label’s Fault (Or Artist’s Motivation) (read)