This weekend I had the chance to participate in what may be considered the greatest (or at least highest grossing) concert festival in history. “Oldchella,” or Desert Trip, took place out in Indio CA over the course of 3 evenings, featuring 6 legendary groups from the 60’s: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who, & Roger Waters, each of which played a full set-list.
As a music-lover, it was a transcendent weekend, truly a once-in-a-lifetime line-up of great artists and musicians. But over the course of the 3 days I became more amazed at the differences within each group. From Neil Young’s almost improv setlist to Paul McCartney’s structured theatrics, from The Who’s unparalleled energy to Roger Waters’ immersive experience; each band brought something completely unique and different to the table. (And therein lies one of the secrets to their success).
It made me consider what an amazing time that must have been for music — creativity and passion combining from so many different influences and sources, all growing together and spawning something so much greater than the individual parts could ever have come up with on their own. Each of these defining groups truly had their own unique style. The Beatles weren’t trying to be The Rolling Stones; The Who wasn’t trying to top Pink Floyd — they co-existed, celebrating their differences while pushing each other to greater heights.
These days music is a different animal. A new artist or idea is thrown into “the machine,” cycled around until they sound just like everyone else, then paraded out for their brief two minutes of fame until they’re forgotten for the next song coming out of the assembly line. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great artists and musicians trying to do creative things today, but most of them are both under-appreciated and under the radar. The industry is being driven by executives in suits and ties; their only focus? Making money. Which to them means repeating whatever is successful again and again and again and again. Fortunately some great bands tend to break the mold — at least for a time. But even they often fall victim to their success, forced to churn out “hits” that sound exactly like the songs that earned them their fame, rather than continuing to grow and innovate. We like our driving kick beats and ridiculous three-note catchphrase melodies, and we’ll line up for the same song with a new coat of paint slapped over it again and again.
The worst thing about what “industry” has done to “entertainment” is what we’re missing. The songs we’ll never hear. The groups who will never make it because they’re too different, too unique; they don’t “fit into the mold.” We’ve walked willingly into the corporate machine and discovered it’s really a labyrinth. But rather than carving our way through or discovering our own path, we’re trying to follow the guys just ahead of us, not realizing they’re as lost as we are.
Great artists — whether it be musicians, painters, authors, filmmakers, etc — have one thing that the majority of artists lack. Vision. They see things a little differently. Approach things from a new angle. Experiment in ways others have never even thought to try. They still learn from those who have come before them, but they aren’t trying to replicate. They’re trying to create.
As an author I am constantly amazed at the time and energy other writers or people within the industry attend to following trends. A certain genre is hot right now, so you should write in that genre … Books with the word “The Girl” in their titles are hot right now, so you should add that to your title … Everyone’s trying to follow where the bouncing ball is going to land.
When you look at those who are truly trendsetters, who define generations — the innovators who others attempt to copy — you’ll notice they don’t follow trends. They create them.
Does every artist with a vision get to that level of success and fame? Hardly. There’s more luck and timing in these equations than hard work and talent can ever make up for (though you certainly can’t skimp on those ingredients either). But if you are going to dedicate yourself to something that is going to require such an investment of time — as music or writing or any other impassioned pursuit will — know why you’re doing it. Know what you’re trying to accomplish. And don’t try to be someone else. Present the world with your unique vision — because I guarantee it’ll be different than mine — and that’s why I’ll pick up your work. Obviously, you’ve got to learn your craft first, but once you’re there, don’t be afraid to do what no one else is doing. Don’t sell me a novel that’s a rip-off of some other author’s work; become the writer or musician or painter that others will try to copy.
One of life’s greatest ironies is that while we all see, (most of us anyway), there are so few who possess vision, who aren’t spitting back out exactly what they’re taking in. Don’t be a mirror, be a window and let those around you discover views they might never have otherwise taken in.