The Biggest / Best / First Principle.
How would you like a formula to completely dominate the music game in your city, country, or even genre? In his book “The Four Hour Work Week”, Timothy Ferris mentions 3 ways for a business to stand head and shoulders above its competition. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy:
Become perceived as the “biggest”, “best”, or “first” in your chosen market.
Let’s take a closer look and see how this applies to producers and performers.
(note: I use these terms loosely – think of them as philosophical ideals. I encourage you to strive for excellence, but keep in mind that you attract a very different audience with humility than with ego.)
Think of “biggest” in terms of how much attention you take up from the consuming public; how many eyes/ears are on you. If everyone is talking about an artist and their content is omnipresent online, there comes a point where they are perceived as “big”, “on fire”, or “a hit” at the moment. There is a change in perception when people start seeing something/someone advertised everywhere. Have you ever “liked” an artist page because 100 of your friends do? Group mentality is fascinating; when you gain momentum, people will jump on board simply because others are supporting. Considerable attention can be achieved with a lot of time, effort (or money) and a good promotional campaign can help you garner support strategically.
Although it can be (effective at getting your foot in the door), one of the dangers of working to be the biggest is that people are fickle. The internet helped turn 15 minutes of fame into 15 seconds. Just because you were the biggest at one point does not in any way guarantee that you will maintain this status. Sustainability here comes from consistent high quality output and innovation.
Due to factors such as label support and consistent Beatport charting, Skrillex is an example of a currently prominent artist (though the other two categories elude him). Diplo also comes to mind with his well positioned Major Lazer branding and unrelenting social media hijinx.
Being the biggest unfortunately does not make you the best or first in a category.
I interpret “the best” in this context as two possibilities: the best technically or the best artistically. People may value what you are expressing, or how you are expressing it. It can take dedicated time and effort to stand out as exceptional in an area, so it really helps to invest in it for the sheer love of your craft. Finding a unique angle to your artistry can also be useful in making yourself known. You can (and should) work to become the best version of yourself you can be. Learn to hone your creativity as well as your ability to transmute it into reality.
Personally I consider the avant garde artists Squarepusher and Jacques Greene to be examples of incredibly creative and talented performers. Greene is currently incorporating a live PA performance and becoming recognized worldwide.
If you are one of the first people to musically branch off into new territory and create your own category you are automatically the biggest and best by default. Association with the origins of a scene or genre can equate to a certain level of ownership, if it develops a passionate following you will forever be connected to it in the eyes of your supporters.
Even though it has a small audience, Dave Nada essentially owns moombahton; it cannot really be discussed right now without him. Skream will always be associated with the early days of dubstep, Glitch Mob will be tied to glitch, and Aphrodite will forever be known as a drum and bass representative. It appears that such artists will always have incredibly loyal and dedicated fans, and will be able to continue gigging as long as they like. Innovation can be a powerful way to turn heads.
You do not need to be the very first person to dabble in a genre, but merely regarded as a pioneer or innovator for this status.
Becoming a Legend
If you can trail blaze, keep up a high quality output, and market it well then you can become virtually untouchable for a period of time. Think Afrika Bambaataa for hiphop, or Lee “Scratch” Perry for dub reggae – famous for their artistry and involvement at the conceptual stages of their genres. Max Ulis is a great demonstrator of this concept locally; undeniably talented as performer and producer, consistently in the public eye, and regarded as a pioneer. Illegitimate child jokes aside, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the Mr. Olympus competition at 20 years old catapulted into the #1 of all three categories, and through expanding his influence, (acting, owning gyms, politics) he remains a household name.
Do not be discouraged by thinking that you need to hit either 3 of these purely theoretical marks to have a sense of fulfillment or connect with an audience – you don’t. These are merely concepts to shoot for if you desire to reach a mass market. Remember that success is a marathon, not a sprint.
One of the main keys here is to understand that these concepts work locally too, not merely for internationally recognized artists. All movements started with one or two people. Many of the great artists learned from scratch and without natural talent. If you are building your skills, developing your branding, or are doing pioneering work you are taking steps towards a greater musical career.
- Can you think of any other examples of people that fit into these categories?
- Is there one are that you naturally excel in that you can cultivate?
- Leave a comment with your thoughts or questions below: