If you don’t know Joe Bonamassa, he’s a blues guitarist. But not just any blues guitarist. The dude can play. At 12 years old, he opened for B. B. King. He’s swapped licks on stage with Eric Clapton, and been nominated for a Grammy. He’s had multiple albums go to #1 on the blues charts. He gigs relentlessly and is arguably, the most successful, active blues guitarist today.
Did I mention that he can play?
Blues rock isn’t really my cup of tea. It tends to be repetitive and boring. But Joe Bonamaassa, I like. He mixes it up a lot. His songs are well arranged, and have all different kinds of tempos and feels. And for someone who can really let go, he doesn’t play fast every solo. But he can really let go, when it’s called for.
One day, I stumbled on a YouTube video of his and was scrolling through the comments as I was listening. Mostly, it was the usual arguments over who was the greatest blues guitarist of all time, and whether Joe Bonamassa really had feeling in his guitar playing (he has awesome feel). It seems that when people can play fast, or something technically difficult, many people think they don’t have any feeling in their playing. *Sigh*
But there was one comment in there that really stuck out to me. Somebody had written, “Ew… dad rock.” I would love to have 1/3 the skill Joe Bonamassa has, but to this person, it was “ew”.
You Can’t Please Everyone, So You Gotta Please Yourself
And that’s when it hit me. You can be the most talented person on the planet, and there will be people who will dismiss you with the wave of their hand. You can practice for 15 years, and be able to do things no one else can do, and some people will say it’s crap. You can struggle with lyrics for hours, spend months in the recording studio, play until your fingers bleed, put your heart and soul into your music, and some people won’t like it.
You’re not looking for those people!
A Process Of Elimination
Legend has it that Thomas Edison, when looking for the perfect materials with which to construct a light bulb, went through a thousand possibilities. He ‘failed’ 999 times before he found something that worked. But his attitude was that he was eliminating possibilities and sooner or later, he’d find the right element. In his mind, crossing materials off the list was getting him closer.
Aside from his being a major asshat, Edison had a point.
You are going to play music, and not everybody is going to like it. Some won’t like music at all, some won’t like your genre, and some just won’t like the particular way you do it.
Your Job Is To Make Those People Run Away
Your music marketing job is to sift through potential fans, find the ones who love your vibe, and eliminate the rest! Well, don’t ‘eliminate’ them Tony Soprano style, just don’t put any further effort in to converting them.
And in general, the more strongly you show your vibe, the faster and more powerfully your fans will gravitate to you. And, the faster people who don’t like it will disappear (again, not like Tony makes people disappear). Look at it this way.
If you play the blues, play the blues, man! People that love the blues will know, the second they hear a note, that they love what you do. Play the blues, and look the blues, (with your own twist — your personality is a big part of this). People that hate the blues will run the other way. That’s what you want!
The style of music doesn’t matter, the same thing is true if you are a Tibetan monk, chanting whatever Tibetan monks chant.
But I Play All Different Styles. . .
Look. You can do whatever. If you play all different styles, my advice to you is to either niche it down, or own it. If you own it, own the crap out of it! Make it so that people that love 3 chord blues songs (4, if it’s fancy blues), will run the away, screaming. Make the people that aren’t going to like your music, really, really hate it. Make it so that your fans expect to be astonished and delighted by some stylistic surprise you throw in.
Frank Zappa was crazy inclusive style-wise. But you didn’t have any problem figuring out it was Zappa. He was the Zappa-est Zappa. He talked his style, he looked his style. He resonated his vibe.
Resonate Your Vibe, Or Languish In Obscurity
Even if you’re bland, you can make a go of it. Be the most bland mofo on the planet. Wear bland clothes, call yourself, Anna and Stan Blanda. Call your backup band a ‘backup bland’. Make a point of playing middle of the road songs. Make people notice how bland you are. Own it.
Remember, you’re competing with tons of other people. Unless you differentiate yourself, you’ll have a hard time getting people to think of you as anything other than background music.
But My Music Is So Good. . .
I know, your music is so good, people are going to love you the second they hear you. Your songwriting, your talent, and your musicianship will shine through — there’s no doubt it’s going to be easy to become a superstar.
But the truth is, people just aren’t paying attention. You’ve probably seen the video of the world-famous violinist, Joshua Bell, playing a $3.5 million dollar violin, in the subway. Most people walked on by and didn’t even notice (he did make $32 in tips). That’s where talent and skill alone will get you.
So, unless you think you have more talent and skill than that, you need to get people’s attention first. One way to help in that process is to resonate your vibe as strongly as possible — strong enough to make people stop and take notice. Then you can take it from there.
PS: I talked a lot about the blues, and owning your musical style, so I thought I’d share this video. It’s not Bonamassa, it’s Minnie Marks. Take a listen.