One of the many things I learned working as an instructor at a music college was that talent, creativity, originality, stage presence, and “the right look” are not rare things. In my first couple of years at the school, I recorded original music from students and musicians from the Minneapolis/St. Paul community that blew me away. I recorded songs that I couldn’t believe the world didn’t want and need to hear. As my time there went on, that became such an expected and regular event that it was the background for my existence for 13 years. All the while, the stuff I heard on the radio and internet paled in comparison; or worse, often much worse.
Now that I’m retired and fooling around learning how to build and repair guitars it’s interesting to look back on my teaching and recording experience from the position of being in a classroom full of kids who are taking on a semi-practical trade while still hoping to be the “next big thing.” Most of these kids are pretty good musicians. Some of them are decent songwriters. The fact is that I’ve seen much, much better and all that talent went pretty much nowhere. Saying that, I don’t mean to discourage them. Their chance of making it big as a musician is almost exactly the same as it was for the music students who I thought had it all going for them: practically nill.
Luck and connections are more important than talent. It doesn’t hurt to have a few family members in the business, too. This is true for all areas of the arts. The world is full of amazing musicians, painters, sculptors, singers and dancers, funny people and dramatic actors, glass blowers, story tellers and poets, wood carvers and cabinetmakers, and people who make beautiful things and moments from nearly nothing. Some of those people make small or large fortunes from their “talent” and many of the most wealthy are nearly talentless (Yeah, I’m talking about you Kayne.) At the other end of the spectrum, there are incredibly talented people who, outside of friends and family, no one every hears about.
Like Mike Lewis told the 2012 Princeton graduation class talent only takes you so far. Luck is one hell of a lot more important a contributor to success and if you aren’t successful it could be because you weren’t lucky. If you were, it might not be due to anything about you.