You’re Not Smart Enough to Sell Yourself

Atlantic Pic

I loved this article I caught on The Atlantic last week:

Hit Charade

It’s about the business of popular music. All of your Big Hits are created by maybe a half-dozen people. They have the perhaps unteachable instinct for what the people want.

A quote on songwriting:

“The songs are written industrially as well, often by committee and in bulk… almost no pop celebrities write their own hits. Too much is on the line for that, and being a global celebrity is a full-time job. It would be like Will Smith writing the next Independence Day.”

So don’t be too impressed with Taylor Swift. What a relief it is to know that they don’t do it all.

On audience attention spans:

“[in a song] you need a new high every seven seconds—[that’s] the average length of time a listener will give a radio station before changing the channel. [A Roc Nation co-founder says,] ‘You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge, too.’”

We’re all carnival barkers with seven seconds (probably less) to get the audience into our tents, and even less time to keep them there. Hook, hook, hook, never lag.

On familiarity:

“Pop hitmakers frequently flirt with plagiarism, with good reason: Audiences embrace familiar sounds. Sameness sells.”

Which made me wonder: why mix up a new color when the people have shown that they only want the primaries? I like experimenting and using new tools. But I also like not doing that. When I’m writing, hitting the same old notes gives a thrill, just like how sugar always tastes good. Both avenues (making new magic, or re-capturing old magic) are just as challenging.

And we know this isn’t limited to music or movies. I wonder to what extent our superstar writers are packaged. Do the editors behind a good bestseller just give suggestions or are they veto-wielding overlords?

I think it would be cool to be a product, honed and trued by people who know what connects and who know the psychological whys behind marketing. Be a sellout, why the hell not. I’m just like everyone, I want to be loved for saying something. I’m pretty good at lying and saying I don’t, though.

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6 thoughts on “You’re Not Smart Enough to Sell Yourself

  1. The correlation is pretty vibrant. Just like you can’t have a band with only drums, you can’t have a book with only authors. Maybe that’s the future of CC. Diversify the talent and work together as a singular force. Concept design, writer, editor, marketer, all on one story.

  2. That makes two of us, isn’t it? Saying we don’t lie, but we wear a liar’s face. Normally, I wouldn’t admit this. How much I need people. I don’t though, I swear I don’t, but it would be easier if I cared enough to try and make others like me.

  3. Fred, I gotta think you’re kidding on that closer. I get the impetus, the glitz and fame and all that, but think on it: them superstars out there are just playing a role. Button nose, cute wink, but they ain’t actually done nothing. Ain’t really said nothing worthwhile. They’re ciphers, celebrated for their mediocrity. Yeah, most folks are mediocre and love the lack of change. They’re average. But if you got the right sauce to smear on that picture and give one or two fools something to think about, you gotta do it, fame or no. The underdogs are what keeps the sameness at bay. Without ’em, it’s that Swift kid in every speaker, Gap jeans on every pair o’ legs, Olive Garden every night for supper. That’s pretty damn grim.

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