What does it take to make it in the music industry (or entertainment industry) in today's environment? Is it raw talent or is there more? I would love to say hands down that raw talent is what will allow a person to make it, but that simply is not true. There have been a lot of articles and studies done about the American obsession with beauty. I personally do not think it stops with America. In a day in which information is so widely available online, I believe other parts of the world are also obsessed with beauty and image.
I want to make it clear that I do not see anything wrong with presenting yourself in a professional fashion (much like my heavy metal dude in the photo ...uh yeah, let's forget about that spandex - or drug - induced style). I believe that people in various industries do need to present themselves in a professional manner. But dressing the part doesn't necessarily make you a professional in your field. A nice looking man could dress in a really nice suit, and call himself a Wall Street investor, but he could actually be fresh out of college with no skill in investments. On the outside, this handsome and sharp dressed man, could be very believable, but in all actuality you wouldn't want him to handle the funds in your piggy bank, let alone your stock portfolio.
The same is true in the entertainment industry. A lot of time it is an industry that is driven by how you look instead of how well you play or sing. I have to admit that I have fallen victim to this many times. I remember a young handsome guy, who looked like a rock star, that approached me with a demo CD. The first thing that came to mind was that this guy must be a good artist since he looked like one. I told him that I would check out the CD and get back to him (you know the standard answer that music industry people give to hopefuls). I was totally impressed with his rock star do and trendy clothing. I was excited to play the CD until it started and I heard his voice on it. I realized, at that moment, that I had been buffaloed by image. It wasn't the first time, or the last, that this would happen to me.
There have been many scientific studies on what people find attractive in other people, and documentaries, as well. What scientists have found, is that there are key factors in a person being attractive from certain smells to certain face dimensions (the face dimension study can be read here from the BBC). So naturally, as a race, we gravitate toward beautiful people. But gravitate and obsess are two very different things. Gravitate says that we naturally are drawn to beautiful people while obsess means we are constantly preoccupied with beauty. We are preoccupied with whiter teeth, hair color, latest make up trends, manicures, pedicures, weight, clothing trends, eye glass styles, boot cut vs. slim jeans, fitted T's vs. regular, shoes, boob size, face wrinkles, gray hair - oh my, and the list goes on and on and on. This obsession dictates in our minds what successful entertainers should be - or what they should look like.
The TV show "The Voice" is my hero. Why is it my hero? If you notice, when a person comes out to audition, the chairs are turned backwards so the judges are not able to see the person, but are forced to listen (all audio, no visual). I vote that everyone is required to do that when listening to music from now on. A person's talent should be solely based on how good they are, not how good they look. I know of a very popular artist (actually more than one) who does not look, for lack of better words, very appealing. He would not be a "catch" according to our very high standards, nor is he anywhere near tall, dark and handsome. He is tall, but is missing the last two. Yet, when he sings, it sounds like the voice of angels are channeled straight through him. On a personality side....one of the most humble and amazing humans. He may be able to date a super model but I guarantee you it isn't because of his looks, rather from his popularity and money. He deserves better than to be judged by his looks.
Recently, CNN ran an article titled, "Has Image Overtaken Music?" One quote that I love, in the article, was this:
"The stuff used to be about something, dammit, not a soundalike drone of manufactured robots, lip-synching amid falling tinsel."
Such a true statement of the gimmicky way in which we present music now. In the YouTube video of Jay-Z (that I posted yesterday), he reminisces of a time when a person would sit on a street corner playing an acoustic guitar for 5 cents a day - long before there was a "music industry". He also (my paraphrase) said that musicians were in it for the enjoyment of music, and not for the fame or money of today.
We should be playing music because we would die inside without creating it. When I am at home, I get so anxious and antsy to create. When I can't create, I get annoyed, mad and a bit of an attitude (ask my wife). At this point in my life, I could care less about money, fame and throngs of fans. What I do care about is creating this awesome thing called music. It is my love, my passion and my life. Even when I was working in hell, also known as, retail management, (that will be saved for another blog) all I could do was think about creating, writing and recording music. Whether I make a living from music or not, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that I am able to play, write and create. Don't get into this, or any entertainment industry, to become a star, do it because it is part of your soul. Don't worry about your image, or your looks....it doesn't matter. Just because some fickled record executive is shallow, doesn't mean the whole world is that way - does Susan Boyle ring a bell? Don't buy into the lies of beauty - it is truly how the saying goes..."Beauty is only skin deep" - and let me add, true beauty comes from within and makes it way to the surface. Stay passionate and beautiful.
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.