The cartoonist Scott Adam wrote an article about the concept of the “Talent Stack”, which he explains as follows:
The idea of a talent stack is that you can combine ordinary skills until you have enough of the right kind to be extraordinary. You don’t have to be the best in the world at any one thing. All you need to succeed is to be good at a number of skills that fit well together.
For example, I’m not much of an artist, not much of a business expert, and my writing skills are mostly self-taught. I’m funny, but not the funniest person in my town. The reason I can succeed without any world-class skills is that my talent stack is so well-designed.
So what is the ideal Talent Stack for the musician that’s on his or her way up in the music industry? Let’s proceed and discuss…
Note that I didn’t include “musical talent” as a Talent Stack requirement. There’s a reason for this as I’ll explain.
One doesn’t necessarily have to be the best singer, instrumentalist or songwriter to make an artistic impact. Rather, one needs a clear artistic vision of what they want to achieve. Here are some examples:
Madonna – She can’t really sing or play any instrument very well. And as far as I know, she doesn’t even write her own music. However, her impact on popular music and culture is undeniable. I’ll leave it to one of her fans to explain:
…she really has changed the way of making music. For better or for worse. But music is what it is now because of Madonna. Not because of Whitney or Mariah or Celine. And she did it with her music videos, with her theatrical live shows, with Truth or Dare. Many albums are really ahead of their time, especially Erotica. I think one of the reasons why she made pop culture is because she came out in a very creative environment, with Warhol and Haring. She learnt from the best…
Jack White – A good guitarist, songwriter and singer, but certainly not the best at any one of these skills. However, from the outset, White had an artistic vision for the presentation of his music as explained in this article from the New Yorker:
Their second record, “De Stijl,” made in 2000, was an homage to the nineteen-twenties Dutch modernist movement of the same name, whose members included the painter Piet Mondrian. De Stijl reduced artistic forms to fundamental terms, and the notion of restrictions appealed to White, who believes that, as far as his imagination is concerned, having too many choices is stultifying. The number three is essential to his purposes. He says it entered his awareness one day when he was an apprentice in the upholstery shop. He saw that the owner had used three staples to secure a piece of fabric and he realized that “three was the minimum number of staples an upholsterer could use and call a piece done.” The White Stripes were built around the theme of three—guitar, drums, and voice. As both a stance and a misdirection, they wore only red, white, and black.
How are you going to present yourself and stand out from the crowd of literally millions of other aspiring musicians? Well, if you already have an Artistic Vision and can present that vision in an original and striking manner, then you’ve already solved half of the problem.
Of course, the other half of the problem is acquiring knowledge of marketing campaigns such as building a website and optimizing it for SEO, leveraging social media, and shooting and editing videos. Yes, you can outsource all of these tasks, but you should at least familiarize yourself on how all of these aspects work so you can supervise the people who work for you and have the final say on the end product.
It’s one thing to earn money from your music, but it’s quite another to keep it. In my opinion, any ambitious self-employed musician should acquire at least a familiarity with business law (particularly in the areas of copyright, trademarks and publishing), tax law and the ability to read financial statements. Because if you don’t acquire knowledge of these areas, I can assure you that someone will find a way to drain you of your hard-earned cash.
To use Madonna as an example again:
So there you have it – (1) Artistic Vision; (2) Marketing Savvy; and (3) Business Management – this is my ideal Musician’s Talent Stack. Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 🙂