In my teens I was a huge fan of Prince. I still believe him to be about the most influential artist of his generation (even if he was the less visibly successful than some of his peers). But, most would agree he peaked in about 1987 at the age of 29. From the late seventies to the late eighties he produced a string of stunning albums, all genre-mashing, boundary-pushing, politician-scaring stuff. Here’s a radio documentary I wrote and produced about that period.
I don’t really own more than a few of his albums beyond the early nineties because he seemed to stop producing complete albums of high quality material. Some would argue that if he didn’t put out so much material (his discography hints at an incredible 24 albums released since 1990), and that if he put one out every 4 or 5 years, there may be more consistency.
I think it may be more to do with his age.
There are so many artists who set the world alight as young men or women, who never quite manage to retain that creative edge, that innovative streak. At 52, Prince is very definitely a middle aged man, and no matter how much his appearances suggest otherwise, I’m sure he’d normally prefer to curl up under a blanket with a herbal tea and a good book, than be trying to concoct an irresistible groove and pen provocative lyrics.
But Neil, I hear you cry. What about Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Marc Bolan? Surely these icons of rock and pop greatness would still be pushing the boundaries, being rebels, and railing against the establishment if they were alive today?
Nope. They’d be trotting out (admittedly very high quality) pop and blues numbers to stadium audiences like their contemporaries who were equally ground-breaking in their day (see Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend who hoped he’d “die before I get old”). Even arch-punk John Lydon is selling butter.
We all mellow with age. And while some genres of music, such as classical and jazz, value talent and experience over youthful verve, almost no musicians can keep that fire in their belly for long…
Will you be able to retain your fire?
Having said all that, I often use DJs as a good metaphor for the importance of perseverance in business. Surely DJing is the ultimate “young man’s game”? Well, having been there and done that I can definitely say that it is. But, and it’s a big but, if you think of the biggest name DJs and dance music prodcuers in the world, the ones who’ve been at the top of their game for a while now…. Who are they? Fatboy Slim? Carl Cox? Pete Tong? They’re 47, 48, and 50. Hardly young men any more.
My point is that these guys had been doing it for a long time before they became “famous”. Their age is synonymous with perseverance and experience. If you’re good enough,you have enough self-belief, and you stick around long enough, you’ll vastly increase your chances of having your “big break”. And this is comparable with business, enterprise and all creative endeavours. It’s just a case of whether you’ve got enough passion to stick with it when all around you are giving up and going for the safe option (whether that’s hanging up their headphones, or packing in the startup for a “proper” job).
You so often hear of people finally making a success of their fifth business. That’s not necessarily because the previous four businesses were rubbish. It just took them four businesses to accumulate the knowledge and experience necessary to start and run a successful one. Of course, some strike the golden formula on their first go, but most aren’t that lucky.
Just think of the band Pulp, heralded as overnight successes with their 1994 album His n’ Hers. Nobody mentioned the albums they’d been releasing for a decade before that, and the countless gigs in sweaty backrooms of pubs they’d played in order to get to that point
What have you started, and how long are you going to stick with it?