Icon Instructor Malachi Mott shares his insight into music career longevity and offers tips on how to reinvent yourself in a musical landscape.
Longevity in the Music Industry
In a musical landscape that seems to demand one-hit wonders, it can be difficult to have longevity in a meaningful way. With that said, my experience has taught me that the most important element in longevity is reinvention – the ability to go back to the drawing board and create something completely new. A real-world example could be Will Smith going from rapping to acting or Skrillex going from being a singer in a hardcore band to becoming a DJ/Producer. At some point, an artist makes a conscious decision to let go of their current identity to pick up a new one.
So here I am descending this hill, and everybody is like ‘Where are you going, we’re supposed to be on top of the hill?’ But it’s an exciting time, definitely an exciting time for me because I’m at the foot of another hill. This hill is totally different, navigated differently, but I get to learn. Once you learn and you go through that, you’re on the top of another one. Lauren Hill
I had a mentor who went from being a musician to singing on stage with his own band. Then he moved on to producing R&B and pop which led him to mixing hip-hop hits, and then to finally teaching. I was inspired by seeing how many areas he had crushed in his years.
In my pursuit of finding what truly works best for me, I stumbled upon some simple ways to reinvent myself. Below are some methods I’ve discovered that may help you in reinventing yourself to prolong your music career:
Lauryn Hill gives students some wise words on creating something new and getting to a new place.
Take a Different Approach
The rap group Three 6 Mafia has an interesting story of when they wrote an original song for the movie ‘Hustle & Flow.’ Up until that point, they had only followed the traditional route of making music and releasing albums. However, their new venture ended up winning an Oscar for ‘Best Original Song,’ and they became the first hip-hop group to perform at the Academy Awards. They achieved this reward for simply having the courage to approach the business in a new way. This exposure also allowed their music to go mainstream, earning them global recognition. Also interestingly, when the group got nominated, they had to Google what an Oscar was.
Work with Someone New
Michael Jackson has had several songs reach the Top 10 charts over five different decades. One thing I noticed was that each album utilized top producers of the time. Whether it was Quincy Jones, Teddy Riley, or Rodney Jerkins, Michael Jackson was sure to recruit someone fresh and new to spice up his sound.
Throw Something Away That You’ve Always Used
Sometimes you get to a place where something doesn’t work for you anymore. Either your sales are going down, or, perhaps you’re losing your sanity. For example, Lady Gaga is very vocal about how she looked up and realized that she did not recognize the person in the mirror. As a result, she left the larger-than-life pop icon behind and co-sang on a jazz album which opened a new journey for her.
Temporarily Try a New Discipline
Eminem is the highest grossing rapper of all time. I remember the boost he got after the movie ‘8-mile’ came out. Not only was he the lead role in the movie, but he also executive produced the soundtrack album. Furthermore, the lead single on the album ‘Lose Yourself’ won ‘Best Original Song’ at the Oscars. This achievement made Eminem the first hip-hop artist to win an Oscar. From that point, it was not unusual to see Eminem have producing credits on songs and albums as he contributed to tons of amazing music.
Reinventing yourself will not be easy as we all resist change in many ways. It’s important to be prepared for the resistance so you can recognize it and then deal with it. Below are some things that can stop you from reinventing yourself:
Wesley Goo inspires an audience with his knowledge of reinventing yourself.
Fear of Failure/Looking Bad
Trying something new is scary, especially if you are famous for being awesome at something already. For example, RZA is someone who will always have my respect for his courage in writing, directing, and starring in the movie ‘The Man With The Iron Fists.’ I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been taking on such a large project knowing he may risk humiliation. I’m glad he never let any fears stop him from venturing out.
Belief That You Can’t
Jay-Z tells stories of how many people told a certain producer to give up his dreams of being a rapper and just stick to making beats. That producer kept pushing and pushing because he believed differently. Well, that producer was Kanye West. Can you imagine if he would have let those people get in his head?
Believing that you have ‘made it’ may be the most detrimental thing for an artist. I once met someone who signed the first song he ever wrote. I remember being jealous of him until I ran into him again two years later and noticed he hadn’t really grown in any visible way. His songs still sounded about the same, and he didn’t have any new skills. After witnessing this, I promised myself that I would always learn new things and challenge myself each year regardless of the results I’m getting.
Believe You ARE Reinventing Even When You Aren’t
I’ve worked with people who didn’t get results from their music for over five years. Moreover, they try to reinvent themselves for each project by either changing their appearance or featuring someone on their songs from outside their genre. They believe that’s enough to add the novelty back to their sound, and sometimes it is. Just be sure to set goals so you can be certain if it’s working or not.
Studio sessions filled with people that have subjective views are the most frustrating. They get in the way and cloud the judgment of everyone around them. You could be making the wackest song of your career, and they will still hype you up by giving you false feedback. It is hard to evolve when you have no way to judge which alterations work and which ones don’t.
Villainizing New Artists and Ideas
‘Hating’ on someone or something that is revolutionizing your industry is a great way to hinder your ability to learn or grow in that field.
Best of luck in your musical endeavors. I hope that each year you get to the top of a new mountain in your life.
Malachi is an LA-based music producer and ICON Collective instructor dedicated to empowering artists to create art that the world deserves.