Today, I was reading Seth Godin’s comments about the power of the internet with its inclusive, open systems and the ability to create new stars that would previously, under the old order, have gone unnoticed. I enjoyed the article and it got me thinking about how new talent can find its way to the top in the new order of things. What I wanted to emphasise is that being the creator of great content, even epic content, is no longer enough.
Perhaps, at one time, displaying your talent on the web was enough to get you noticed. But that was, at least in part, because there was not the same level of competition in the new medium that there is today. Contrasting online with offline (old order) systems, there was a golden age for first movers, as there often is with anything new. Except for those special cases, I don’t personally think it has ever been enough to have talent, though I have not always felt this way.
Previously, I was of the opinion that the cream must inevitably rise to the top. But, I realise now that I was mistaken. Let me explain …
As a fan of The Beatles, I often watch programs about them, as and when they appear on TV. I am not obsessed with the band, but nostalgia contrives to associate the group with my growing-up years. Anyway, on one such program, someone said that, had Paul and John never met and formed The Beatles, John would never have been a pop star, but Paul would. Whenever I have recounted that idea, people often object. They will say how much they preferred John’s music, but they are missing the point.
Even if it were true that most people preferred the music of John over Paul’s (let’s still call it music), which may or may not be the case, that is not the whole of what is required to be successful. Yes, you need great content, but then you need great marketing tactics too and John would have had less chance of influencing those in control of the medium with his (then) unremarkable brand of rock and roll. Paul, on the other hand, wrote pop songs. It is true that he was not good at lyrics – that’s still true – but his melodies were, and are, catchy and memorable. So, I think it is true that Paul would have had a better chance, going it alone.
Previously, I had always put their remarkable success down to synergy i.e. when the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. John and Paul were magic … together. Add the extra dimension provided by George and The Beatles were a truly great band. But would they have succeeded without good marketing and superior tactics? My revised opinion is … no! In order to succeed, they needed more than great content. Fortunately, they found the fourth member of the team who was able to bring what was necessary to the party. That person (I don’t mean to be unkind to Ringo) was Brian Epstein.
It was Brian Epstein who brought the business head to what The Beatles were doing. It was Brian who worked tirelessly to get them auditioned, to get their fist record deal, to get them on TV and to get them into the charts. In the case of The Beatles, Brian Epstein represented the unfair advantage they needed to rise above the competition. How did Brian manage to get the group’s first record into the charts? It was easy – he simply bought enough copies, at key retail outlets, to force the record into the UK charts; after that, people started to take more notice of them.
As I have previously said, there is a fine line between cheating and superior tactics. In my opinion, The Beatles (or, at least, their management) cheated.
Coming back to what Seth was saying: the web allows people to publish their stuff, so the filtering process that prevented quality offline media becoming swamped with rubbish is no longer an obstacle for new talent trying to become noticed. However, what has become an obstacle is the sheer volume of competition. In order to succeed in the current climate online, you therefore need two things: great content AND great tactics.