I watched The Great Gatsby on Saturday with my wife and on Sunday, I took the boys to watch Iron Man 3. So what, you say, who cares. I agree. Who cares? This post isn’t about the movies, nor is it a review of the movies. It is about what we music lovers can learn from the movies.
What can The Great Gatsby teach us music lovers? From the storyline, nothing. However, from looking at the story of it’s creator, we can learn a great lot.
The author Scott Fitzgerald, started planning the novel in 1923. He was coming off the commercial success of his two previous novels, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned. The book is released in 1925 and it sells poorly. In 1940, Fitzgerald died, seeing himself as a failure and believing his work is forgotten. At the time of his death, The Great Gatsby had sold only 25,000 copies. Today, The Great Gatsby has sold over 25 million copies worldwide and it still sells 500,000 copies annually.
So let’s just say that you are musical creator, either in a band or as a solo artist. You release an album and start to have some success, generating a buzz around you. You release another album, and the buzz starts getting louder. You spend a long time creating your next masterpiece. You then release what you believe to be your magnum opus and the silence is deafening. The buzz starts to dwindle. It doesn’t sell as well as you expected. It doesn’t sell anywhere near the numbers the marketing firm focus group predicted. You believe that you are failure.
Are you really a failure? Is Scott Fitzgerald really a failure? Fitzgerald died believing he was.
Comparing yourself to the instant hit wannabe’s is wrong. Yes, some people can strike gold on the first dig, others, will need to dig a little longer and in more than one place. Persistence is what builds a career. If you want to be around for a long time, doing what you love, you need to persevere. Luck and timing also play a big part in the grand scheme of things. If you create something great, people will find it. That greatness that you create could be something that is so evolved and so out there, that people just fail to understand it right now. Eventually that audience will find it.
Another point to consider here, is that after the failure of The Great Gatsby to sell the numbers that Fitzgerald wanted, Fitzgerald started to focus on short stories as a means to an income. It is in this format, that he made the most of his monies. So instead of focussing on the big novel (the album), he moved onto short stories (great songs), which meant, that he released more content frequently. So instead of spending two years writing a novel, he wrote more frequently, releasing more frequently, while still focussing on the great novel as well. Fitzgerald went on to release another novel while he was alive, and one more was released after his death. However the monies he made came from short stories.
As a musical creator today, that is what you need to be doing. The album format, is still a good statement, however it needs to have quality all around it. Having four great songs and seven fillers, is unacceptable in today’s world. Also being out of the public eye for such a long time, is a bad idea in today’s world. To be relevant, you need to be releasing quality and the fans need to be spreading the word. They are the ones that steer the ship these days. The fans own you. They are the shareholders that the band needs to please and satisfy.
Moving on, both movies combined have earned $1.5 billion in box office takings. That is $1.2 billion to Iron Man 3 and $300 million to The Great Gatsby.
So what can we rock / metal heads learn from Iron Man 3?
So the character, Iron Man, had two of his own movies, Iron Man 1 and then Iron Man 2. Both movies were hits. He then went on to join the supergroup, The Avengers and had another hit movie. So he is back to his own movie, and scores another hit.
So let’s just say that the Iron Man 1 and 2 movie releases are album releases from an artist. The artist already has two hits under their belt. The artist then goes on to become a part of a super group project (think the Avengers movie). The artist then has another hit, bigger than the other two combined. Said artist returns to their solo career or band and they release album number 3, that also makes a lot of money.
Let’s use Ronnie James Dio as an example. He was in Elf. He was in Rainbow and released two albums (Iron Man 1 and Iron Man 2). He was then asked to join Black Sabbath (Avengers). Think of this project as the SUPERGROUP. Dio then goes solo, and see’s even more success with Holy Diver (Iron Man 3). Going back to the Scott Fitzgerald story, initially, Holy Diver, didn’t set the world on fire in sales on its release (like The Great Gatsby). It almost took a year to obtain Gold Status, and six years to obtain Platinum status. The Heaven and Hell album from Black Sabbath also followed the same time line.
In the end, it is okay as an artist to spread your wings, just ensure, that when you do, it needs to be quality 24/7. Be patient and be great.