Everyone today knows “Charles Goodyear” as the inventor of vulcanised rubber. But what they don’t know is that he spent his whole life on struggle street, in and out of prison because of his money problems and six of his twelve children died because he couldn’t support them.
And when he perfected his vulcanised rubber, he couldn’t take out a patent because another scientist called Thomas Hancock took out a patent eight weeks earlier. You see, Hancock had gotten a hold of a sample of Goodyear’s final product and reverse engineered it. Goodyear tried the courts, however the judge couldn’t understand how Hancock could have reverse engineered the invention and awarded all rights and royalties to Hancock.
It wasn’t until his journals were read by others that the following was found: “Life should not be estimated exclusively by the standard of dollars and cents.”
The Goodyear name would be recognised many years later. His achievements are world-changing but he never got paid for it while he was alive.
Hancock thought he won. He cheated a little bit and got his way.
Culture is built by people losing in the short-term only to win in the long-term. That loss right now, builds a connection, solidifies a reputation and creates trust. And those three things are more valuable than the one victory early on.
Remember a time when writers created their works, while working other jobs. And a lot of those great writers still kept those other jobs.
F. Scott Fitzgerald gave the world “The Great Gatsby” while he also worked in advertising.
William Faulkner worked as a postal worker and during that time he wrote “The Sound And The Fury”, a book that was largely forgotten upon its release and only made famous when a book Faulkner wrote many years later for a decent pay check became popular, which in turn brought interest into his earlier works. After his postal gig he worked as a night manager in a power plant. Writing between the hours of midnight and 4am, he also produced “As I Lay Dying”. Both books are in the Top 100 Literacy Classics.
Ken Kesey wrote “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”. The story about CIA sponsored mind control came about because Kesey worked as a cleaner in a mental hospital and for some extra cash he volunteered to be in a CIA sponsored mind control study which was promoted as something different to its participants. Those experiences formed the words of his novel.
JRR Tolkien worked as a Professor at Oxford while he wrote “Lord Of The Rings”. George Orwell worked for the BBC as a propagandist, which gave him the inspiration for his 1984 work.
After Dream Theater recorded their debut album, the label went bust. While they tried to get a new deal, they kept on writing songs and they had to get jobs to support themselves. During this period of work and jam, they wrote enough quality material to give the world “Images And Words”, their breakthrough album and the one that would give them a career.
Led Zeppelin’s debut album was funded by Jimmy Page and their manager Peter Grant. Once completed, it was shopped around to labels and rejected, until Atlantic US picked it up. On its release it wasn’t successful, but as we all know by now, time has a funny way of changing people’s views.
There is no easy way to cut through the noise and be heard. Paying your dues has been there from day one. Michelangelo was portrayed as being blessed to paint. The fact that he was paying his dues from the age of 7 by mixing paint, cleaning paint brushes and learning brush techniques working with a master should never be forgotten.
Convert six people instead of trying to convert 60 people. Start small and build. AC/DC were booked to open up a basement gig for Paul Kossoff’s Back Street Crawler in the U.S. Kossoff unfortunately died on his way to the gig, but AC/DC still took the stage and put on their normal act to six people. After a few songs, the six people bolted to the nearest payphone to call their friends. Within an hour the club was at capacity and history was made.
Tell your story and be truthful. Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and “The Unforgiven” are two of their most popular songs and it’s James opening up about a relationship breakdown and his upbringing with religious parents. There is a reason why “Kick Start My Heart” is iconic. It references Nikki’s almost fatal overdose. The story you want to tell can be political like “Peace Sells” and “And Justice For All” or inspirational like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or a call to arms like “SMF” and “We Will Rock You”.
Keep creating and recording. Al Kooper, produced the self-titled debut from Lynyrd Skynyrd. It just came out and it wasn’t really setting any sales charts on fire. “Free Bird” was still months away from becoming the boss of FM radio. Ronnie Van Zant called Kooper and told him the band had written a new song and they wanted to come in and record it ASAP. The song was “Sweet Home Alabama” and it sat in the vaults for a year before it was released on album number 2.
In the pre-internet era of scarcity, less music got made and even less got properly promoted. The history of music is littered with good bands or good musicians that didn’t quite make it or never even got a chance to make a record. And these days, every town has thousands of bands who are recording themselves and releasing their music themselves. And it’s all dollars and cents until you have that iconic hit that breaks on through.