Some “artists” get material success at the moment, but they don’t have any staying power because they aren’t following the truth that’s in their hearts. They’re just trying to appeal to whatever’s popular. Today, I think this is seen as mumble rap artists. Early examples might include those that were caught up in the skinny jean era of the late 2000s like New Boyz (I’m sorry these are all hip hop examples. It’s the genre I have tended to enjoy most.)
Robert McKee says these artists are by definition hacks.
Steven Pressfield quotes McKee in his book The War of Art. Here’s how he puts it:
When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.
I love this. It makes me think of so many artists. So many folks just want to blow up and then act like they don’t know nobody. They want to just make it big, have tons of fans, tons of money, and fame. But in my opinion, if it’s not from the heart, it’s not worth doing. It’s not worth doing because when you look back on your career you’re going to see that you did nothing of substance. You didn’t live for anything you believed in. That is, of course, if you reflect on your choice.
You can rationalize it, but it’s true – you sold out for popularity.
There are notable contradictory arguments to the position that you shouldn’t just write from the heart. Seth Godin says that authenticity is useless, and what really matters is being useful. R.L. Stein says, “Write from your heart; write from your heart; only write what you know and write from your heart.” I hate that because it’s useless. I’ve written over 300 books – not one of them was from my heart. Not one.” This is from Sean Platt’s book 365 Things I Learned The Hard Way. And you could say that to some degree you have to do what people want if you want to make a living.
I get it. But there’s a difference between making a living and blowing up. According to Kevin Kelly, you only need 1,000 fans to survive.
Here’s a question I encourage you to ask yourself: how many great artists do you think that we would have if everyone just did what was popular during the time that they were alive? Here’s another one: how many artists didn’t get famous until after they died. Here’s the answer: a lot. I know it’s a lot. For example, Henry David Thoreau. If Thoreau had cared about what was popular, he might not have ever written civil disobedience – the text that inspired BOTH Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
You have to listen to your inner voice, follow your internal compass, and move toward where you feel resonants. Seriously, don’t worry about being popular. It’s overrated.
Check out this video by Robert Mckee for more inspiration.