The Absolute Best Time To Give Up On Your Dreams…

by Brad Isaac on February 10, 2007

I have a bone to pick with someone.

Kevin Cowherd from the Baltimore Sun wrote in his Life column You know you can’t sing, so give up the ‘American’ Dream :

“I’ve thought of another reason why someone who sings horribly would appear on the show instead of doing the decent thing and never, ever inflicting themselves on an audience again.And do you know what that reason is?I’ll tell you what it is.

It’s because we live in a culture that sends a message that you can be anything you want to be, as long as you work real hard and stick to it and – here’s the most important part, let’s say it altogether – never give up.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s ruining show business in this country.”

So he thinks the message “you can be anything you want to be, as long as you work real hard and stick to it and never give up” is a bad message?

Let’s look at this for a moment. As someone who only watches the audition part of American Idol, I know the people of which he speaks.

However, let’s look at it in real – zero based logic. Should these people who are deemed unacceptable by Simon, Paula and Randy’s terms give up on their dreams?

I am not here to argue whether an act is good or not. I found some of them pathetic and downright offensive. However, with that said, does that mean there is no hope? That it’s better for them to quit? Actually, there may be more hope than you think and here’s why.

The entire American Idol series, albeit interesting, is not the sole measure of talent. I may be one of the only people who says this, but let’s look at the facts.

If you were to take all of the American Idol winners since the show’s inception, you’d see that the number of albums each artist has sold, is less than the number of Michael Jackson’s album Thriller sold. Heck, even a fringe artist like Weird Al Yankovic has earned three Grammy Awards, three gold records, and five platinum records in the U.S.

Wouldn’t one think that the very top of the top American Idol, who made it through an entire series of auditions, was voted thumbs up by the American public at large would have the top selling album of all time?

Something must have gone horribly wrong!

I’ll give another example that should hit home. Right now, without looking it up, who is the person who won the first American Idol? Who won the second?

If you are like me, you can’t remember. And I’m a huge music fan.

I watched both years and for the life of me, I can’t remember. However, I can remember that the last song on the first side of Pink Floyd The Wall – an album released back in 1979. Considering that The Wall is an album largely written and produced by Roger Waters a man with a decidedly awful voice. He is still one of my heroes of music decades later. Would he have made it through the first round of American Idol? You tell me.

By Cowherd’s standards of success vs. failure Waters should have just given up – after the first audition!

Anyone who has read The Long Tail knows that the American Idol “hit seeking” is doomed. With the advent of the Internet, people have a choice. They can drill down to a ridiculous degree the exact type of music they want and get it. Maybe they want a William Hung type of song with a touch of REO Speedwagon thrown in. If so, they’ll find it and be downloading it in 3 minutes.

So the fact is, we all now have a choice in what we listen to and we have a choice about what we watch.

As the Long Tail points out, we are largely choosing entertainment outside the “mainstream”. An interesting fact revealed is that of all the music in Real Rhapsody’s arsenal, the million or so songs – 95% of the songs in the catalog are purchased each quarter. 95%! What that means is the songs deemed the worst of the worst by the mainstream are bought – with real money – by listeners who like them.

This leaves Mr. Cowherd’s argument in a precarious position. If an artist who failed on American Idol can produce a song and has a 95% chance of selling it at least 4 times per year – if not more, is that failure? Failure is in the eyes of the beholder. But to some, selling their art – even 4 times a year is a huge, satisfying success.

There is, in fact, no better time in all of history for someone to pursue their dream. YouTube is making film stars out of people lip synching songs in their bedroom. iTunes and podcasting allows people to share their expertise with a worldwide audience 24 hours a day 7 days a week. And as mentioned above music artists – no matter what the mainstream thinks – have a greater possibility of success than ever before.

Yes, it still takes work. Yes it still takes dedication and courage. But should you, as Cowherd admonishes, give up on the dream?

Answer: If you don’t want it to come true.

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February 10, 2007 at 2:29 pm

I agree with you to a point. I agree that the opinions of those three judges and not the most important thing in the world however it is quite obvious that many who try out are just taking a wild chance and have not even tried to learn how to sing before going there. However anyone who does try out is doing something most people do not do in life and that is to try and take and chance. Too many people are living their lives saying “poor me” I could never amount to anything but they never try either. No, the odds of getting in the finals is quite low but they are a lot better than if you never tried in the first place. People who try are going to be successes throughout life because they are not controlled by fear. Despite his limited “singing” ability William Hung has been a great inspiration because of his great attitude, positive personality and willingness to keep trying. Yes he sounded bad in the tryouts but he was recognized and others were able to work with him because of his successful attitude.

Brad Isaac February 10, 2007 at 2:52 pm

Patrick, thanks for stopping by and taking time to post. You mention it’s obvious that many are taking a wild chance. If that’s the case, I’d say it’s not a real dream or goal. Dreams and goals take work. If they are doing it on a dare, or just goofing around, then that’s not what I’m talking about.

One performer that comes to mind was a guy on the last episode dubbed one of the worst. I wish I could remember his name.

Anyway, As I recall he is a graphics artist. His performance was robotic and strained, but in the back of my mind, he quite possibly invented a new genre of music. He got panned by the American Idol crew and laughed about on the morning shows the next day, but I can almost see 20 something computer geeks downloading his stuff – a lot.

February 10, 2007 at 3:16 pm

I can see your point. I will mention however that my wife is a private music instructor in piano and voice and a good percentage of her students are adults but the majority are teens. We have noticed a few we thought we would vote in if we were the judges and they were turned down. Other “acts” were just plain pitiful. I can’t recall the act you were talking about but it doesn’t sound like the kind of act tey are looking for on American Idol. Those hosts often make the point that some of those trying out have something that is unique but “not what they are looking for”.

I don’t beleive in the matra of “you can do anything you want to do”. My parents used to tell me that all the time but I know for a fact that different people are gifted in different ways. I’m not into telling people they can do anything just by thinking positive. My biggest concern is they are a lot of people out there who are gifted and have abilities they are not utlilizing. The big goals of a lot of people might be to be a pop singer or sports star because it’s “cool” yet they may be completely ignoring the gifts they do have – maybe in the areas of writing, science, etc.

A life lesson I learned later in life was I should have pursued my passions in college instead of listening to others, surveys, etc. of what would help me make the biggest bucks. I’m a creative person and love art and design yet I was convinced by many that was a track to the poor house but I have a deep conviction that if you love something you can excel at it and be a success in that and be happier in the long run.

I would tell those who are turned down on A.I. to keep their heads up, follow their passions and they will find success if not with the masses certainly with themselves and their own sense of satisfaction of following their “calling”.

February 10, 2007 at 6:17 pm

Doing what you love may make you happier but it relatively may entirely be bad for you pocket book unless you have some ideas on how to practically support that lifestyle. Being happy is about knowing your core values and fulfilling them, there are many “i’d rather be illustrating a new comic book’ doing graphic arts, or web design.

As a artist and musician, I’ve met many artists/musicians, and occasionally a few successful ones. The primary difference between them is not a passion for creating, or a difference in talent, but rather an understanding of strategy and marketing, time and resources to devote to making it (e.g. fulltime for 3 years, everyday) and a flexible doggedness to keep trying different things. I can imagine that talking to them that appearing on American Idol isn’t on their roadmap, though Letterman or the Tonight Show is a different story.

“you can do anything you want to do”, “you can be anything” is definitely a proactive viewpoint, better than it’s opposite. As even if your moving to a goal you can never reach, your still moving and finding stuff along the way which might fit the bill, but was never something you knew to look for. But it’s not terribly realistic at times. As Brad points out, a ‘goal’ without an action plan with frequent measurable results is a pipedream.

There is one Wierd Al, one Tiny Tim… can anybody do what they do creating
and performing as they do? I’d argue no, each is incredibly unique, and very talented (you may not like Wierd Al, but there has to be some recognition that he’s unique and not easy to clone) and musically they’ve carved out a niche. Which is what anybody creative has to do. Trying to be the next Micheal Jordan, or Micheal Jackson fails to take into account the particular genetic advantages, environment (e.g. both started learning way early in life), and sheer hours spent. It’s unlikely (not impossible) if a person is 30 and has never played sport to become a professional NBA basketball player, there is just not enough time to develop all those automatic responses and skills.

For people trying to be the next mainstream act, it’s no different than gambling on the lotto, by playing everyday, hoping to win…. even the best attempts may not get you any further than anybody else as everybody is playing and there is only a few spots to fill, but that’s not to say they can’t do what they enjoy (at least part time) and be happy. I live in hollywood, and am surrounded by creative types (including being one). Why is it that despite 50K+ actors, in the ‘block busters’ you see the same 20 actors? and what are those 50K+ others doing? they are still acting, they are just not in shows that you’ll likely see, hidden in the long tail.

February 10, 2007 at 7:04 pm

I suppose I used one of those very subjective terms (creative). I also didn’t share enough of myself personally to give you a good idea of what I am talking about.

I’m not saying to was or is my goal to be the next Monet or DaVinci but I did waste a good bit of my time in college taking the safe route. In addition to artistic persuits I also love technology. I failed computers in high school, it wasn’t because I hated technology. Always love reading about the new things and tinkering but I got bored to tears as a result of unispiring teachers and the lame Radio Shack TRS-80′s. Years later I found myself in an entry level finance job bored to tears to the point I was at depression. At that point I purchased my first computer as a writing, photography and art tool. I soon learned web development and have grown more and more passionate since then. Now I own my own business that uses these talents.

In addition to taking the wrong classes I wasted a lot of time in college pursuing dead end relationship and yes, playing. Another venture I am undertaking now is teaching adults who have gone for years saying they can’t do certain thing, particularly in the areas of technology.

To me success is more than “reaching the top” and becoming someone who appears in the media spotlight constantly (I really don’t want that). Someone can use the gifts they have been given, not make the big buck and make s significant impact in this world.

The movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus is a great example of someone who wanted to be a famous conductor or composer but never made it or so he thought until he realized that the impact he made on his students lives was his Opus.

Telling someone they can do anything they want to do is taking it too far however. Anything is a pretty big brush. It gives false hope to many and doesn’t help the focus on any partucular goal. It’s often said to someone to make them feel good. It’s gotten too cliche however more people need to hear that they can do many things they are not doing but capable and gifted to do. I’m a bit more concerned about the people sitting on their duffs week after week doing nothing but watching American Idol or other things when all they are doing is to put it bluntly wasting away in mind and body.

Lucy Mauterer February 10, 2007 at 10:51 pm

Hey Brad,

The first two letters in each line of the body of your article was missing when I clicked on the link in my email. I could read it but it was a little like decifering a cell call with skippy reception. What could be happening?

Megan February 11, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Lots of good points made and I especially agree with Patrick’s last statement:

“I’m a bit more concerned about the people sitting on their duffs week after week doing nothing but watching American Idol or other things when all they are doing is to put it bluntly wasting away in mind and body. ”

I also agree with Lucy… Hard to read this blog entry because the first 2 letters of every line are missing. Actually it’s more like the first one-and-a-half letters are cut off. If it’s happening to us both, must be happening to others… Any ideas Brad?

Megan February 11, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Wow, how strange. I just realized that when I hovered my mouse over the link in one of Brad’s paragraphs above (“The Long Tail”), it made the whole paragraph shrink down or realign a bit so that I could see the first letters in every line. All the other paragraphs remain cut off. Hovering over the Related Posts links after the article made them fall into place as well. I didnt even have to click the links, just hover over them for a second, and they have remained completely visible instead of being partly cut off.

Sorry to post so off-topic but I thought that might help you Brad if you wanted to figure out why some of us are having trouble viewing your blog entries.

Brad Isaac February 12, 2007 at 12:42 am

Megan and Lucy, I’ll have to check the formatting in the morning I am on the Pocket PC tonight. It is probably a stylesheet out of whack.

What browsers are you using?

Gordon February 12, 2007 at 1:50 am

As a singer, I don’t watch American Idol. The more I read about the “Three Judges” the more I miss The Gong Show. I had great respect for the participants of The Gong Show. The judges were a lot more fun and infinately more polite.
Under the “you can do anything you want to do” philosophy of goals “shooting for the stars and failing but landing on the moon” is way more motivating than shooting for nothing.
I have the same problem with the missing 2 letters using IE 6.0.2800.1106

Brad Isaac February 12, 2007 at 8:33 pm

IE 6.0.2800.1106

I’ve upgraded all my computers to IE 7.0 any web gurus with 6.0 have a quick fix I might apply?

Brad Isaac February 12, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Troy, I wasn’t cutting on Weird Al, I used to buy his albums back in the 80s. As a kid I used to listen to Dr. Demento every Saturday night. With that said, Weird Al was never a major mainstream hit. That’s not a bad thing

I was comparing how the HITS of today can’t even compare to his success as a fringe artist.

I think one thing I left out of my post was the need to adjust and learn. If you are a yodeler and you yodel for a year and don’t sell any records, you probably need to convert your yodeling to a different music style.

A few artists like Weird Al started out with Polka, yet, his most successful albums have been parodies of rock songs. He got feedback from the marketplace and adjusted. But had he listened to the people who surely said “Al, polka sucks. You suck…go back to school and take up engineering” Then we wouldn’t be able to hum “I wanna new duck.”

Brad Isaac February 12, 2007 at 9:06 pm

Patrick, frankly, after reading your site I’m concerned with your statement
“Telling someone they can do anything they want to do is taking it too far however. Anything is a pretty big brush. It gives false hope to many and doesn’t help the focus on any partucular goal. It’s often said to someone to make them feel good. It’s gotten too cliche however more people need to hear that they can do many things they are not doing but capable and gifted to do.”

Where exactly would one leave off?

“Sara you can be a great defense lawyer, but stop there. Don’t shoot for judge because you’ll never make it.”

“Brian, you have the aptitude to be a world class short order cook, but never try to be a chef, you’ll never make it.”

Having been at the bottom and seen that most of our limitations are self-imposed illusions, I can say that God or one’s higher power doesn’t put a dream into your head that you cannot do.

But everything does come with a price. You can’t just say I’m going to sell a million prints and that be that. Investments in learning, marketing, learning more, advertising, learning even more and adjusting are required.

I think most artists fail at their art because they are under financed and under marketed. But the artists who understand that half their job is marketing and advertising do rather well at their profession.

February 12, 2007 at 9:17 pm

I think most creative types fail as a career as they mistake a hobby for a job, and don’t realize that finance and marketing is a required part of their day to day activities.

A good place with lots of metrics is studying successful inventors. Something like 10 in 1000 ideas make it to a patent, and only 1 out of 1000 patents will make it to product and only 10 out of 1000 products will make money.

Statisticallly as little as 3-10% is the fun stuff, the origination of the idea, the creative process. The rest sadly is bringing it to fruition: keeping skills sharp, banding the streets, looking for new possibilities, connections, marketing, good sales, looking how to scale.

Since art is subjective, a painting/artists worth while they are living is directly proportional to the degreee they are marketed (be it word of mouth or conventional, putting on shows, albums etc). It’s also possible to achieve success through almost marketing alone. e.g. pet rocks.

Brad Isaac February 13, 2007 at 1:04 pm

Troy, it’s funny you mention Patents. I got a call out of the blue from an inventor who has been waiting for 4 years for a patent for his product. The product is built, it’s excellent, but he’s afraid if he doesn’t have a patent, people will steal it.

My opinion is that people who are going to steal will do so with or without a patent. And can you imagine the expense of suing someone for patent infringement?

In my eyes, the guy is throwing valuable time and energy straight down the toilet waiting for a patent. If he instead did a major marketing push, he’d be FIRST. First counts for a lot when it comes to sales. You can be years ahead if you are just first. Trying to wait for some protection is a waste when you have an amazing product.

even if the idea was stolen 2 years down the road, he’d still be first, where he’d still have his base built while the theif was just getting started.

To bring this to full circle, this guy could OWN a particular niche of product, but instead he chooses to wait. He could be anything in this niche he wants to be, but fear is holding him back.

Megan February 13, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Brad, to answer your question, I’m using the latest version of Internet Explorer & WinXP Media Edition.

July 4, 2008 at 6:28 am

I have a lot of dreams, and I never give up on them, but that is because I work hard at them. Anyone that has a dream has to work harder at it than anything else they do, they have to be a sleep deprived, obsessed, crazy person in order to realize a dream. It is the only way they have a fraction of a chance. I think that if you want to do something bad enough, there is no reason whatsoever why you can’t do it, as long as you can work at it for 10-20 hours a day.

Kevin Cronins last blog post..Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon

Justin April 14, 2010 at 7:40 am

I do not believe that ” you can do anything you put your mind to” because of the facts. Plenty of people work hard and fail. It has to be that way because of pure numbers. For example, out of each American Idol season, at best 4 will find themselves as somewhat successful professional singers. The rest? No gonna happen. Why? Because not everyone can succeed. If they did, then well, no ones really succeeding. Also, think about sports. Every football player and there mama wants to go to the NFL. Even out of those talented enough to play in college, the vast vast majority will never make a dime playing that game. Do yout think they are any less dedicated or hardworking or hopeful? No, its because they arent as good and there isnt enough room. Just the truth. People should try for their dreams, but also face reality if it tells them an unfortunate truth. Dueces

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