What We Can Learn from the Careers of Iconic Artists

July 3, 2017

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog post written by Matt Lindley. Matt is a writer and music fan based in London. He’ll listen to anything from Morrissey to Merzbow, and still thinks CD is the best format. Follow him on Twitter.]


Whether you’re in a rock group influenced by the unforgettable riffs of Cream and Led Zeppelin or a budding rapper who grew up with the lyrics of Jay-Z, Biggie and Nas, every young artist takes inspiration from the icons of yesteryear. But while it’s important to learn the techniques of the industry legends, it’s just as important to learn the tricks of the trade.

A new interactive chart (see embedded below) from Gocompare.com visualises the careers of the 100 greatest artists of all time according to Rolling Stone magazine, showing how long they took to score their first top 10 single. We’ve analysed the data and come up with some tips for making it in the music business.

Keep calm and carry on

While The Who and Sly & The Family Stone are among the artists to have achieved overnight success, it doesn’t always come straight away – some of the biggest names in music history were plugging away for years before reaching the top. As the chart shows, names as big as Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen took a decade or more to achieve their first top 10 single, while rock gods the Grateful Dead took a full 22 years between forming and reaching the top 10. Even the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, had a seven year wait before ‘Got To Be There’ reached the upper echelons of the charts.

You can enjoy a great career without a hit record

It seems crazy to say it, but the lack of a record that captures the wider public’s imagination is no barrier to success. The chart shows that numerous seminal acts never reached the top 10 of the UK or US charts. Experimental rock supremo Frank Zappa enjoyed a critically-acclaimed career spanning 38 years without hitting those heights, and the same can be said of Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams and even the Velvet Underground. If you haven’t managed the level of success you hoped for, enjoy what you have achieved and keep the faith.

If fame and fortune is the goal, some paths are better than others

It should be no surprise to hear that pop and rock acts tend to have the clearest route to the top. The Beach Boys, the Beatles and impresario Phil Spector all had a hit within two years of beginning their careers, while more niche genres such as hip-hop require more patience; the chart shows that the likes of Dr. Dre, Tupac, Eminem and Public Enemy – considered among the greatest hip-hop acts of all time – each took more than eight years to achieve a top 10 hit.

Above all else, stay true to yourself

Having highlighted what separates these artists, perhaps the more important question is ‘what connects them?’. The one thing that all of the acts have in common is that they were all brilliant at what they did. From Chuck Berry’s career spanning half a century to Cream’s two year stint as the world’s biggest supergroup, the list is made up of talented artists who were dedicated to their love of music. So perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned is to love what you do – otherwise you might not appreciate where it gets you.

Tags: featured featuring hit song iconic artists indie matt lindley music business