Hoping in Hanley: The "IT" Factor

by SaskMusic

August 7, 2009 in Ask Percy

Hey Percy,
The Junos are coming up, and that makes me wonder...how do I know if I have “IT”?
- Hoping in Hanley

Hi Hoping,

Ahhh...the “IT” factor...almost as elusive as the Giant Squid. Hold your seahorses; I said ALMOST as elusive.

You’ve asked a good question, and one that has no specific answer. “IT” is such a combination of things. That’s kinda like asking what makes the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Barrier Reef.

So at the top of the list, you’ve got to have the musical talent. Yeah – without that, it will be impossible to sustain a career. Look at any of the artists who had little musical substance but a whole bunch of marketing dollars behind them; they are a grain of sand that has been washed away on the ocean floor.

But is pure musical talent enough? Unfortunately, in this tide and current, it’s not. Those with the “IT” factor are also business-savvy artists who know what they want, work hard to get it, and learn their business. In a social setting, everyone seems to be drawn to them. They network seamlessly with artists, industry professionals, and fans alike. So many artists never get outside their shells because although they have the talent, they have neither the business skills nor the drive.

Then there is the whole element of energy, passion, and creating music that is in demand in the world around you. So let’s start with the energy and passion side: this is probably best observed at a live show. And to be honest, it’s really hard to put your fin on just what's working. There are those performers who are naturally born with charisma (or got some really great coaching to develop their charisma). They walk on stage and the audience is drawn in. Listeners literally fall in love with the artist – they find themselves relating to the songs.
I think part of the attraction is that those artists successfully project the emotion of their music to the audience, and respond to the emotions they receive back from the audience.

Okay, now the music side of things...those that have the “IT” factor tend to be ahead of the music trends, without being too far ahead to be irrelevant in their time. They are the “first” to offer a particular sound that appeals to a larger audience. There are a bunch of “copy catfish" artists that come along afterwards, but never quite hit the same way. If the artist doesn’t have that – then they offer something that appeals to the larger public in a way that no one else does. Take Jann Arden’s humour, Shania Twain’s tongue-n-cheek, honest songwriting, or KISS’s over-the-top stage show.

And at the end of the day, my little fishies, it’s all subjective. You could have one industry professional tell you that you will never have the “IT” factor, and another one, the following week, say you definitely are “IT.” The same industry professional who told you you would never have “IT”, could sign you to a record deal next year.

So, what’s my advice? Create music you are proud of, learn as much as you can about the business, keep working on those social networking skills (it’s more of a science than an art), and above all, keep your dorsal fins pointed towards your fans…it’s funny how the elusive “IT” factor becomes more and more concrete, as more and more people start chanting your name. And who knows, perhaps you will some day join the elite “IT” group of Juno Award winners and nominees.

Until next time, keep makin’ waves,

Originally published Spring 2007.

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