The rewards are on the edge, but it’s easy to fall off.
Everyone who pushes the envelope does so too soon, you always have to wait for the audience to catch up with you.
People are confounded by the new and different before they embrace it.
Legends push the envelope, journeymen don’t.
Record labels used to push the envelope, now they’re stuck in the present, waiting for “artists” to prove their worth online before they invest. Meanwhile, true artists go it alone, without help and many give up. Record labels are ripe for disruption because of this.
The envelope is pushed live as opposed to on record today, that is where people take risks. More people talk about Beyonce at Coachella than they do about her album “Lemonade.” You had to be there, it was an experience. Ditto with David Byrne’s tour. The ex-Talking Head has not released a record the masses have embraced in decades, but this tour had huge buzz. Sure, people want to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, but Byrne’s a close second.
Speaking of the Boss on the Great White Way, it reinvigorated his career when he was known for playing oldies shows to acolytes. Expect the Netflix special to become legendary, unlike his recent albums and tours. Fans will watch it Day One. Their chatter and press (which works with oldsters, but is not the driver of the Byrne hysteria, that’s positively word of mouth, and boomer word of mouth is slow, which is why the Byrne tour is not top of mind like it should be) will get casual fans to tune in and the film of the show will become part of the national fabric.
The more different it is every night, the more buzz you’ll get, the more people will want to go. Jam bands proved this eons ago.
Drake’s playlist on streaming services pushed the envelope, it made people want to check it out.
Rap beefs pushed the envelope decades ago, with the east coast/west coast wars. Today’s kerfuffles are no different from the WWE, albeit with guns.
Using a TR-808 is no longer even retro, it’s the epitome of me-tooism, use real drums to stand out.
You can only get away with a substandard voice if you’re the best lyricist of all time, i.e. Bob Dylan. If your songs are not this good, get someone else to sing them.
If you cover a song, make it different, Joe Cocker rode this all the way to the bank.
The odds of someone under nineteen having something to say are low, they haven’t lived long enough. So they can have cowriters, like Liz Rose, or you can ignore them and see them as “phenoms” jammed down your throat.
Tricks can only be done effectively once, like Radiohead name your own price, or Amanda Palmer with Kickstarter. Best to focus on the music rather than the penumbra.
Licensing or buying beats was pushing the envelope, utilizing the internet to create your music, but that’s standard now.
Giving it away for free was pushing the envelope. When there is a sea change in distribution, get onboard. Go where the public is, not where you think it should stay.
Flipping the script is oftentimes revolutionary. If everyone is using machines, use real instruments, and vice versa.
Follow distribution innovations. The major players are stuck in the past, they still want to embrace television and radio, when those formats are moribund. PSY broke on YouTube. Hip-hop dominates Spotify. If there’s a new way to get your message out there, employ it, as long as it’s not too retro. You hear about the cassette comeback, it’s a press story, not enough people have cassette players! And mainstream press is traditionally behind, like it was on Trump. If getting a record deal and your name in the paper gets you off, you’re still living in the last century.
Hoovering all the money by selling tchotchkes and doing endorsements is passe. You may make some money, but you’ll build cred by saying no, and cred is everything, it’s what leads to a long career.