We all know Michael Jackson was the greatest entertainer to ever grace the stage. There is no questioning the contributions, gifts and magic Jackson gave millions of fans around the world. Love him, or hate him, he captured the imagination and we stood at his attention.
Jackson, the “Music Icon”: We will always celebrate his life, art and music, but what about the man…the man behind the music, behind the celebrity, behind the mirror. When we talk about Michael, we typically fixate on the myth associated with the person. Coming from another perspective, minus the hype, I am a fan for more atypical reasons and because of them; have been a major influence on the person I have become today and hope to become in the future.
Let me explain… Here is a quote from Michael at a very unhappy period in his life, “Even at home, I’m lonely. I sit in my room sometimes and cry. It’s so hard to make friends … I sometimes walk around the neighborhood at night, just hoping to find someone to talk to. But I just end up coming home.”
So offstage we know he was just like us and had vulnerabilities to prove it.
But what made Michael Jackson, so unique? What did he do offstage that ensured that once on stage his video performances and live concerts were unparalleled?
Well for starters, let’s take a look at one my favorite albums by Michael Jackson: Off the Wall. First, the album was a huge commercial success. Jackson became the first solo artist to have four singles from the same album climb inside the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. To date, it is certified Multi-Platinum in the US and has sold 20 million copies worldwide.
An album like Off the Wall would be a defining moment in most artists’ entire careers, but not for Michael. He perceived the album as underperforming and was very disappointed that it didn’t achieve record of the year honors. He was quoted as saying that this can never happen, again. He also confided in his manager at the time that he wanted to be “the biggest star in show business” and “the wealthiest.”
I feel it is the first lesson all serious artists should follow. Never settle for second best. Keep improving your game until you become the best.
My advice..? Artists should also celebrate the inches and keep moving forward no matter the odds against them. You have to remember, Michael was a black child of the 60’s where a few things usually went hand in hand; blackness, the odds against you and poverty. Michael Jackson spent his entire life moving in inches, defying the odds, meticulously studying the business, honing his skills in endless rehearsals, singing his lyrics and performing; otherwise constantly mastering his craft.
It’s well known that Michael Jackson studied the best in the business, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr. Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Diana Ross and many others that commanded the stage before him. It is evident in everything that is Michael Jackson. You observe them in his performances, his wardrobe, his music, and his gestures, down to the very props in his music videos. Michael was an architect, who built on the foundation that was laid before him, masterfully redesigning the blueprint for future generations to follow.
Quincy Jones said it best, “Take the 10 people that you admire the most and that you love as singers or instrumentalists or what ever…and put them one tape and copy every note they play or sing. And do it over and over again. You get a chance to walk in the shoes of giants. You come out sounding like yourself. He further explains, “By copying the best you eventually would create your own individual style. Michael watched everybody, but it always came out as Michael.”
Another trait I admired of Michael’s was he knew his limitations in the business, and he never let them impede him. He was the ultimate CEO in that he knew how to delegate and specialize. He always commanded the very best in music. My favorite was his collaboration with Quincy Jones, which in my opinion, the most successful producer/artist partnership in the history of American recording. This helped inspire an artist movement of my very own.
Another lesson: You want to be the best, and then you better surround yourself with the best. You define yourself by your network. It is the one area every artist should really learn to master and that is “to delegate.” I can’t stress this lesson enough. Every award winning artist I ever studied has based their achievements on a successful winning combination; whether it is a perfect band mate, engineer, manager, producer or teacher.
My advice..? Settle for what you can do for now, but always look to improve. First and foremost know your limitations and be willing to listen to new ideas, instead of dictating them.
Although, we can learn many lessons from Michaels Jackson’s life, the last one is the most important.
Confidence: Michael Jackson may have been a lot of things, but exuding confidence when he took the stage was his biggest strength. It must have been ingrained in is DNA when he was born, because I fail to see how a 5 year old could command with such a stage presence, so early on. Without confidence, there would be no Michael. Without it, your indie artist career is really no more than a hobby. The good news, if you weren’t born with it it can be acquired over time.
My advice…? would be to follow the two previous lessons and then repeat as many times as necessary. You will know when you have achieved it, because the rest of your successes will revolve around it.
Lastly, in “Michael Jackson’s Lifetime” he has definitely raised the bar to extraordinary heights and blessed us with achievements that may never be surpassed. Unfortunately, in death he has left a huge vacuum in music artistry. My hope… Artists of today and the future can recycle the energy that is “Michael,” learn from his strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures; continuing his legacy of excellence.