If you listen to the stories artists tell about their careers, you’ll often hear them admit that their hits were something they never saw coming. This cuts across artistic endeavors.
I tweeted yesterday that How To Flourish: 17 Quotes on Living, Being, and Doing was going viral yet again with near 10k daily pageviews. That tweet resulted in a conversation between me, Tyler Tervooren, and Jonathan Fields about whether or not we can predict what’ll be a hit. The consensus that Jonathan and I shared was that you just never know what will be a hit, although you can have a good idea of what has the best chances of going viral.
Yesterday’s conversation was already in my head when I bought and listened to Staind’s iTunes Original Album this morning. I love the iTunes Originals albums because they contain interviews where the artists talk about their art and careers, and Staind mentioned the same thing – their flagship song, It’s Been Awhile, was something that was a surprise hit, especially since Aaron had been performing it acoustically to a crowd that really couldn’t care less.
Let’s pause here. First, he had already been performing the song and nobody cared. How often does this happen to us? How many posts have you written and heard crickets only to have that same post be a big hit a year later?
Second, they performed this song later in their career and all of a sudden it became iconic of their style. Had you asked them before it went big, they would’ve never guessed that the song they’re known by to a mass audience would be that song. But they stuck with it and performed their art.
This pattern plays out for other artists, too, and this story is far more common than the one wherein the artists knew that they or their art would be a hit. Be very careful of how you’re evaluating your own creative journey.
If you’re serious about your art, it’s unlikely that you’ll see your big hit coming; if your craft was that formulaic, it wouldn’t be art. All you can do is show up and get your stuff to good enough. You might not ever have a big hit, but if you don’t keep at it, you never will.
And what if you’ve already produced your big hit and don’t know it yet? If you’re never reviewing what you’ve done and providing a way for people to find it, you might be missing out. Sometimes the best way to go forward is to look backward.