One of the most insightful and candid interviews I’ve heard by a musician in recent years is to be found in the 2017 youtube video ‘Gary Numan – Records In My Life’, part of a series in which well-known artists speak about key records by other musicians that have inspired them. As the backdrop to one of his choices, Numan describes the journey that went from huge initial commercial success making music that was true to his creative vision – followed by a steady decline in popularity resulting in losing faith in his ideas. It led to him, in his words “desperately” attempting to win back the fame, even if it meant doing music which he had no belief nor love for. The story does end well, however, which he shares from 7:14 to 13:52 at the link below.
The majority of artists will never attain the high profile of the likes of a Gary Numan. Nonetheless, there are lessons to be learnt from his story, irrespective of what stage your career is at. In my own musical life, I’ve shared original work on social media that would receive no response. If, on the other hand I did a popular cover, suddenly ‘likes’ and comments full of gushing praise would appear out of nowhere! So I thought, “Ah, I see. If I do more popular covers, I’ll get even more people hitting the like button!” It led to me neglecting my own creativity to a point where I temporarily lost faith in it.
Nothing wrong at all in playing popular covers, of course, if that’s what you really feel happy to do. It can only become an obstacle if your end goal is to put your own unique voice out to the world. These days it’s more important for me to do something I love and feel good about, than to share content that might get more instant acceptance but which doesn’t challenge me. If it gets a like, then that’s a bonus. First and foremost is being true to myself.
As a coda, I’ll finish off with a few more choice words on the subject, spoken by an artist who was Numan’s most important formative influence: David Bowie.