The next big sound will, by definition, be some combination of previous styles, recombined and re-imagined. Elvis Presley and rock and roll. LL Cool J, Run DMC and hip-hop. Skrillex and EDM. The biggest artists in history were the ones who crossed and combined genres, influences and styles in a way that resonated with millions of listeners.
Artists like this are hard to understand at the beginning of their careers because nobody knows what to do with them. They don’t fall into the pre-existing genres, radio stations don’t know which format to play them on, record stores don’t know where to stock them, parents don’t know what to make of them, and the press doesn’t know how to describe them. This is one application of my theory of intersections, that the most interesting things happen at the intersection of previously separate fields.
The artists that are simply following the sounds of the day are playing a long game of catchup and likely never to have the crossover and timeless appeal of the early trailblazers. That said, most trailblazers die in obscurity. And here lies the paradox.
By the time a track like Omi’s Cheerleader or Magic’s Rude is number one, it’s too late for that exact sound. If you are only listening to the current top of the charts, you miss the months and years that have built up to that point. You miss the years when Magic! and Omi were writing, performing, recording, and finding their own voice that didn’t sound like what everyone else was currently listening to. If you try to mimic their style or sound, without authentically combining it with your own voice, you won’t get very far.
I see the same thing in startupland. If you just watch the type of companies getting funding on Techcrunch, written about in the press, and think that you should start another gaming company (2009), mobile app (2010), big data company (2011), daily deals site (2012), Uber or AirBnB for X (2013), bitcoin company (2014), food delivery startup (2015) etc. you’ll just be chasing a mirage. The successful entrepreneurs are usually the ones who have been focused on this area for years, obsessed with the problem area since long before it was in the spotlight. The ones just there chasing the headlines and tailwinds are quickly weeded out (sometimes not quickly enough).
It’s okay to listen to the top charts, watch the startup news and learn about financings and exits, and read about the titans of business, just make sure you’re using them as inputs into your own kaleidoscope and not trying to chase their exact colors.