Don’t Dumb Down Your Art

Watch their style. Watch the way Robert Plant moves when he emotes; listen to his intonation and the way his body quakes as he sings. Watch Jimmy Page’s posture and facial expressions.

I used to think this stuff was silly, but I was never really listening — or watching.

These days, I’m really listening and watching. This is what I’m seeing:

Do you think that this style of musicianship — not just the sounds you hear, but the way those sounds are visibly expressed by the musicians — came about because someone decided it was a good marketing move? I don’t.

I think this style of musicianship evolved because someone did what came natural to them, and didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought about it.

I think this style of musicianship evolved because there were a series of musicians brave enough to simply be themselves at (metaphorical) full volume. They probably made some adjustments along the way according to what they felt was right, what seemed to connect well, what communicated their intent most clearly — but the seed of that style was already there, waiting to get out.

What do you think would have happened if every musician quashed her own urge towards fully honest expression?

I don’t think we would have had performances like this. And this performance gives me shivers — the first few chords in that song make me swoon.

All the big shifts in the world, I think they happen like this. One person decides to be real and honest in their expression, no matter how strange or silly it might seem to someone else. A member of their audience resonates with it, loves it, spreads the word about it. It might start with one person, or five people, or twenty, or a hundred, and the only way that it can spread is because those people were honest with themselves and with others about their urge for self-expression.

What honest impulses do you quash because it isn’t “good marketing”?

What do you try to change about yourself because it’s not enough like what everyone else does?

Why would you keep that brilliant light from the rest of the world? When art is what fuels us, connects us, and teaches us how to be human, how can we even consider dumbing it down?

We need who you are, and what you do, when you’re not trying to be someone else. We can’t start a beautiful trend without some good old fashioned courage.

Please share it with us — don’t be afraid.

Featured image credit: Phil King

About Megan Elizabeth Morris

Megan Elizabeth Morris -- also known as MEM -- is the Managing Editor for Upmarket Magazine. She connects remarkable contributors with great new audiences, and occasionally contributes herself. If you’re a talented content creator looking to build community around an outside-the-box business message, be sure to drop her a note or check out our submission guidelines. You can also find out more about MEM on her personal info page or by following her on Twitter.


  1. Guys like Page and Plant started out swaggering around in school in order to be as cool as the other kids. But for them, it wasn’t an act, it was an honest expression of who they were. Or grew to become that honest expression, who knows.

    Some folks swagger to hide who they are, and eventually it sloughs off and they’re boring. In an era where musicians were expected to swagger, a handful made it clear that this was their turf, this was who they were, not a face they put on. It’s why Page and Plant, Van Morrison, Dylan, are all still happily clasting icons all over music.

    In school, I had serious disdain for the class clowns, the goof-offs who didn’t care what others thought of them. (Not the ones who did it for attention, the ones who were genuinely goofy.) Now I wish I’d been paying more attention.

    Your comments remind me of Dave Matthews’ comment once that he’d just realized that when he sings, he looks like this (and screws his face all up, well, like he does when he sings.)

    If you’re on stage, you better swagger a bit, or you’ll lose ‘em.

    I’m working Chris Brogan’s “3 Words” strategy this year. Dissident, High Priest, performer — building those into everything I do.

    Self-conscious kills swagger and that kills a performance (of whatever kind.)

    • Agreed, those are such awesome insights!

      Another point that occurred to me was this: Even if we ascertained somehow that the performance style of Page & Plant was partly or entirely artificial, part of their *marketing*, that doesn’t change the fact that someone had to risk looking stupid in order to attempt a style that wasn’t yet popular. Whether it was Page & Plant, or those who came before them, or someone completely unknown to us now — the point is still the same, someone had to risk looking “strange” in order for MOBS of people to be delighted and obsessed with that style. No one is going to argue the overall popularity / success of this music, even if they themselves don’t like it.

      And hell, I came at this originally from opera and classical, thinking “rock music” was easily dismissed as garbage (and of course, that’s what folks around me seemed to imply). Until I really LISTENED to it… now I know how wrong they were. At least in my opinion. And zillions of others’! <3

      • Another marketing concept just out of reach, but here’s a grab at it:

        People who love MUSIC should never be restricted to a particular genre. Dismissive is easy, even dismissive of what’s massively popular. Learning is the key.

        Some pop rock country whatever IS junk. Some of it is finely crafted ageless works of art. Yet people commonly ignore what’s outside their radar.

        When we’re starting something stupid (I’m reading Richie Norton’s book right now) we can’t ignore the penchant for pigeonholing and the wearing of blinders. Even a work of genius can be invisible if it’s too unfamiliar and scary to acknowledge. (One of the 6 fundamental fears is the fear of the strange and unknown.)

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