Blog: Talent Ain't Worth a Dime

Luke Oram

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

That’s Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States. His term in office wedged between Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover, Coolidge was a feisty Vermont lawyer who spent most of his time fighting hard to restore America’s faith in the White House following the corruption scandals of Harding’s administration.

They say he wasn’t much for words, that he was a well thought out man who valued quiet action over rhetoric. In the quote above, he exposes a thought that’s both disarming and brilliant; this is the leader of the free world attributing his success not to education, privilege or talent, but simply to determination.

This article by Aussie mag Faster Louder has been doing the rounds at H.Q for a few days and it’s a cracker read (take the time to give it a spin). In it, music critic and ex-Die! Die! Die! bass player Henry Oliver takes a good, hard look at New Zealand’s recent musical success stories, asking how a small nation like ours continues to deliver global success stories like Lorde, Broods, Kimbra, et al.

I won’t do the article an injustice by trying to regurgitate too much (seriously, read it), but Oliver polls a few of our musical national treasures to get their theories on our far-reaching creative influence, and he gets a fair few. Indie wunderkind Lawrence Arabia cites the charm of our provincial unambiton, Ruby Suns frontman Ryan McPhun eloquently sums up an unproductive relationship between money and creativity and Broods frontman Caleb Nott praises the internet for allowing our Number-8 Wire ethic an international platform. Don McGlashan also makes a great Eye of Sauron metaphor.

All up, it’s a great overview – one of the best you’ll read in years. And at the end of reading it, I can’t help but return to Coolidge’s tribute to determination as the key to success.

When we speak to musicians, we’d be inclined to agree with the guy. Talent is vital to musicians. So is invention, currency, genius, aesthetic and a damn great song.

But talent without determination won't get you far. As much as we’d like to hold on to the sanguine belief that the greatest talent will rise to the top of an oversaturated, crowded music industry, we instead find that it’s bare-knuckled persistence that is the most defining characteristic.

“Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent". That, right there, should serve as a warning and impetus to any musician trying to make it today. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the omnipotent persistence required to send it out into the world, chances are you’ll fall prey to the guy willing to knock on any door necessary.

But here’s the beautiful thing. Oliver’s right, there is something in the water down here. The great thing about Kiwis is that we don’t take no for an answer. In fact, rejections, loss and stacked odds seem to make us more determined to prove the critics wrong.

Right now, the world’s eyes are on these magical little islands. The path has been blazed by a massive cadre of your fellow musicians – press on and join them…and don’t take no for an answer.