by Cari Cole
One of the most successful albums of our time sold 30 million worldwide, and did so without touring. That album hit us square in the solar plexus and resonated like a divining rod straight into our hearts. It spoke so intimately, as if the writer/s knew us personally. Some say it’s her incredible rich, expressive, mystical, transcendent voice, some say it’s her “girl next door” appeal. Yep it’s all that (and her strikingly beautiful face ;)). But it’s more than just a pretty face or powerhouse voice that makes that kind of impact.
It’s her unflinching ability to spill her guts on the table before us at the altar of her deeper truths. She shares her spiritual reveal of life with us, raw and honest, brave and vulnerable, she makes art out of what she’s thinking and feeling, and dares to tell us. And then she digs even deeper to look for the lesson, what’s at the core, the human value, and the result is nothing short of profound and revelatory.
The alchemy of artist into art. That, is what real music is (and should be) about, in my humble opinion.
Naturally, this is Adele.
If you haven’t seen her first video / song release in 4 years…it’s called “Hello.” Directed by the young director/actor Xavier Dolan, who until this project was little known, it’s a song marking a time in her life when she is “making up” with herself. It’s a letter inviting herself to a cup of tea, a sit down to talk about “everything.” It hits us, once again, in the solar plexus. Bam.
What is so admirable about Adele and her music is that she doesn’t rush, and takes the time she needs to come up with that reveal, to birth what’s coming from that deeper river inside, to make her art.
For those of you music makers and creators from artists to songwriters to producers to publishers and managers… the purpose of this post, beyond my bias and fandom of Adele, is to take a deeper dive into what’s working about her process/work ethic in hopes that other artists will have the courage to follow in these footsteps and usher in a trend of authenticity and “art” in music.
1. No Rushing the Creative Process
It’s been 4 years since her last album. She doesn’t cave to pressure of the business. She takes ample time for the creative process. Can’t. Stress. This. Enough. Producers, songwriters, artists, music makers listen up. Don’t. Rush.
2. The Power of Collaboration
She finds the right people to work with who are also after “art.” From her co-writers to producers to directors, she seeks out and works with people she believes have the ability to bring her vision to life. Smartness.
3. Music as Medicine
Many of our greatest artists know and apply this principle. From Alanis Morrisette to Nick Cave to Lucinda Williams to Michael Jackson, great music making is about identifying and exposing the internal battles and then the revelations and epiphanies that flow from those battles. In Adele’s case, she is not afraid or is-afraid-and-does-it-anyway, to expose her own struggles in service of “art.” Great books, great movies, great plays are about this. And great songs, when we have the patience, courage and wisdom to write them, have this at their core.
4. Art Over Commerce
We all know that most artists in the industry fall prey to the industry telling them to lose weight, to sacrifice art for commerce, to write “hits” – the stock, general phrases doled out to artists trying to “make it.” While some of this is meant with good intentions, for an artist it can be dangerous, career killing advice. Yes you have to master your craft (your voice, songwriting and your performance), but you also have to be yourself and not cave to advice that could set you off track. Sam Smith said it at the Grammy’s last year. He said “I just want to say that before we made this record, I was doing everything to try and get my music heard. I tried to lose weight and I was making awful music. It was only until I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen. So, thank you guys for accepting me for being different.”
5. Raising the Bar
After 4 years, none of us certainly knew what to expect would come from Adele. Yet, she succeeded in raising the bar for herself to continue to put out great art. Artists who manage to stay on top seem to raise their own bar and not take their success for granted. Must have a lot to do with not “believing your own hype” which is easy to do when you become famous with everybody “yes’ing” you, as well as sticking to your own standards. Trust what made you in the first place, continue to dig deeper, and work just as hard on your 2nd, 3rd, 4th record as you did on the one that made you, and you’ll have a better chance of putting out great art.
Most of my days spent at my voice and music publishing company is about probing and pushing artists to write better songs, to bare their souls, to dig deep and talk about what’s under the surface of their lives.
To say what is screaming to be said, to write what is hard to write, the things nobody really wants to say.
It’s critical if you want to reach people, really reach people, to go there yourself. To get more “real” in your writing. To “mine” for that kind of gold from the inside out. Make your songs your epiphanies, your victory laps, your hard won truths, your questions… the things that are screaming to be said… things that are hard to say… things you’ve never said…
The problem is, as humans, is that we are conditioned to hide that stuff. Tuck it away. Think that it’s Too. Much. Information. But as a writer, you have to pierce that veil, shatter that glass, tear down that wall that’s holding you back, rip open your guts, to get to that uncensored, pure place where you are free to tell the truth and to find your voice.
Hopefully, the rest of Adele’s 25 will continue along these lines. And hopefully this kind of impressive commitment to her art will inspire a whole new flood of artists to do the same.