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On The Importance Of Originality

The last worker adds less to output than the first.

This was the argument set forth by French economist Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727-1781). Turgot believed that national wealth was created from agriculture. In the 1700’s this made more sense than now. Turgot developed an interesting theory that explained how the output of each extra worker changes as successive workers are added to a production process. It goes like this:

Unprepared soil produces very little when sowed. If the soil is plowed once, output increases. If the soil is plowed twice, theoretically, the output could quadruple. However, as the extra work increases, the output decreases. Eventually, the additional workers add nothing further. The fertility of the soil is exhausted.

We see this all the time in the music industry. I call it genre diffusion. The most prevalent  example in the past ten years is Pitchfork. Pitchfork rewrote the book on independent music and music journalism. And what Pitchfork established was a unique sound. A genre per se. More than a genre it was a movement. The biggest independent movement in music since hip hop in the late 80’s into the 90’s. The DIY ethos and new sound established a community of fans who visited the site, and listened to the bands featured on the site religiously.  Eventually, this fringe community tipped and became mainstream. As we have seen, more and more bands have become geared toward the “pitchfork” sound. Independent music was now cool. Different was now cool. And it was now cool to sound different. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon to the point where Pitchfork suddenly doesn’t seem so cool anymore.

For a more recent example, we turn to EDM in the United States. At the time, this was akin to Turgot’s soil being plowed twice. It seemed like EDM was on the verge of blowing up here in the states. This was one of those genres that has historically always done well in Europe but never really translated to the U.S. market. Eventually, it spread over here and the snowball effect was in full motion. Skrillex, Deadmou5, Madeon, Swedish House Mafia, etc. ad infinitum…then came Avicii and his stadium tour. As we now know, complete disaster.

EDM is unique in that any asshole with a computer can replicate what these guys are doing. In the case of EDM, as it was Pitchfork, it’s all about getting there first. I admire the talent, passion, and the grandiose idea of setting the EDM phenomenon to a larger scale. The reality is, by the time the Avicii tour rolled around, everyone else was on it. Avicii was lost in the sea of thousands of other artists. Scaling the genre, with hundreds of new entrants daily, was doomed to fail at the start. Am I saying EDM is dead? Absolutely not. Am I Saying EDM will follow in the footsteps of Pitchfork? Absolutely yes.

The lesson of Turgot and our soil is that its important to retain your originality, and for lack of a better term, your fertility. It is what sets you apart. Latching yourself to a sinking ship ends well for no one. The fact is, the more “artists” affiliating with a certain genre or “sound” makes it worse for you and everyone else affiliated .

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