Vocalists/Musicians Wasting Their Talent

Since music is now much more about achieving a high publicity profile and making money than making great records, as the ascendancy of artists like Eminem (is that how you spell it?) demonstrates, I wonder if anyone has any opinions about any artists of today or the past, singing in whatever musical genre, who have consistently pursued the almighty dollar instead of maximizing their talent to sing great, memorable songs? I wonder why the recording industry continues to push artists to put out crap when SOME of them are capable of great things? Also, I wonder why artists with great talent and great power in the industry to control their own destiny continue to accept it. Examples and comments are appreciated.
Well, I know this is going to cause the brickbats to start flying, but I've always wondered that about Barbara Streisand. She's lionized by her fans and the press as an enigmatic all-time great vocal talent, but really, is her accomplishment truly in line with those accolades? My reading of the record shows she made a splash on Broadway in the late '60s, had several insignificant pop hits in the '70s and early '80s, acted in a series of movies of little to no lasting impact, and recorded a series of albums of great appeal to her fan base but that did nothing to shape our musical culture. But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
Maybe anyone who spent their whole career singing pop qualifies, but the one person with the killer pipes who, to me, has squandered her talent more than anyone is Whitney Houston. And that's totally leaving aside her personal life, documented behavior on the road, etc. A real waste, IMO. and then of course, from another era there's Janis, Jimmi, Jim Morisson, Tim Buckley, Duane Allman, etc. Not really directly on point with respect to putting out crap, but I would argue that these early deaths due to excess robbed all of us of some awesome talent.
My comments may be slightly off the thread, but related. I think we'd all agree that the music industry as well as the talent pool clearly go through cycles of greatness to mediocrity and back. Just as the great rock era of 1967-1974 (approx.) was followed by the mediocrity of disco and a decline of rock later in the decade, we are currently in a mediocre period- have been for years. Iv'e read articles that even the record producers realize it too, but don't really know what to do about it.

Much has been written about the influence of the video and the importance of a camera friendly young face for TV. Muscial "acts" have replaced musicianship and virtuosity, and choreography and costumes are more important than creativity. Madonna, who probably started the modern era we're now in had talent, as did some of the early Rap pioneers. But now the bar has been lowered to such a point as to not even call the people who have followed musicians. There have always been teen stars and others of marginal talent, but the mediocrity of today's batch is almost embarassing. This level of performance used to be confined to bands that played high school dances, now they have record contracts (if they're sexy).

The talent is still out there, to be sure, but w/o the need to sacrifice to develop the level of musicianship of the past, I think very few are approaching the virtuosity of prior generations. As I watched Ken Burns Jazz, the primary thing I took away after 17 hours was the decline in musicianship of the modern era vs. the 1930's to 50's. Pride, hard work, self-sacrifice, and competition among musicians produced some extraordinary talent. Today that is largely missing from the music scene because it takes a long time and a lot of work to develop. It also takes role models which are currently nowhere in sight.

The search is for the next fresh face to launch into celebrity status, not the next great sound. In this evironment, I think even the big name stars have much less motivation to strive for the next level of greatness, because let's face it, nobody's going to bust their butt if they don't have to. It's a sad state of affairs, but histroy has taught us the cycle will turn and eventually move in the other direction. In the meantime, we can use it as an opportunity to explore some of the great music from previous eras.
I suppose some of the questions you're asking could be paraphrased as "Why do talented people not always live up to their full potential?"

My answer would be: Distractions. Money and fame are of course some of the prime distractors for almost anyone. I went to college, and I had the opportunity to stay 'in academia' and do interesting research that might have made a difference, while at the same time developing my skills and talents, maybe even resulting in something meaningful and lasting in my field. In stead, I choose to work in private enterprise. Many things I do are not meaningful to anyone other than our customers and my employers. I put out what the customers and employers want, and that's where I stop. Nine out of ten times, it's far short of greatness. My employers do not expect greatness beyond functional, they just want enough functionality to make things commercially viable and to meet the customer and business objectives.

And why do I do this good to mediocre work, in stead of exceling at everything? So I can make money and afford the lifestyle I desire! So I am not a starving academic. So I can afford the passtimes I want, including this hobby. I bet many artists settle in similar ways.

Many people that are truly great are driven, they go to extremes to achieve that greatness. Often times, they go to extremes in their field and outside of their field. This is one of the reasons, IMO, why so many truly great people are anywhere from a bit excentric and obsessive to unstable and self-destructive. Along those lines, seeing as to how this a hobby that lends itself perfectly to those characteristics, I would not be surprised if at least some great artists are in to this very hobby. Maybe this is where some of that 'search for excellence' that cannot come out in the everyday work environment comes out?

Alright, time to get off the soapbox now...
Guitar Players:
I think someone who is finally USING his talent again is Eric Clapton. I really like his new albums with his return to the blues. What was that 1980's decade about anyway?!? A great semi-known player is Eddie B. Campbell out of Chicago. I think he's one of the top blues players I've heard. Maybe he just likes local life in Chicago. Speaking of Eddie's, I wish we could see more out of Van Halen too.


For singer's, I wish Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde would start making albums again. It would be great to see her trying to make a blues album with some old line blues artists like Buddy Guy or Eddie Campbell. She's amazing. I saw her do a live show in Denver a few years ago. We could barely hear the opening act's vocals (a man!) because the mike was set up for her. I think she could give Aretha Franklin a run for her money on sheer power. Another great vocalist is Linda Perry, oddly enough, from 4 non-blondes. I saw her do a live solo show in colorado springs a few years ago. Great singer.
sting, a/ka/ gordon summoner. a great voice and great performer but he needs to break out ot the sameness of his more recent stuff.
Charlotte Church is making big bucks with a voice that sounds like an adult. To bad that an adult that actually sings like her would go nowhere as a classical "artist". I hope she is saving some of that money or can morph into a pop singer.
Prince, great musical talent, too much show business.
It's very hard work to be consistently great at what you do. Some people are willing to work that hard, others simply aren't. Njonker, your frankness is laudable, and as it relates to the issue of this thread, right on the money (no pun intended). Everyone makes choices, including artists. As you point out, some people are driven to the extent that they are willing to make certain sacrifices in their lifestyles that might not be acceptable to others. As with so many things in life, there are many gray areas to this issue that aren't easily explained. Most endevours in life can be pursued with an artistic sensibility IMO, so these comments aren't only about artists in the usual sense. One sometimes finds the person who is very driven to achieve greatness; everything else including health or family life be damned. Othertimes you have the person who makes a choice to live a more balanced life and if perhaps not achieving his/her theoretical potential, are happy with the fact that they can have a confortable lifestyle and still do what they do best; if perhaps not at the highest level. Then you have those, and I see many examples of this in the artist community, that really are not particularly talented, but persevere in their chosen profession and are either content with their limitation or hide behind the idea that their inability to make ends meet is not because of any limitation of theirs but rather society's inability to appreciate their "talent". Now, there obviously are many examples of unappreciated talent, but in my experience truly great talent is usually recognized. What's more; and this is what a lot of folks have trouble with, no one including artists has a responsibility to anyone except themselves when it comes to the manner in which they should practice their chosen career IMO. If you don't like the work that someone is doing, move on to someone else. It's that simple really. Swampwalker, you touched upon something that is key in this discussion. That is, an artist staying in the pop field his/her entire career. Things have changed dramatically over the last few decades as concerns all this. The "pop" music of seventy or eighty years ago is the music that many revere today. A century ago most households had at least one musician(if not professional), and one of the favorite family pastimes was to play music. All that has changed; and folks, guess what many musicians who have been around for several decades and even musicologists trace the beginning of this decline to?: the advent of recorded music. Ironic isn't it? Food for thought.
Nonjker I think you summed it up. Too many. There is little in the music scene today that I would categorize as cutting edge. Basically a rehash of something previously done and in my opinion some things better left not started. And so far as Charlotte Church goes Sugarbrie, she epitomizes the absolute mediocrity so prevalent today. A pretty (average) voice with a pretty (above average) face. A child woman is her appeal, I mean what else could it possibly be? Hell, give me a 60 piece orchestra, an echo chamber and a pretty face and the masses might like me too. I recently saw "La Traviata" performed by a Russian touring company. The lead singer of the part of Violetta had the most beautiful lyric soprano voice I ever heard live and ranks among the most beautiful voices I ever heard period, a virtual unknown. Her voice was absolutely pure, effortless and soul reaching. My wife who has been an amateur singer her entire life and is very critical of singers in general, was moved to tears listening to this woman sing, as was I. There is a lot of talent out there but it is reaching beyond the talent to acquire something fresh, new and original that touches us personally. Maybe this is the cry for something we each feel a loss for? The future will tell, I hope it is just a temporary down cycle. So far as squandered talent goes, I’m with Swampwalker, Whitney Houston's got my vote.

Very good post. Think you've hit the high spots. I offer just one amplification: since business, especially the music business, measures things in picoseconds these days, the pressure on studios, and therefore the artists, to crank things out quickly becomes overbearing. As you rightly point out, that will allow people who are camera friendly to market pablum or worse and still make a ton of money. That's all the business side cares about. Artists ( and pretend artists ) being human, want to make money and you can't really blame them. One other poster wrote that he chose commerce rather than academia so he could make a more lucrative living. Who am I to say he's polluted his ideals by "selling out"?

It's a whole different culture. Most of the serious talent still goes into classical because they have to - it's the only medium that fires their muse.
Thanks, Adamanteus. Harry "Sweets" Edison was quoted as saying "I'd rather be a mediocre originator than a perfect imitator." Problem is, today we seem to have mediocre imitators, and it shows.

I agree serious musicians are still around (many are drawn to classical) and still "suffer for their art" but very few people find starving as noble as it was in the past. Unfortunately, classical seems to be in an economic, if not artistic, slump. Even I, who was raised on rock and classical, find myself listening to it less and less.

It may be a middle-aged phenomenon, but I've been on a Jazz bender of heroic proportions and have really been getting into this previously undiscovered (by me) treasure chest. As I've gotten older, it seems the structure of classical appeals less and the freedom of jazz appeals more. I guess I've become a musical anarchist!