The legend of Michael Jackson reaches far beyond physical presence. It’s been 10 years since the King of Pop passed away, and his mark on music is still prominent. Though his career was littered with controversy, Michael Jackson was a one of a kind talent whose gift for song and dance permeated through every race, culture, and ethnicity across the globe. He was proof that powerful music knows no limits. The term legendary is reserved for people who set the standard in their given profession. Those who follow in a legend’s footsteps, almost certainly try to emulate their approach to the craft. You may not want to be the next Michael Jackson, but you can still learn from his ways to become legendary in your own right.
Let Your Audience Grow With You
Michael Jackson captured America’s heart at just 5 years old as the leader of the Jackson 5. At that moment, he began a career with the unique added value of being a child star. It gave fans the chance to either grow up with him or watch him grow up. That type of scenario allows for an audience to form a significant attachment with a product, in this case, the product being MJ himself. How does this apply to you? Simple, we’re in the age of social media which gives you the opportunity to form a tribe around whatever it is you make as a creative. You may not be a child star, but you still get the opportunity to allow people into your process. Your followers get to see you gain more skill, opportunity, and achieve at higher levels as time goes on. Before you know it, they’ll be rooting for you in times of victory and consoling you in times of loss. Building a community is essential because that community will power your career.
Embrace Hard Work
None of us are strangers to the methods of the infamous Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson’s father. There are no stories of him being kind or even supportive to Michael and his brothers. In fact, he’s notorious for being abusive and emotionally detached. Hell, his kids even had to call him by his first name rather than call him dad. There’s not much positive we can take from Joe’s behavior, but if there’s one admirable thing he instilled in Michael Jackson it was hard work. The Jackson 5 practiced every single day for hours on end they never skipped a beat, even as children they rehearsed like adults. In a story for ABC News neighborhood friend Kym Mazelle recalled the amount of time they put into their craft, and how intentional Michael was when it came to proving his ability.
“Even though he was so young, he knew how to interpret stories and how to bring them across. And I think part of that must have come from the early days when they were, like, in Gary, Chicago, working with those really, really professional acts. He could sing something like, ‘Who’s Loving You?’ … When he’s saying, ‘When I had you,’ it’s, like, who can sing like that? The way he would interpret a song and a love song or a moment. Oh my God, he just blew us all away.”
Commitment and strong work ethic are non-negotiables in the pursuit of legendary status. Chances are there are thousands if not millions of other people with the same goal as you. The only way to stand out and be seen as the best to ever do it, you have to accept the fact that you’ll need to work so hard that you may even get sick of your craft. Michael Jackson didn’t just step outside of his house one day and land in stadiums across the globe. Music was his life’s work and he took it as seriously as humanly possible. Do you have the same level of dedication?
Michael Jackson has collaborated with greats ranging from Diana Ross to performances with his hero James Brown. To be the greatest, you’ve got to compete with other greats and prove you stand out above them all. On top of that, it gave him further reach by using such collaborations to introduce himself to other audiences. What does collaboration look like in your line of work? How can you create scenarios where you can expand on your expertise by standing alongside others who are just as gifted as you are. Competition is a beautiful thing because it brings out the best in you. Collaboration is nothing more than a more indirect style of competition and it’s healthy all the same. Identify the colleagues in your industry who are on course to make a significant impact. Those are the people you should be finding ways to collaborate with.
Last but not least, find yourself a damn good mentor. Having natural talent is great, but at a certain point, it’s not enough. You need to develop technical skills that only an experienced person can bring out of you. Michael Jackson didn’t make his best work until he worked with Quincy Jones. Unless you live under a rock and refuse to get on the internet, you know that Quincy Jones is arguably the greatest producer of all time. He took Michael under his wing without hesitation, and it resulted in Thriller. Thriller is Michael Jackson’s most iconic body of work, essentially launching him into full-on global pop star status. To date, the album has sold about 66 million copies worldwide making it the best selling album of all time.
“His eyes were so innocent, and I had been watching him. He knew everybody’s dialogue. He knew everybody’s songs. He knew everybody’s steps. I’ve never seen somebody that could just absorb so much so quickly and so involved. And so I saw another side of him, and I said, I’d like to take a shot on your album.” – Quincy Jones
If you’re lucky enough, your mentor will find you. If not, you’ll have to find them. Either way, it’s imperative that you seek knowledge and advice from someone who has reached heights you wish to reach. You don’t know what you don’t know, and a great mentor will show you you’re weak spots and turn them into your strengths. That’s how legends are made.