A person holding an album over their face.

Are You Destined to Be a One-Hit Wonder?

What the music industry can teach you about success.

I’m not used to financial success. So when I recently had my biggest month yet this year, I was surprised and elated. But as the date crept from 31 to 1 and the new month began, that elation turned into unease. Will this new month be better than the last? What if it’s not? What if I just peaked and have nowhere to go but down? What if I am a one-hit wonder?

That term, one-hit wonder, is primarily used when speaking of the music industry. That’s where it’s most prevalent. But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve always pondered over the business owner who crushes it on their first venture. They grow quickly, get acquired, and put enough money away to never work again. Poor them, right? Hardly. Still, what happens when the pina colada’s stop tasting so sweet? What happens when they get tired of the beach?

They start a new business. One even bigger, one even better than before. And yet, something’s now different. What they assume will be an easy venture quickly flounders. Their second attempt at entrepreneurial glory comes crashing down. Now they’re unsettled. They start another project. It doesn’t move. They start another. Same story. After years of repeated failure and money wasted, they call the whole thing quits. They write a memoir no one cares to read and ride off into irrelevancy as a one-hit wonder.

 

Four traits of the one-hit wonder

According to Highsnobiety, “Nearly half of all musicians that created a chart hit in the half-century in between 1955 and 2005 never did so again – 47.5 percent, to be exact.” They also mention that, “The percentage of one-hit wonders is pretty much the same every year.” Why is that? Why do so many musicians make it big one day to only drift off into obscurity the next? Highsnobiety explains, “Fundamentally, one-hit wonders are the record industry’s version of a viral video.” In that light, all we can do is make a best guess. However, Highsnobiety suggests it could be due to a number of things:

  1. The artist loses touch with what is “in,”
  2. They get distracted by fame and put less energy into new projects,
  3. The novelty of their sound fades,
  4. They struggle to consistently put out new, good music.

Think of the employee who gains the courage to speak up in a meeting. They share an idea that receives applause from all. They get promoted to the corner office. Soon after, they get cocky. The next meeting, they feel the need to share every idea that comes into their head. Yet this time, there’s no applause. Not a problem though. After all, they’re still getting used to their newfound status. They go back to their office and spend an inordinate amount of time designing new business cards.

At the next meeting, their great ideas are met with silence once again. They start to panic. They start suggesting remixed versions of their original idea. It’s met with eye rolls. And then the well goes dry altogether. At their final meeting, they have nothing to say. They haven’t had a good idea in weeks. They’re told to clear out their desk. They leave the building, head down, as a one-hit wonder.

 

Find the pulse

It’s not easy to maneuver through the intangible. However, using the four points above as rough indicators, there are some things that you can do. Things that, though not guaranteed, may just be what you need to stay in the game. Let’s look at the zeitgeist for a moment. If a common cause of being a one-hit wonder is losing touch with what is “in,” doing the opposite then is the solution. If you’re in music, it’s staying current on what’s working for others and what isn’t. It’s being flexible. If you’re a comedian, it’s being aware of the jokes that are landing and the ones that aren’t. Or if you’re a business owner, it’s noticing what shops are doing well and which are struggling.

With success comes the feeling that you know everything. However, hubris will harbor your downfall. Instead, be a sponge. Be aware of what’s working for others and what isn’t.

Speaking of observing, consider the role that distraction plays. With success comes the temptation to do new (expensive) things. At face value, this isn’t a big deal. However, a lack of focus causes two things to happen. First, you take your finger off the pulse of what’s “in.” Second, because you are spending more time on other things, you have less time to spend on your original pursuit. Meaning that you’re even more likely to create something no one wants.

The solution to this is simple. Don’t give away that time. If you spend three hours each day writing an article, don’t stop writing when something hits. Don’t replace those three hours with other projects. It’s those three hours that created the hit in the first place.

 

Show up like it’s your job

Imagine that you paint something truly weird. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever painted before. And people lose their freakin’ minds over it. Art collectors reach out by the handful, galleries want to give you a full showcase, the calls won’t stop coming in. You eventually sell the piece for a massive profit and take some time off to celebrate. It’s not long after that you’re scrolling on Instagram and see something startling. It’s your painting. Well, not your painting, but one that looks just like it. Copycats. Soon the entire market is filled with your zany design. And soon after that, everyone’s over it. The calls stop coming in. The collectors stop reaching out. No one cares. The art world is on to the next.

You know the rest of the story. You try to recreate your initial piece, but no one’s interested. Then, you market yourself as the “creator of the neo-abstract style” and get in Twitter fights over who did it first. You spend all this time trying to recreate what worked instead of understanding what works. You stumbled onto something novel but didn’t evolve along with it. That’s a mistake. As in the case of the first point, to stay relevant you must continue to observe, experiment, and change.

Finally, there’s consistency. The more consistent you are, the more chances you have. For example, I publish a new article every day. I’ve done it since January and am at something like 110 for the year thus far. Because I write so regularly, I know not all of my articles are going to be amazing. They can’t be. But what happens is that because I am so consistent, it’s inevitable that some will be. If 25% of my articles are fantastic, that’s 28 for this year alone. However, if I only wrote when I felt like it, that number would be significantly smaller. Meaning the amount of great articles I put out would be much less. Consistency may result in more bad work, but also a lot more good work as well.

The big question then is how to stay consistent. In my case, I use a handful of things including goal setting, visualization, and reading. Specifically, I read a lot of biographies. I seek out tales of struggle, strife, resilience, and triumph. I also look around to others in my space for inspiration. As in, if they can do it, I can too. For you, it might be an accountability partner or just sheer confidence in your abilities.

 

Move forward with certainty

Before writing this article, I felt scared. I had been asking myself if I was destined to be a one-hit wonder. But now my fear is gone. Because in reflection, I realize I do the things I suggest here. I learn from others, I’m deliberate with my time, I change constantly, and boy am I consistent. I don’t say that out of arrogance but rather out of patient confidence. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

For many, myself included, the biggest challenge is staying in the game. Is showing up even when the numbers were higher last month or the jokes didn’t land. If you can do that, if you can keep going while observing and changing along the way, you won’t be a one-hit wonder. You’ll just be a wonder. Period.