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Why the Greatest Musicians Of All Time Reinvent Themselves

October 15, 2018

Why the Greatest Musicians Of All Time Embrace Artist Reinvention

Whats the key to a musicians staying power?Is it raw talent? Good looks? A legion of adoring fans who love them unconditionally? All three of those traits can keep a flame from burning out too early. But artistic reinvention is what has given the greatest musicians of all time the fuel they need to keep on going. The same can be said not just for music, but for any creative industry. With that said, reinvention itself is an art. Not every musician pulls it off successfully, let alone, repeatedly. But for those who have, theres a lot to learn and admire.  

Why Artists Reinvent Themselves

The concept of artist reinvention is a paradox of sorts. Every aspiring musician has probably heard that they need to be themselves, find their own style or be true to who they are. Yet the artist that cranks out the same style of music for five, ten or more years will get labeled as a one-trick pony or a one-dimensional artist. The tragic end for those artists is that their music fails to chart, their shows no longer sell out and they quickly fade into obscurity. Thats why an artistic reinvention is a tricky balancing act of being willing to veer out of ones lane without completely abandoning the road they took to success. Of course, there are other reasons why the greatest musicians of all time take up the task.  

Broader Appeal

We all know the struggling artist trope - the band, singer or rapper who no one paid attention to. Thats until they changed their style. Its the typical tale of many rock bands in the 70s, 80s and 90s - they were stuck in a rut performing safe-for-work tunes at local bars or coffee shops. Eventually, they dropped the schtick for an edgier sound and suddenly had the world listening. The opposite is true as well. You have the artist who created gritty music for a core of die-hard fans. But with their eyes on mass appeal, they switched their style to a top 40 sound, eventually hooking a more international crowd.  

Push Boundaries/Experiment

More ambitious and innovative artists will reinvent themselves simply because its part of who they are. Taking creative risks in terms of their style, output and genre are goals they have kept from before their careers even started. Think of the chart-topping artist who decides its time to make the music theyve always wanted to. These are often the riskiest artist reinventions because theres no telling whether the artists experiment will go smoothly or not. The musicians who reinvent their music or their persona tend to do so with polarizing results; fans either drool over their new work or turn their back on the artist.  

Revive a Dying Image

Perhaps, the most pressing and anxiety-inducing reason for artists to reinvent themselves comes from the need to revive a dying image. This is typically a ploy used by older artists who are trying to appeal to a younger demographic, especially when younger fans are listening to newer artists who riding the wave of an emerging trend. When it works, it works. Some artists have launched major comebacks, enjoying a level of success they never had before. But when it flops, it flops. Its sad but some musicians who attempted artist reinventions actually made things worse, effectively ending their careers faster than expected.  

The Types Of Reinvention

Artistic reinventions themselves vary. Thats why a performer can technically reinvent some aspect of their music even if their new work sounds like the songs theyve done before. That explains how some of the greatest musicians of all time have created the same type of music for as long as they did without losing their appeal.  

Artistic Reinvention

The type of reinvention you might immediately think of is a flat-out artistic reinvention - a departure from ones musical style for another. Think of the auto-tuned pop star who suddenly abandons their processed sound for an organic one by making an acoustic album. Or the rock band who swaps the heavy distortion and vocal filters for more a refined pop-rock soundscape. Or the rapper who suddenly shifts from their socio-political lyricism to more trap-oriented club hits. For example, Beyonce has experimented with numerous vocal and musical styles over the last five years, showcasing her versatility. The examples are endless. 

Image Reinvention

The reinvention thats most visible is a change in an artists physical appearance. Think about the pop star who switches up their hairstyle or makeup style with every new album release. Or the artist who after a long absence comes back with a new sense of fashion or even a change in their physique. These transformations often coincide with a change in the artists sound, especially in the pop sphere where freshness can make or break a career. For example, not only did Bruno Mars incorporate a mix of sounds on his mega-successful album, 24K Magic, but he also tweaked his look with the shades, gold jewelry and baseball caps in his videos and performances. 

Commercial Reinvention

Theres also commercial reinvention - a category that may be less understood. This one isnt so much about art or craft, but more focused on the business of putting music out or the business opportunities that come with being a musician. In these cases, the artist might reinvent the way they release their music or the format of their music (very common in recent years due to streaming). And then you have some of the greatest musicians of all time who have become successful entrepreneurs such as Jay-Z. An artist can reinvent themselves by venturing into other avenues such as business, film, fashion or philanthropy, giving their brand a whole new life.  

The Greatest Musicians Of All Time Embrace the Art Of Reinvention

Life as a musician may seem cozy and luxurious from the outside. But like a white collar professional whose career will stall if they dont try to climb the ladder, a musician who stays in the same lane may quickly become irrelevant. Thats why reinvention is a necessary task that every artist will have to take up as their career progresses. The willingness to push into new territory is what keeps the greatest musicians of all time from getting stuck in their old ways.

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