Blog: The Tantalus Myth

Mark de Jong

During the first half of this year we played host to the X Factor finalists in our offices every week on their way to record tracks upstairs at Parachute Studios.  It was pretty cool meeting a new batch of hopefuls and thinking that one or more of them could be the new Benny Tipene with a long career in the music industry in front of them. The excitement and energy was palpable.  The world was full of possibilities, the future was limitless.  The other emotion I sensed, just below the surface was fear.  The contestants were aware that for every winner from a show like this there are hundreds who will have their dreams shattered.  The finalists knew that they had to suppress that fear or they wouldn’t have had a chance of winning, but you can see it was still there.

The TV Music Show phenomenon is so fascinating because of the way it condenses the build up to ‘fame and success’ is condensed into 6 months.  It’s like a sped- up view kind of what can happen to an artist over the course of a normal music career.  Practicing, struggling, hustling, possibly some success, more struggling and hustling, possibly some more success...and on it goes.

One of the most brutal things about being in the music industry is that no matter what height an ambitious artist achieves, that new level will become their benchmark and any future achievements will be measured against that.  Effectively, the higher an artist goes the further they are likely to fall.  Kind of depressing when you think of it like that.

There’s a great quote by Henry George:  Man is the only animal whose desires increase as they are fed; the only animal that is never satisfied.

It’s like the Greek story of Tantalus, a mythological figure was punished for his greed, made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches - the water eternally receding before he could take a drink, and the fruit ever eluding his grasp.

This is a great picture of how fame and fortune can be a futile pursuit - it’ll never be enough. No artist will ever reach a point where they decide that they are rich, famous or influential enough. They end up living the life of Tantalus.

What’s my point?  Am I saying that you shouldn’t aim for a career in the music industry because even success will lead to failure?

No, I’m suggesting that artists should pursue something deeper than that, something richer. They should aspire to make art that makes people’s lives richer. significant stuff.

My advice is - forget fame, forget fortune, they may be the by-products of a successful career in music, but if they are your aim, the future really ain’t that bright no matter how successful you become.

It all comes down to motivation.  If an artist’s motivation is to create great art, to express their struggles and motivations through music, to make the world a more caring and compassionate place, to transport their listeners to a higher plane, then success will be measured very differently and failure doesn’t have to be a reality.  To me, that is the X Factor we should all be striving for.