A blog by Damon Stapleton, chief creative officer, The Monkeys New Zealand.
“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” – Warren Buffet
Let’s do a little thought experiment.
I want you to imagine it’s somewhere around 1926. You are standing in Claude Monet’s studio in Giverny. It is a beautiful room. Full of colour and the sun. The old master will pass away that year. He gets his assistants to bring out a giant painting of water lilies he has painted. They float beautifully in the pond of his magnificent garden. He then gets the assistants to bring out the other 249 paintings he has painted of the same pond. He had painted this one little patch of water for 3 decades. Day and night. Summer and winter. Year after year. You are standing in front of his life’s work. I am sure it would be an experience beyond words. The last one sold in 2018 for almost 85 million dollars.
The interesting question is why? Why does something that has been painted 250 times have that much value? Compared to many other masterpieces it is not that rare. If I got one of his paintings and used A.I to create 250 options that you couldn’t tell from the originals, would you pay 85 million dollars for one? Now, I know you are going to say no. And neither would I. I am sure you would say because it’s not real. But, if we think about that answer for a second, it does bring up some interesting questions. In a brave new world, what is real? What will make something valuable?
If value is not only about rarity then, perhaps it is about something else. The experience you have? This becomes an important question. Because, when you can make 1 million Monet’s per day they are no longer valuable. They just become information again. There is no narrative, no context or any meaning. And there is no experience. A Monet and a business card become the same thing.
We have seen this for a while with music. In the past, the album was everything. In the beginning, you would wait in line with your community, devour the cliff notes and try to decode and obsess over the cover artwork. These were the lovely extra bits that didn’t let you just own a song, they ensured the song fucking belonged to you. This was how you experienced music. Then music went online and albums kind of fell by the wayside. You could now stream a billion songs to billions of people. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But, the specialness seemed to go backstage.Your song was on a list with other songs and bands that are sort of similar. You were part of a bigger package. The list had become more important than the song. The information had lost its specialness. I am sure there were many sweaty, unhappy band meetings about standing out. The simple solution was to do the one thing that cannot be replicated. Live performances. So, just to be clear, the bands that could, took what was becoming un-special information and turned it into an experience again. And hey presto, value appears.
Which brings me neatly to Taylor Swift. Now, there is a sentence I never thought I would write. Her latest tour has made a billion dollars. Each show brings in 13 million dollars. There are 131 shows. But the touring is not the secret. The secret is how she has brought the specialness back for her fans. And she has done it by going back to the beginning of music but with modern tools. She creates albums. Her fans truly belong to a community and have stories to tell. They get secret information and special access. These are all ingredients that have been around since The Beatles. But, Taylor Swift also has 273 million fans on Instagram that build this story with her. She understands that nothing is going to help you more than amplifying those ingredients to create a human experience. It would seem having a song or touring is just permission to play. These days you need to do a lot more.
Don’t just take my word for it. Have a read of this paragraph by Alex Suskind for Entertainment Weekly:
Over the past 13 years, Swift has perfected the pop culture feedback loop: She shares updates about her life and drops hints about new music, which fans then gobble up and re-promote with their own theories, which Swift then re-shares on her Tumblr or incorporates into future clues. It’s like a T-Swift-built Escher staircase of personal memories and moments that tease what’s next. “I’ve trained them to be that way,” she says of her fans’ astute detective work. Swift is a pop culture fanatic herself and has an innate understanding of the lengths her audience will go to be a part of the original creation. “I love that they like the cryptic hint-dropping. Because as long as they like it, I’ll keep doing it. It’s fun. It feels mischievous and playful.”Through this approach, Swift has designed the ultimate artistic scavenger hunt — and it’s easy to get swept up in its drama, even if you don’t listen to her music.
Warren Buffet’s quote will become even more important in the creative world over the next couple of years. Right now, we are so excited that we can generate lots of stuff, we might be forgetting something important. The human being who has to look at it. And human beings are driven by how things make them feel. As illogical as it may seem, meaning will always be why something is valuable. Because, that’s how a song or a painting belongs to you.
That is what creates a human experience. It feels unique. It feels like it can’t be replicated. It feels like it is yours alone. From a brilliant football match that could have gone either way to a perfect meal with friends at a restaurant that blew your mind, this is what makes life worth living. That’s what makes it special. And, in a world where we can make a lot of stuff very quickly, this feeling, will become increasingly valuable.
Otherwise, it is just information.
And you can get that pretty much anywhere these days.