We have a phrase for widely talented people: "Renaissance men." They can do many things well. But life requires us to specialize in anything we want to do spectacularly. To leave a mark, a person must choose. He must decide what he does best. Then he must decide what he can do profitably. These are rarely the same. I call the first the calling. The second is the job.
If you have a talent for something, you want to develop it. You should develop it. But if you have five talents, all special, then what? Which talent should you concentrate on?
Barbara Mandrell was close behind him: a versatile musician who became a star. Ricky Skaggs did it. But it's rare.
Consider Amber Leigh. She is young. She plays the mandolin -- a bluegrass instrument. She plays the guitar, which lets her do most anything in pop music. She plays the fiddle extremely well. ("A violin is a fiddle that went to college." -- Roy Clark.) She sings.
She is trying to make the big time in country music. To be a female country music sensation, it helps to be beautiful. She is cute. Her demeanor is cute. Cute doesn't make $1 million a year, net.
To be a major star, your voice must have that special something that listeners instantly recognize and commit to. It can't be defined. It just is. Dolly Parton has it. Linda Ronstadt has it. Emmylou Harris has it. Alison Krauss has it. A hundred or 500 wanna-be's don't have it. They are unlikely to get it.
Amber Leigh does not have it. It is the voice of a teenager. She is not a teenager. Unless it changes as she ages, it will not help her career.
What she has above all is the ability to play Celtic instrumentals. There are dozens of men on the Celtic music circuit who have this skill. There are not many women who do. None is a headliner. She is young. She could surpass all of them.
Her father plays back-up guitar. He is very good. Together, they are one of the best guitar-fiddle teams I have ever seen or heard. There are not a lot of these teams, and there is not a wide market of fans. The Celtic music festival circuit is loyal, but making a living playing these festivals is hard. It's a "sell your CDs at the back of the tent" career.
Her problem is this: she is good enough to have a following in south Florida. She can afford a band. The band is pretty good. But the Celtic circuit has few bands backing a lead singer, as distinguished from a band that splits the money. The money is not good enough to let people hire a band. Every Celtic band wants to replace the Chieftains, who go on, decade after decade.
So, she tries to be all things to many people. She sings country. But she is indistinguishable from a hundred others. She does bluegrass. But she is not Alison Krauss.
How can she carve out a niche that will let her be among the stars in the heavens? Only by being off to the side of the heavens. She should not try to be the Big Dipper. She should let Taylor Swift hold that position for now.
If I were her career adviser, I would tell her to do videos of her and her father doing Celtic jigs and reels. These would be cheap to produce. They would gain a small, loyal audience.
She should go on the Celtic circuit. She plays 250 shows a year: a heavy toll. She is not building a loyal audience of fans who are committed to her music. She has fans who like her personally, but her YouTube videos are mostly in the 2,000 to 4,000 hits range. She is not a phenomenon.
Is she as good as Brian McNeill or John Taylor or Alasdair Fraser? Not yet. But they are older guys who have been polishing their skills for decades. Among women, there are no standouts who have reputations as the center of the fans' attention. They are back-up performers. With her father backing her up, she could be a star. She could make an impact. But she would never get rich.
That is her dilemma. She can do so many things well, but she has not yet identified where she can be great.
I have seen her play in an Irish pub setting. When she does a Celtic fiddle number, she commands the audience. She is simply spectacular. Spectacular is not all that common. Her father lends support, so that the overall impression is overpowering.
She can keep playing other kinds of music. She might break through. But her heart and 80% of her practice time should be in Celtic instrumentals. She should imitate John Taylor, who can play hundreds of tunes, solo, without a break. She should aim at becoming America's queen of the Celtic fiddle. The position is open.
If she goes onto the Celtic circuit, she should bring with her mastery of the music the demeanor of someone who keeps the flame. Dignity, graciousness, and respect for the music should mark her performances. My advice: "When you really are the best, the crowd should join you. You don't need to persuade the crowd that you are one of them. You aren't." Interaction with the audience is fine, but it should be about the music.
The lure of the big time is very great. The odds against breaking into the big time are enormous.
Better to leave a legacy in a niche where the fans can appreciate talent and commit to those few performers who stand out. Not many ever stand out in any niche. But when they do, they have an impact.
This is good advice for anyone with talent. Few people can ever pick and choose which talent to select. They do not have multiple talents.
Here she is on Celtic fiddle. The video was shot with a camcorder, but even so, it conveys her skills.
This video needed a producer and three cameras.
She can sing and play. I think she should just play.
As a country performer, she has flash. With enough money for a band, a competent performer can rent flash. But vocal talent is crucial. I don't think she can get to the front of the pack.
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