The dead zone of slick


There was a terrific duo playing live music at the farmer’s market the other day. They were well-rehearsed, enthusiastic and really good. Being a patron of the arts, I bought a CD.

I hated it.

I’ve thought a lot about what turned me off, and I think it’s the curve above.

Faced with the excitement of making a CD and all the knobs and dials, they overproduced the record. They went from being two real guys playing authentic music, live and for free, and became a multi-tracked quartet in search of a professional sound. And they ended up in the dead zone. Not enough gloss to be slick, too much to be real.

This happens at restaurants all the time. Give me a handmade huarache and it’s fine if it’s on a paper plate. Or give me something from Thomas Keller. But I have no patience for the stuff in the dead zone, the items that are too slick to be real, but not slick enough to be a marvel. Who, exactly, wants an industrial tuna sandwich wrapped in plastic wrap?

You can send me a hand-written note (but don’t write it in crayon with words spelled wrong) and I’ll read it. And you can send me a beautifully typeset Fedex package. But if you send me mass-produced junk with a dot matrix printer, out it goes. The dead zone again.

That’s why really well done HTML email works, as does unique, hand-typed text email. It’s the banal stuff in the middle that people don’t read. And yet, 95% of what I see is precisely in the dead spot of the middle zone.

The Blair Witch Project and Pi both felt authentic. The Matrix was perfectly slick. The new Star Wars cartoon is just dumb.

That’s why a personalized letter works better than a generic resume. We crave handmade authenticity and we adore perfectly professional slickness.