Living with your frustum
David Bowie left behind an estate worth about $100 million.
And there were perhaps five hundred musicians of his generation who were at least as successful. From Brown to Dylan to Buffet to Ross, there were thirty years of big hit makers.
That's the top of the pyramid. Lots of people tried to make it in the music business, and there were many thousands at the top, hitting a jackpot.
In geometry, a pyramid without a top is called a frustum. Just a base, no jackpot.
The music industry is now a classic example…
The bottom is wider than ever, because you don't need a recording studio to make a record. And you don't need a record store to sell one. More musicians making more music than ever before.
And the top is narrower than ever. Fewer hitmakers creating fewer long-term careers. Radio is less important, shelf space is less important, and so the demand for the next big hit from the next reliable hitmaker is diminished. Without Scott Borchetta or someone similar leading you to the few sinecures left, it's almost certain that you'll be without a jackpot.
A similar thing happened to the book business, of course. The big bookstores needed a Stephen King, a Jackie Collins and a Joyce Carol Oates, because they benefitted from having something both reliable and new to put on the shelf. Printing a lot of copies and using a lot of shelf space is a gamble, best to bet on the previous winners. The ebook world doesn't care as much.
The long tail, easy entry, wide distribution model does this to many industries. It's easier than ever to be a real estate broker or to run a tiny dog shelter–easier, but harder to get through the Dip.
While the winner-take-all natural monopolies get the headlines and the IPOs, it's not surprising that many industries are frustrating frustums.
The frustration, though, doesn't come from the lack of a top to the pyramid. It comes from acting as if the peak is the point of the entire exercise. For more on this, check out Derek Siver's honest and generous book.
The good news is that it's entirely possibly you don't need the peak of the pyramid. The leverage that comes from digital tools means that it's entirely possible to do just fine (and have a powerful, positive life) without being David Bowie. Once you know that this is it, perhaps this might be enough.
Enough to make a difference and enough to make a life.
The way music used to be. And is again.