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Leader: Tempting Fate

Sam Inglis By Sam Inglis
Published November 2023

There’s something inspiring about stories of unexpected success. Back in the day, an influential DJ might take a fancy to some obscure B‑side, and a three‑year‑old flop would become a hit single. Today, an impromptu TikTok video can spark a craze for shanty singing. Or, closer to home, a niche microphone familiar only to broadcasters and studio engineers suddenly becomes the must‑have choice of podcasters, live streamers and gamers.

What makes these stories so compelling? For one thing, they hold open the idea that there’s hope for all of us. No matter how unfashionable our genre, or how small our audience, maybe — just maybe — fate will find a path to stardom. But even for those of us who don’t harbour the ambition to be a star, there’s something peculiarly satisfying about this kind of off‑piste success.

So often, in the music industry and beyond, it feels as though the world works to a script. Artists are manufactured by executives whose spreadsheets tell them that a precisely calibrated blend of Ed Sheeran, Nina Simone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers is what today’s listeners will find irresistible. Products are cooked up by marketing departments who insist that they need something that’s yellow, six inches long and can be manufactured at 99p a pop.

When raw talent breaks through from nowhere, or an unglamorous, engineering‑led product becomes a hit, it provides a welcome corrective to that cynical world‑view. In this connected world, we’re all painfully aware of how little influence we have over the course of events. It’s good to be reminded that whatever shadowy corporate powers might be out there don’t have it all their own way, either.

By ensuring the quality is there, we can at least open up the possibility of success.

Most importantly, though, I think these stories demonstrate the importance of always trying to do our best. As songwriters, we shouldn’t settle for boring lyrics or predictable chord sequences just because we’re not writing for Adele. As producers and engineers, we should aim to make every artist sound as good as they can sound, even if they’re currently unknown, or if we ourselves can’t see the potential in them.

When Shure’s engineers created the SM7, they weren’t aiming for ‘good enough’. They meant to create the best mic they could with the resources at hand. And, 50 years later, their decisions paid off in ways they couldn’t possibly have predicted.

Quality doesn’t always win out over the innumerable other factors that shape our careers or those of the products we use. But by ensuring the quality is there, we can at least open up the possibility of success.

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief