After 57 years of Active Progress alongside Rock, Pop, Jazz, Blues and Hip-Hop while witnessing the brutal demise of Disco, Grunge, R&B and various forms of New Wave; and even with a 10 year gap from the label’s last major release (Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship – India.Arie /2006), Motown may not be the Musical Institutional it once was, but it certainly remains a stellar, marketable genre most often spoken of in a category all its own.
Having digested Berry’s Official Autobiography, “To Be Loved“ numerous times, as well as the countless other books and documentaries on The Man, The Music and The Incredible Artists, there are at least Six Invaluable Lessons EntreMusicians can Learn and Build Upon.
1) Excellent Songs. Berry, Smokey, Members of “The Corporation” and subsequent Composer/Producers placed The Song as their Number One Priority. Nothing Else Mattered. Before they Considered 10 Weeks at #1 on the Pop Charts, the Song’s Lyrics, Rhythm & Raw Emotion had to be TIMELESS…which is why “Ooh, Baby Baby“ will still Break Any Woman Down to This Day!
2) Flexibility. The Next Step in Targeting Timeless Material is the Ability to Flex it to Any Artist who Flips it as a Hit Again & Again. Because Motown Boasted a Roster of Excellent Artistry, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Marvin Gaye all reaped gold from Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield’s powerhouse “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Not to mention everyone else from Creedance to Roger Troutman!)
3) Intense Training.Motown developed their Artists through rigorous physical & psychological training, to the Chagrin of Some and the Delight of Others. It Was School! Those who survived the process are Icons (deceased or alive). Each were Groomed, Choreographed & Positioned for Superstardom. This Acute Attention to Detail is what propelled Diana Ross & The Supremes from the Commodes of the Chitlin’ Circuit to Swanky, Glistening Upscale Showrooms.
4) The Importance of Systems. As above, The Motown Sound was a Calculated System, often utilizing the Same Musicians, Arrangers & Producers. While Other Studios and Labels of the era also employed the same model, Motown’s Approach & Techniques were culled from Gordy’s experiences at The Ford Motor Company where every worker did his/her job the same exact way, each and every time, growing more efficient & effective with each new release, thus earning Motown the well deserved moniker, “The Hit Factory.”
5) Interdepartmental Competition. Often, the Motivation that kept Motown pumping on all cylinders was not in besting outside rivals, but the internal battles that all the songwriters welcomed and championed. Let Stevie go up against The Temptations, or Edwin Starr‘s new tune arm wrestle The Marvelettes groove. They threw all the records on the table and Only the Best Song hit The Street. This kept ALL of the Artists sharp, engaged and at their best.
6) Ownership. As the Unfolding History on this National Treasure revealed, as long as ownership remained in the hands of the Original Visionary, Motown could do no wrong. But once outside investors began to chip away at the corporate shares, the Magic weakened and once the company sold, even ace architect, Smokey Robinson left the label. However, Gordy’s genius in Maintaining Majority Ownership and Control of the Publishing is exactly what Solidifies Motown’s Position as it’s Own Musical Identity, Now & Forever.
Let’s Go and Do Likewise!