Last Wednesday I heard Richard O’Brien recalling the origins of The Rocky Horror Show on the BBC World Service programme Witness. In 1973, in his spare time, O’Brien wrote a fun musical of the kind he wanted to see. It opened for a 3 week run in the 62-seat experimental space at The Royal Court, with a budget of £2,000. It ran in London at progressively larger venues for the next 7 years, opened in Los Angeles in 1974 and on Broadway in 1975. 40 years later it still tours the UK.
That reminded me of Chris Donald who started Viz comic from his bedroom in 1979 and ended up selling over a million copies per issue a decade later. The magazine still runs today although Chris himself left some time ago.
Then there’s Oliver Postgate. He thought he could do better than the children’s programmes he stage managed for ITV in 1957. After two in-house animations he set up Smallfilms in 1959 with artist Peter Firmin and produced a string of legendary stop-motion series from Ivor The Engine and Noggin The Nogg to Clangers and Bagpuss.
I could mention many more examples like this—creative people who made something they wanted to make without an eye on the charts or the ratings, and had great success in their respective businesses. In 1973 nobody would have put The Rocky Horror show on Broadway. Viz was banned from the high street shelves of WHSmith but succeeded anyway. These kinds of projects not only defy convention they re-invent what is expected and spawn numerous imitators.
Obviously, there are still careers to be made following the herd. The Ralph Murphy talk I posted on Thursday is proof of that, and 99% of the mainstream seems to be inspired by a previous mainstream product. But if you’re reading social media and music business advice, wondering whether there’s room for new, different, untested ideas the answer is definitely yes. If you try 100 insane projects and just one of them turns out to be The Rocky Horror Show people will be coming to you for advice.
I don’t know if you’re more likely to have success with a new creative idea than with a retread of something that’s already happened but it must be more fun.