What Led Zeppelin Can Teach Us About Art

Editor’s note: Frank Viola is the author of five best-selling books and one of the co-creators of the Buzz Seminar. You can get his new co-authored book, BUZZ, free on Noisetrade

Led Zeppelin was arguably the most influential rock band in history.

Ending in 1980 with the death of their drummer, their music is timeless. Their songs are regularly featured on the soundtracks of contemporary motion pictures and commercials.

What Led Zeppelin Can Teach Every Writer
Photo Credit: andre.theus via Compfight cc

Whether you are a Zep fan or not, the band was unique in countless respects. In this regard, there are three things every writer, blogger, and artist can learn from them.

Do what’s never been done before, even if it contradicts the advice of experts

Jimmy Page, the mastermind of the band, decided to release an album that had no title. In fact, it didn’t even have the name of the band on the cover!

Their record company retorted that this move was insane and constituted professional suicide. But Zep’s manager stood with the band and Page was sharp enough to acquire all artistic rights to do as the band pleased.

That untitled, unnamed album sold over 30 million copies, and today, it stands as one of the most sold albums in history. Songs from that very album are regularly featured in commercials and Hollywood movies today, some 40 years later.

So take risks. If you have a vision to do something different, go for it. And don’t let the conventional wisdom stop you.

Every time I’ve created a “never before” blog post or podcast, I’ve never regretted it. Even if it didn’t end up going viral.

Never, ever “dis” your competitors

If you look at the publishing industry carefully, it’s not unusual to find authors dissing other authors. Jealousy is often the root behind this “low road” behavior, so those at the top get shot at the most.

Just a few years into their career, Zeppelin eclipsed the renowned Beatles in popularity, both in the UK and the USA. When Zep was asked what they thought about The Beatles, Zep’s lead guitarist Jimmy Page commended the Beatles and their work publicly and powerfully.

The opposite example is illustrated by Elvis, who according to Beatle drummer Ringo Starr, was so threatened by The Beatles that Elvis tried to get them deported!

So always speak well of your competitors when asked. Even if they dis you out of jealousy. Taking the high road builds trust and admiration, and it serves as a powerful example for others.

(This is why I always say nice things about Jeff Goins.) 😉

Stay true to your convictions rather than selling out to pop culture

While authors should always write for their audiences rather than for themselves, that doesn’t mean they should “sell out” to what’s popular. 

Here again Led Zeppelin can teach us about staying true to our convictions. Zep refused to do what every other artist and band did (and still does) at the time: They refused to release singles!

(This was true in the UK, and they only did it a few times in the US.)

Zeppelin wanted people to listen to their albums, because to their minds, an album represents a complete body of work. They wanted people to consume their entire projects rather than small fragments of them. And they were rewarded for their decision.

Zep albums rank among the most sold in history compared to most bands of the same genre and beyond. Zeppelin, in effect, forced consumers to check out their whole work or dismiss it entirely.

In all of these ways, writers, bloggers, authors — and other artists — can learn a few things from a 1970s rock-and-roll band that left its mark on the music world.

What is one change you can make in your writing using the ways of Led Zeppelin? Share in the comments.

Frank Viola is the author of God’s Favorite Place on Earth. You can visit Frank on his blog or connect with him on Twitter.

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50 thoughts on “What Led Zeppelin Can Teach Us About Art

  1. This one:

    Never, ever “dis” your competitors

    Is so important. Especially in a world where bloggers, podcasters, etc. can work more as collaborators and teammates and supporters than competitors.

    I but my teeth in sales years ago and I learned that when someone asks “how do you compare to company A,” what they are saying is, “I buy or bought from company A, if you say something bad about them, you are questioning my judgment.” So I never said anything bad about them. And it worked incredible well.

  2. “Do what’s never been done before”.I always try to do this and will continue to do. Thanks for the post, Jeff.

  3. I wrote a post just a few days after the super typhoon Haiyan hit my country last November. It was the strongest typhoon to make landfall in the history and the devastation was just unimagineable.
    But I hesitated…to share it in my own blog because of fear. That post was just raw and has too much emotion in it, and I also made some strong points.
    Now after reading this, I decided to share it in my blog. Thank you for the inspiration and courage to take risk for something that you believe in.

  4. I just g00gled “how many songs did Led Zeppelin cover?” There are conspiracy theorists on Stairway to Heaven, but, let’s say the number of their best songs that were covered without credit given is pretty high. Yet, they are never hammered for this -and that is okay by me since I love their music and the covers are so unique.
    The point is – they took existing stuff and made it highly unique. I question if there are any truly new business or spiritual messages – yet, some great authors such as Gladwell, Godin, Maxwell, Lucado, etc. have huge followings giving their personal spin on ideas, topics or issues which have been given before.

    1. No doubt, in the early days, Zep borrowed some blues tunes and “Zeppefied” them. But when you play both songs together, the differences are remarkable. Regarding “Stairway,” the only thing that is similar about Stairway to Heaven is the very and I believe the song by Spirit is the opening lick, but even that’s different. I’d say Page was probably inspired by the lick, but he and Plant created an entire different creature, one that was far better. That said, you’re right. Every artist has been inspired by others who have gone before. And you can see the fingerprints of whoever influenced them (often its multiple people) on their work. I tried to limit this article to 3 points, but a 4th could be that Zep took what existed and blended it together to create something new. Their music is a dynamic and unique combination of folk, R&B, rock, and southern blues. The “elements” we all use are the same, but our “solutions” will be different. And some of those combinations turn out to be electric. 😉

      1. I don’t know much about Stairway but certainly the first two Led Zeppelin albums were heavily influenced by Muddy Waters and other blues legends (whom they credit). As Frank mentioned, though, when you go back and listen to those old tunes, you can hear the influence but the contrast is significant.

        That’s like saying Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a rip-off of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” Kurt Cobain admits the opening riff inspired his breakout song, but the key is different, the intervals are different, and even the strum patterns (though similar with muffled strums in between chord changes) are different.

        But I, like you Kent, subscribe to the concept that there is nothing new under the sun and all great creativity comes from some amount of curation. Some authors don’t like to read other books while they’re working on their own; I think that’s silly. I read voraciously when I’m writing, because I want to intentionally influence my writing, not just let previous things I’ve read passively influence the material.

  5. For me the best lesson here is to stay true to yourself and write what matters to you. If I am not passionate about my topic I cannot expect a read to even glance at much less respond to something I have written.
    I am planning to attach a pen to the end of a violin bow and try writing that way for a while – just to see if it works for me the way it did for Page.

  6. Jeff…another musician who is bucking the trend completely is Joe Bonamassa. He is doing it his way. Youtube has his documentary. Bonamassa’s biggest influence is Eric Clapton. Bonamassa played at Royal Albert. He doesn’t follow the crowd in any way at all!

    1. Never heard of him, Mike. Will have to check him out. Sounds Italian. 😉

      Barring Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, and Page were said to be the greatest guitarists who ever lived . . . and they all grew up near one another and played in the same band at different times (The Yardbirds). Interesting how great artists come in spurts.

      1. Frank…check him out. He actually played on stage at Albert with Clapton. He is a prodigy; and one heck of a guitar player.

  7. Great post. Love Led Zeppelin, in fact, last summer my husband and I saw the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra perform their works and it was spectacular. What I will take away is to experiment. I write romance and started out with a romantic comedy, but felt compelled to write a romantic suspense next. The conventional wisdom is to stick with one genre and build a series of books in that genre–no longer worrying about that. I will write what compels me and stick to stand-alone titles.

    1. Thx. Steph. I’d love to hear what things you’ve done that are against the advice of experts that have proved to be great decisions. I’m sure we can all learn as well.

  8. Great article Frank ! I clicked over and went to your blog and loved it ! I hope you’re having a great day.

  9. Great blog post with great advice. I was especially encouraged by your first point – to do something that’s never been done before. That’s how trends are made and how we rise above the crop and changes are made. I’m trying that by offering my readers a free e-zine with a short story in each issue. It seems to me, anyway, that promoting fiction is a little different than non-fiction, especially if we write about different subjects. Even though it takes a good deal of time to produce these stories, I hope my readers will find value in them and my divergence from the beaten path will pay off. Thanks again for your insight.

    1. This is a really cool idea, Ida! Offering free short fiction has immense value. I hope that it does in fact pay off for you in the end.

        1. I applaud you Ida for finding a way to connect through your fiction. I am setting up a newsletter to do the same thing. As a fiction writer myself, I struggled with how to approach my readers until I thought, hey, I’ve got all of these short stories, why not share them.One person suggested that I share a piece of my novel in a blog post every day. I thought whoa! I want people to read my work as a whole, rather than small fragments-the same as Zeppelin. This blog post solidified what I was already feeling in my gut…don’t send it out in bits and pieces as I’ve seen other writers do with their work.

          1. You’ve got a good point Piper about not sending your novel out in bits and pieces. When I get my novel published I will probably share the first few chapters before launch to generate interest but I’ll probably also share interesting things I learned while researching for the story and maybe interview some of my characters. Best of luck with your newsletter. 🙂

  10. Cool insights. As I’m soaking up information on how to blog successfully like a 10×10 foot sponge, I find myself coming up with ideas and immediately seeing the STOP sign in front of me. This is a great reminder that maybe those stop signs are worth listening to, but shouldn’t dictate our ambition to try something that goes against the grain.

    1. Often those stop signs are just our inner critic who we often, but not always, need to ignore. Writing is a game of falling down and getting back up and learning from our mistakes.

  11. One of my problem is jealousy that swirls inside me. It’s tough to see people(especially writers and bloggers) better than me every where.

    But one thing I find good is to stop thinking of yourself as lacking the skills present in those better than you. It’s actually fun to see people better than you because it shows that I have more space for growth. Honestly, I don’t want to be at the peak where growth seems hard to achieve. I rather be climbing forever and cherish the moments of growth as they come.

    Thanks for the post, Frank.

  12. Looking at what others have done artistically is a great way to learn what to do in your own endeavors. All the great artists (painters, musicians, actors, writers, entrepreneurs, etc..) were originals and stuck to what they believed was right. Led Zeppelin exemplified that. Thanks for you great post!

    1. Very true about a body of work! I wish to do a series of books and have my work seen as a whole rather than a
      one-time knock off.–Wendy Tarasoff

  13. Great post and great feedback. I am a new writer, and appreciate all information. I do tend to be brave enough to go my own way with my writing. I must confess though that sometimes late at night when my mind is in full speed ahead, I have doubts about my writing ability. I will keep going though. Thank you Frank and Jeff! I came from a corporate environment and could not agree more that you should never dis your competition. That is Great advice for everyone in every walk of life.

  14. I think I’ll publish a post with no title and no picture. As a personal touch, so as not to come across as a complete Zep knockoff, my post won’t have any content, either.

    By the way, not sure what exactly Elvis told Nixon about the Beatles during his visit at the Oval, but as far as in public, he’s on record saying he liked the Beatles, and he also recorded and performed some of their songs, which strikes me as the ultimate compliment.

    1. LoL. Cyber, that strategy only works if you make comments on other people’s blogs with no text and no avatar. 😉 Here’s the video where the Beatles talk about Elvis wanting to deport them out of jealousy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWSfqQcJ9tE – I don’t doubt that Presley did say positive things about the band, but it doesn’t appear that this was always the case. I don’t have a video of where Page commended the Beatles, but when asked, “What do you think of the Beatles,” Page replied: “I think they’re great. They’ve made some fantastic statements.” So I go on record saying that I think Jeff Goins is great. 😉

      1. Yeah, I know the clip. Ringo, the psychoanalyst. I think he’s referring to an episode in the White House where Elvis asked Nixon to appoint him a federal drug enforcement agent, to which end he allegedly told Nixon whatever he thought Nixon wanted to hear in order to give him the badge (which he did), including that he considered the Beatles subversive elements. To my knowledge, no transcript or recording exists of that meeting.

        Speaking of dissing other musicians, here’s a clip of Ted Nugent claiming to have gotten ripped by Paul McCartney (starts at around time 1:30). Would be interesting to find out if said diss, as recounted by Nugent, had actually occurred.

  15. My most read blog was titled “???” because I wanted my reader’s to help me name it. Nobody named it so it is still “???”.

  16. great post …staying true to one’s convictions is what we all need to do in every step of our life…

  17. I love the fact that they refused to release singles because they wanted people to appreciate the album as a whole. I guess it’s the same with poetry collections. They should also be appreciated as a whole and not just by the individual poems. 🙂

  18. The common theme among all 3 points is courageous integrity. I wouldn’t have thought of Leg Zeppelin as the best example of those traits, but I’m glad you did. It’s a powerful analogy.

  19. I love the “do what’s never been done before” tip. There are so many “wannabees” out there today.

  20. I love the “do what’s never been done before” tip. There are so many “wannabees” out there today

    LOL Just kidding Dan.

    Great post Frank, very inspiring. I very much bought into the idea of listening to an entire album primarily because of Zep. In fact, I was pretty much a snob about it for a long time. “Single” smelled a lot like “sellout” to me.

    Of course, now I’m in the sales business. Poetic irony. Then again…

    If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now…

  21. Really fantastic post, Frank. Thanks for giving us some great insight into old music! I wasn’t a huge fan of Zep until the documentary “It Might Get Loud,” which featured Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White.

  22. I love this post. Thanks Frank. Great way to tie in an amazing band with the writing process. I was born in the 80’s and I’m still learning new Zep songs to this day. It was a great band and I wish that I could have been there.
    Now when it comes to writing I know these guys came out with unusual rhythms and use of chords and melodies. I can see how thinking out of the box can help us with our writing and songwriting of today too. Thanks again!

  23. “Many dreams come true and some have silver linings
    I live for my dream and a pocketful of gold.” LZ

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