Recently, I wrote about how musicians need both good music and marketing
to be successful. That was in response to Bob Lefsetz' recent complaints that too many musicians with neat business models these days seem too focused on the marketing side, rather than promoting the music. But I think it's unfair to play down the importance of the marketing side. While not specifically jumping into that discussion, Hypebot's Bruce Houghton is making a very similar point by debunking the myth that there was some era when musicians could just focus on being musicians
I'm sorry if this comes as a surprise, but it has never been enough to just make great music. Every generation of musicians has had to face their own challenges which forced them to go beyond creation and recording.
Frank Sinatra made movies to reach a bigger fan base. Elvis's hips and haircut were as much a part of his success as his recordings were. David Bowie learned that image and imagery could propel him to greater heights. After Saturday Night Fever, dance steps helped propel many live shows and for a time MTV made being visual an important component of success.
Whether it's getting in a van and giving an endless string of memorable performances or sitting on the phone for hours talking to journalists, there have always been skills beyond just making music that, if not required, certainly made success more likely