At the start of the rock and roll era, artists had a much shorter career window than they do today. Artists like The Beatles were only active for less than a decade and Elvis had short runs of success, armed service, movies and retirement. Only a handful of acts have managed to stay creative, and not become oldies acts working the circuit, and they're few and far between. Today's artists ( those of the MTV era on beyond ) have figured out ways to beat the system. While the average tween might not want to hear new music out of an '80s star, a smart Gen-X rock star can find ways to stay creative and even exceed their previous stardom.
Probably the biggest way is to take to the stage. Much like with movie and TV actors branching out onto Broadway, musicians have been just as prevalent. Recently "Barely Breathing" pop star/heartthrob Duncan Sheik debuted his second successful Broadway play, American Psycho, to glowing reviews and sold out houses, while in years previous he shocked the world by creating Spring Awakening, just as his pop career and Warner Brothers contract were dying out. Even as American Psycho was playing, Edie Brickell was launching Bright Star with Steve Martin, Sarah Bareilles was previewing Waitress, and Cyndi Lauper's Kinky Boots ( 2013 Best Musical ) was playing to big crowds down the street after three years. Elton John might be the one who kicked off this trend with Aida and The Lion King. Other successful originals followed: Edie Brickell's husband Paul Simon created with Capeman; David Byrne and Fatboy Slim gave us Here Lies Love; and, of course, Dolly Parton's 9 to 5! ( I'm not counting jukebox musicals, Gloria Estefan. )
For rappers, until the next Hamilton happens, there's always acting. Many like Common, Ice-T, Queen Latifah, Will Smith and LL Cool J are now better known for acting than for all their hits in the '80s and '90s. Popstars don't fair quite as well, but examples like Cher, Meat Loaf and Donnie and "Marky" Mark Wahlberg are the exceptions, along with fine character actors from the punk world like Lee Ving of Fear, Henry Rollins, Courtney Love and John Doe of X.
Let's not forget our literary options. It's a natural transition from writing music to writing books and essays. The Decembrists' Colin Meloy and alternative-era folk rocker John Wesley Harding ( aka Wesley Stace ) have each put out two critically acclaimed books in recent years, along with Nick Cavewho's also an actorwho also had success with 2009's The Death of Bunny Monroe.
Luckily, these artists transition well as they have no fear, lesser ego, and are wildly creative. Let's just keep this river running one way so we can lessen our chances of another John Travolta, Don Johnson or Johnny Depp album.