... the psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years. (The sole exceptions: Shostakovich and Paganini, who took nine years, and Erik Satie, who took eight.)
Writing great classical music is extremely hard.
Indeed, counting up years or hours of work needed for historical influence might be a reasonable way to rank art forms against each other: average years required to achieve a place in the history books. (Charles Murray's 2003 book Human Accomplishment shows that encyclopedias can be used to come up with reasonable lists of influential artists and works of art for purposes of quantitative analysis.)
One methodological tweak would be to not focus on time to an artist's greatest work but look instead for his first work to achieve some consensus level of greatness. This somewhat reduces the amount of subjective judgment required. For example, what was Beethoven's greatest work -- the 3rd Symphony? 5th? 6th? 7th? 9th? Or the late quartets? A fun question to debate, but clearly the 3rd (The Eroica), whether or not it's Beethoven's greatest, makes any kind of grade for greatness.
Moreover, years of effort required to achieve the immense breakthrough of the 3rd Symphony (which premiered when Beethoven was 34) is a more relevant statistic. If Beethoven had died right after the 3rd, that shouldn't change the answer to how long it took him to achieve a 3rd Symphony-level of greatness in classical composition.
Perhaps the greatest child prodigy composer was not Mozart but Mendelssohn, who wrote enduring works at 16 and 17 (Overture to A Midsummer's Night Dream). He had enjoyed the finest cultural education imaginable. That Mendelssohn lived long enough to top that is impressive, but not really relevant to thinking about the applicability of the 10,000 hour rule.
At the opposite end from composing classical music in terms of hours required might be composing punk rock. Consider the Ramones, who remain ridiculously influential all these decades later:
The Ramones were an American rock band that formed in the New York City neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, in 1974. They are often cited as the first punk rock group. Despite achieving only limited commercial success, the band was a major influence on the punk rock movement in both the United States and, perhaps to a greater extent, in the United Kingdom. ...
Their only record with enough U.S. sales to be certified gold was the compilation album Ramones Mania. However, recognition of the band's importance built over the years, and they are now mentioned in many assessments of all-time great rock music, such as the Rolling Stone list of the 50 Greatest Artists of All Time and VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. In 2002, the Ramones were ranked the second-greatest band of all time by Spin magazine, trailing only The Beatles. On March 18, 2002, the Ramones—including the three founders and drummers Tommy and Marky Ramone—were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2011, the group was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Drummer Tommy Ramone had been in bands before, so maybe he got his 10,000 hours there? Or did it just not take all that much effort to change the course of popular music history?
Guitarist Johnny Ramone came up with a sort of ideological explanation for the Ramones' linear, utterly unfunky style: the blues had dominated electric guitar music for so long that it was getting boring, so it was time for white people to come up with their own form of rock stripped of black influence.
Strikingly, Johnny's ideology of stylistic racial separatism proved hugely influential and remains relatively dominant even today. It fit in well with black grievances over whites "stealing" their stylistic innovations.
It was a pretty good idea in the 1970s, but here we are in 2013 and people are still wearing Ramones t-shirts.
While pop (made for girls and gays) continues to be a mixture of black and white elements, serious (i.e., masculine) popular music tends to follow the white rock v. black rap divide that had become evident by the end of the 1970s. This enduring racial division probably accounts in sizable part for the slowing of American popular music innovation over the last few decades in contrast to the astonishing creativity unleashed by black-white interaction in the first three quarters of the 20th Century.
The Ramones' most historically influential song, the one you hear in all the TV commercials in recent years, was their first single:
"Blitzkrieg Bop" is a song by the American punk rock band Ramones. It was released as the band's debut single in April 1976 in the United States. It appeared as the opening track on the band's debut album, Ramones, also released that month.
The song, whose composition was credited to the band as a whole, was written by drummer Tommy Ramone (music and lyrics) and bassist Dee Dee Ramone (lyrics). Based on a simple three-chord pattern, "Blitzkrieg Bop" opens with the chant "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" ...
"Blitzkrieg Bop" is number 92 on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In March 2005, Q magazine placed it at number 31 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks, and in 2008 Rolling Stone placed it number 18 on top 100 of Best Guitar Songs of All Time. In 2009 it was named the 25th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1.
Now, the interesting thing about the dominance of Blitzkrieg Bop today is that it doesn't stem from memories of a 1976 fad for the song. Practically nobody heard it in 1976. It slowly emerged later from a bunch of Ramones songs that are all quite similar.
A related but different question is the source of audiences' long-term bias toward the early stuff, such as Blitzkrieg Bop.
From Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing (1982):
Debbie: [...] How’s old Elvis?
Henry: He’s dead.
Debbie: I did know that. I mean how’s he holding up apart from that?
Henry: I never went for him much. ‘All Shook Up’ was the last good one. However, I suppose that’s the fate of all us artists.
Henry: People saying they preferred the early stuff.
I probably would argue that the Ramones' greatest song is Teenage Lobotomy from their third album. That appeared to be the opinion as well of Dee Dee Ramone, who named his memoir, Lobotomy, after his composition. (Dee Dee didn't offer too much insight into how he came up with so many of the Ramones songs: it was just kind of a knack, he explained.)
But, Blitzkrieg Bop might be the Ramonesiest Ramones song ever, so history has been kindest their first song, even though practically nobody heard Blitzkrieg Bop when it first came out.
I think this is an important point that's easy to overlook: much of historical influence comes from the impact of the artist's unique personality, once he's achieved some level of competence to allow his novel approach to be appreciated.
Similarly, Stoppard fans increasingly tend to view Arcadia from 1993 as his masterpiece, but his first play to be staged, 1966's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, remains his most famous. That's not unreasonably, because it's awfully Stoppardish. If you keep hearing about this Stoppard fellow and want to find out what his plays are like, Rosencrantz is a good place to start. It's classic Early Stuff: somebody comes a long with a new angle on things and this is the first time he gets it together well enough for the public to notice. After that, he has to react against what he's already done.