Thursday, July 24, 2008

For those who believe that bad Art exists

I've been back in the US for a couple weeks, and something I've been thinking about I wanted to get out here. Many of you know I'm a musician, and as an independent artist starting on my own I'm interested in the social implications of art. I've had some local recognition, wherever I play people like my music (no-one has told me lately that they dislike it, though when I was first starting to write and perform that wasn't the case), and I think over the years I've come to discern what makes a good song (music, content, etc), which is why I've become a bit of a producer of other people's music.
Being a producer and engineer for other people has required an understanding of the niceties of musical quality. Instruments have to be in tune, the mics have to be set up properly, and there has to be something of value in the song at hand. I use a certain set of criteria to judge that value - is the song musical, does it move people, is it emotive, do the words and the music add to each other rather than detracting...? I believe that music (and any Art, really) is intended for an audience, and if these elements don't exist within the song it will not be worthwhile to record it, because the song won't DO anything for anyone in a deeper way - it will just annoy them.
That being said, some songs do this better than others - and that's the real social implication of song. I want to write and record songs that last a long time precisely because each of the elements - the music, the lyrics, the instrumentation - fits together so perfectly that is strikes a chord of response within the listener as music is intended to. Which brings me to a final point about why quality is so relevant to any discussion about Art.
As an independent musician, I want people to listen to my music. If the music sucks, people won't listen. There's a lot of music out there that sucks, and it floods the market because people believe that "anyone can create, whether they have talent or not". Yeah, they can create - but it might not do much for their audience. I've discovered in trying to get my music out there that there are a lot of contests to help you get your music heard. Some of them have great prizes. I have begun to avoid contests, though, where your fans get to vote - I live in a small town, and despite a large email list I have discovered something scary: the hardest working musicians with the most fans don't always have the best music, but they often win the contest because the criteria for winning is based on how many people vote for them.
Which makes me wonder - does this mean that most people who listen to music don't have any discernment about the quality of the music they listen to? I don't think so. I'm sure if you talked to any music listener over a period of time you would find that they discard the crap and listen more often to certain musicians. However, in terms of winning a contest they would rather help someone they know than a better musician who they don't know - it becomes more a relational territory war than about the quality of the music. Those with the largest social networks win.
So when we talk about the 'democratization of the arts' we are talking about letting down the drawbridge for everyone to come in and vote, removing all criteria and ignoring social ties to the artists. Not a very fair representation of quality, I'd say. What would be really interesting is to find a group of people (say 1,000) who have no ties to any of the artists, who have a large variety of music they like and listen to, and who would vote simply on what they like in the new artists they are exposed to. That would be a worthy group of judges to submit music to.
But at the end of the day, I realize that I just have to create music, and as long as the people I live with enjoy it, that's all I really need. It would be nice to gain larger recognition, but that's just a question of time. Because time filters out the crap, and only worthwhile songs remain.

No comments: