Career

Best or worst time to be an artist?

You know how sometimes you don’t realize what you believe until you have to explain it to someone? Well that happened while I was writing this blog.

I was asked to watch a documentary called PressPausePlay about the current state of the music/entertainment industry and blog about my reactions. The thought struck me as I was trying to decide what to write that nobody really agrees if it’s the best or the worst time to be an artist. As I was assembling my arguments for it being both, I realized that I had an overwhelming list of reasons why I think it’s the worst time to be an artist. Well maybe not the worst…but it’s tough at least.

The one thing that everyone in the documentary agreed on was that technology and the internet are evening the playing field. Anyone can now create art, like music or film, relatively inexpensively and they’re not limited to a professional studio or sound stage. That would suggest that it’s the best time to be an artist. But that’s where my argument for that side ends.

 

I found four big reasons why now is a tough time to try and be an artist.

1) To me, logically, there’s too much content. It all drones together and becomes noise rather than art. I feel overwhelmed when I’m looking for new music to obsess over or movies to watch because there’s just so much to choose from. How am I supposed to find something I like among all of that without missing something that’s also great?

I am a firm believer that we are all good at something. We all fulfill some purpose; we fit a need in the world. Some people are meant to be great musicians, others are not. The number of people who are actually talented does not match the number of people sharing their art on the internet. Now, that doesn’t mean people who aren’t “good” at art should stop creating it. I don’t have the authority to judge who’s art is good or bad. I just mean to say that if we start (or maybe we already have) letting everyone create and share mediocre music through things like youtube without any filter, what we end up with is a big pile of mediocrity*.To me, that makes it the worst time to be an artist. Your talent and exceptionality (if you’re gifted with it) gets swallowed up in the masses of unimpressive art.

The film compared it to a biological mechanism that can replicate endlessly, and what happens if it just replicates and replicates without control, the world will just be covered in gray goo. As people realize how easy it is to create art that isn’t half bad (but probably not that good either), we’ll just have the endless replication of mediocre art.

2) According to the film, success seems to be defined by how many clicks you get on the internet. First of all, that completely undermines the talent of the artist. Second of all, that push from the internet for the next exciting thing drives innovation. Again, because everyone can make a video about their cat or write a song and record it with their laptop, you can’t just do that in order to be successful. You have to innovate. Your cat has to be unique. Extra cute or extra grumpy. Playing Jenga like one I’ve seen recently… or your song has to say something new. Or use a new chord progression. But even I can’t pretend it’s that simple. That’s why those clicks drive innovation, but they also make it harder to attain.

3) Technology has dehumanized art. Editing audio used to be complicated and time consuming. It was really interesting hearing from recording experts in PressPausePlay explain the old way of manipulating recordings. It took gadgets and gizmos aplenty, and whozits and whatzits galore (..oops sorry…distracted). Nowadays, computers have made warping, changing, and “fixing” audio quick and easy. Artists sometimes depend on technology to hide a subpar performance. They record something mediocre and then tell the producer to “fix it in post.” To me, that’s diluting the art once again. It minimizes the talent of those who don’t depend on auto tune. Another thing that I agreed with one of the guys in the video about was how the “perfection” of audio editing affects art. Perfection without vulnerability is off-putting. I like when you can hear the humanity in the performance. When you hear the nuance in the voice or the emotion behind the song, that’s what makes it art.

4) Artists, especially filmmakers, have to trick people into viewing their art because our culture is all about consumption. We can’t just sit and listen to music or watch a movie. We do a million things at once. We’re on Facebook, and studying, and texting, all while watching a movie. We’re not paying attention to any of it. In order for us to put down the computer, textbook, and cell phone, the movie has to be riveting. It has to yank us from our societal attention deficit and force us to watch.  It happens for music, too. As the film mentioned, live concerts aren’t just about playing the hit single and winning the crowd over. Artists have to find a way to connect with the audience beyond the single in order to get the audience to go home with their cd and a t-shirt. The live show is the time when people are actually focused on the performance. At every other moment of listening, we’re multitasking and not paying attention to the artistry. Those artists have a tough job.

 

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I really enjoyed the documentary and it helped me realize what I think about the music industry. Like I said, sometimes I don’t know what I think until I say it out loud (or in this case, write it down). I’ve also confirmed for myself that adding my “practical” Accounting major was a great decision…lol.

 

Alex

 

*Talking about this reminds me of how I feel about The Incredibles…but I’ll save that for another day.

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