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Have Talent, Won’t Travel

martin_luther_afro.jpegThose of you old enough to remember when "urban" radio reflected music that people in surrounding urban areas wanted to hear as opposed to what was dictated to them may recall, there used to exist a wonderful melange of music from all genres being equally represented based upon listeners' tastes. These days, however, like most everything capitalist, music is more of a business than ever. The reasoning prevails, therefore, that if songs extolling the virtues of liquor are big, then we must saturate the market with it! Auto-Tuned songs are all the rage? Flood the airwaves with it as often as possible! 

What do you do, however, if you were born with musical talent that was not overtly influenced post-production tricks? What do you do if you fall into the category that excites true music fans but makes the hairs on record label executives stand up on edge in extreme fear: uncategorizable? 

Do you keep on truckin' like Eddie Kendricks would say and hope that someone recognizes your God-given craft and is willing to take a gamble on you? Do you throw your hands up in the air out of sheer disgust and become a craggy, irritable, jaded musician relegated to your basement where you make "your music" that the kids will never appreciate? Or do you seek to please both worlds of those who are more experimental in their music tastes with those who like their music to be spoon-fed? 

In today's musical climate, a world exists where record labels moreso resemble "[an] accountant's office and not a major record label" says Shawn Peters whose experience with trying to find a home for an upcoming Martin Luther album has thus far been less than easy. In my opinion, it would seem more prudent to suck up your pride, stay current with the times, and do your best to release an album that will please all music fans. In other words, do what most artists have always done and bait the musically unadventurous with a Pop-sounding single or as DJs would call "playing to your crowd." This is just my opinion, however, so it really only holds as much weight as well---nothing. What say you, readers, should artists be willing to compromise to make money through the record labels or should they just maintain their own personal musical goals and be willing to get more experimental with money-earning methods and hope their talent will be discovered by a greater audience?

The Martin Luther Dilemma [LLS]


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5 Responses

  1. The game has changed; the paradigm has shifted. Maybe record companies were always about making the money....but then Stax and Motown and other labels like those negate that notion...sort of. Today it IS all about the money for the most part. Promoting an artist is now wrapped up in a whole bunch of other business deals than just booking a gig, showing up and singing to a crowd or rabid fans who love your sound and your music. Now you have to diversify yourself on a commercial spectrum, appealing not only to the folks who will be your records (literal), but also those who will download, those who will ringtone your music, those who will youtube you, etc. And then if you're lucky, you step out and have advertisement deals with clothing companies, sports drinks companies, etc. etc. etc. I think these are the statutes that are set up now for an artist coming out and talent falls by the wayside, as long as the artist can meet and fulfill all of these other obligations.
    I think artists consider heavily to compromise because exposure is so tied up with all the commercial sh*t. Otherwise, they fly low on the radar. However, I can think of acts, of artists that I loved that never went all out BIG but have been consistently producing music and touring since I first heard of them. Just off the top of my hat, Ben Harper... I don't know what kind of endorsement deals he has if any, but dude has a hella fanbase and has maintained that fanbase for years. He does the festivals, constantly tours, constantly produces music...i.e. he makes a living and creates art and has done so without all the extra-extra. Likewise, Gavin DeGraw. Dude tours ALL THE TIME. I think he might've had an endorsement deal; he's had a couple of high-charting hits, even scored a spot on a couple of soundtracks with his music. He toured his first record for like three years, then finally came out with a new one and is still touring that one after almost two years. His art is protected; though he might've compromised somewhat. And he's on Jive's label...I think and that label is notorious for huge acts: Ciara, Rihanna (I think), Britney, etc.
    Then you have folk like Van Hunt who if he were to compromise and make more 'popular' music I personally think I might open a vein as his music as is, is perfection. But pushbacks, not making/not meeting certain criteria, not aligning with expected album sales (though critical acclaim is through the roof), he's suffered a pushback and total cancellation of his third LP (I know we all know tihs). Should he have compromised? What would've happened had he compromised? I don't know. I think his music should be heard and loved as is without a change without a compromise....the industry is straight fickle and harsh. I want more Van Hunt but at what sacrifice to his talent, his artistry, his integrity?
    I say if they make a living and still can create and gain some notoriety (which will come if their art is good), then don't compromise...just BE and you'll have fans like me supporting for the duration of your career. Great topic. I probably digressed. Can't wait to read others' thoughts on this.

  2. It's a tricky one. On the one hand you can look at artists such as Eric Roberson and see that maintaining what you believe in and perservering, even if that means the independant/indie route can pay off if your willing to tour like crazy and produce material regularly.
    That said there are probably thousands of artists out there hoping to release independantly or through indie labels and there is a chance of being lost in the mix even if your material is good. You only have to look at the sheer number of new artists featured on the web each day.
    I agree that sometimes it might be seen as best to 'suck it up' and release a single that may not be 100% true to yourself but gets people interested in the remaining 90% of your album, but even then you are not guaranteed exposure/sales ... how many artists signed to majors release material that gets no promotion and is only heard by those who are willing to dig a little! I can't remember the last album i bought that had any significant promotion over here in the UK.
    I think the way forward for artists who can't or won't get a major deal is to try the independant route, it has been shown that it can and does work if the artists is willing to work hard and they have quality material. Sites such as this, and the web as a whole, can help promote these artists and keep us in the loop.

  3. This is something that I believe has always been a problem and will continue to be an issue. Although my music tastes have matured over the past 10-12 years, I remember when I would debate how great the music that I listened to compared to the music that my father listened to. Now as a 30 yr old woman, I have the exact same conversations with my nephew who is 15 and thinks everything on the radio is great! Although to us what is being played on the radio is non expressive, or individualistic, it has to appeal to the masses. Unfortunately, someone suffers. In the 90's it was my father, now it's me. You can never fully satisfy everyones taste and you will only stress yourself trying to do so but I believe in compromise. Having your voice heard is better than not being heard at all and people still need to make money. I understand that when certain artists come out with stellar work the first time around and more commercial albums on the second such as, they are merely making a name for themselves and paying their bills. This formula does have it's advantages. There are certain artists who can afford to be a bit self indulgent in the music that they put out without any major setbacks. As long as these artists keep pushing, they too will get to a point where they can make music that they love wholeheartedly, until then a little compromise never hurt anyone.

  4. Compromise is not always good. If compromise results in a serious breach of their musical integrity then I don't think they will truly be satisfied even if they shoot up the charts. I think some artists are in it for the money/fame and don't care about making compromises whereas others find it very difficult. In the end, the artist must decide for themselves what's more important to them.

  5. Is everyone now automatically entitled to the luxury of integrity? Aren't we confusing integrity with indulgence, "self-" and otherwise?
    Most performers are not "artists", they're musicians and musicians, like any working man or woman, need to make a living. You have to get out, find, entertain and please other people willing to pay for your work. You have to "show" to get the "business". Now sometimes that's your audience and sometimes that's your label, either way, he who pays the piper to some degree calls the tune, recognising the fact is what distinguishes a professional career from an expensive hobby. Fame & fortune or a living doing something you love? Either way, you will not get discovered stroking your integrity in your bedroom.



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