When Does A Producer Become An Artist?
Ah yes, the quintessential debate that has thrown countless individuals under a compromising spotlight- What qualifies a DJ/producer as an artist? In terms of integrity and musicianship, Electronic music has received more skepticism from critics than any other genre. Who could blame them though? The lack of a clear answer has allowed people like Steve Aoki to be labeled a “Top DJ” for years now. Maybe the critics are viewing this matter too closely and need to step back a little. Let’s not be overwhelmingly analytic about this and keep the focus simple. When broken down to it’s most basic form, Art is just deconstructed interpretations of reality. So what differentiates art from constructed reality? At what point does an artist look at his work and decide it’s art and not just a simple creation? At what point does it obtain meaning? Meaning is all relative to the person searching for it of course, but still, at what point does a DJ or producer transition from someone who just plays House music, to a House musician? Even if they are producing it with real software or instruments, at what point do they become artists and not just someone who’s mimicking their creative surroundings? Well, the answer isn’t as complicated as people are making it out to be. Like most things in life, it largely falls on context and perspective. About ⅓ of the responsibility belongs to us- the audience, and the rest falls on the artist themselves and their own intrinsic perspective.
If you truly want to be a producer, and you consistently attempt to produce music that is original to you, then you’re on your way to artistry. That desire inevitably shapes your behavior, and your actions. By projecting that character and acting accordingly to fit the outline of that desired character, you are in fact becoming that person. Now, step forward: If you make House music, and you go to sleep at night believing you are a musician, and that you especially didn’t cut corners to create your material, then that is what you are by all basic definitions. Still, music is a craft and it’s mere presence doesn’t automatically imply artistic value. You wouldn’t call the guy who writes jingles for your local Honda dealer a creative inspiration. No, the art begins when you take that craft, and customize it to represent you, or a specific moment in time. There are certainly levels of artistic reception, skill, and imagination, but we’re not talking about variations of fame or quality, we’re talking about what separates an artist from a constructed game player.
The true art, I think, lies in maintaining steady course in the pursuit of that character. As said earlier, art is an interpretation of an individual’s perceived reality and what they want or feel through that reality. If your music sounds similar to another’s, that doesn’t necessarily disqualify you as an artist. If it was inside you, if it is your true chosen voice, then who are we to argue? As long as you are speaking directly from yourself, as a result of influences, and not as a replication of such influences, then you may call yourself an artist without any scrutiny from me. If Disco is the best way for you to artistically define who you are, then the public will eventually pick up on that sincerity. If your style shifts according to what’s trending, however, then I suspect the emotional investment in your music can’t be too great. Of course you can cater to your listener’s needs to some degree, but once it starts to define your musical output, you’re nothing more than an employee of the crowd, an entertainer in it’s most superficial form. In the context of Electronic, I think knowing what you want out of the music you make benefits your authenticity as an artist greatly. The audience as a whole is always shifting, changing, coming in and out, and so forth. The artist is always there though, they are always going to be that person no matter what. They might as well surrender and do their very best to make it clear just who they are. Naturally nothing is set in stone. Life is a series of new experiences and understandings, and those translate into different styles, new albums, member changes, etc. Further is a far cry from Exit Planet Dust, but The Chemical Brothers still remain an inspiration. The message may be different, but it’s still being heard through their voice.
I think being a musician can make a big difference when coming to your own sound; it’s very different playing parts from scratch and fiddling around with an element YOU have created, rather than getting a sample pack and building blocks…no offense. -Betoko
OK, now what if you don’t produce, and exclusively DJ? Well it depends- do you choose the material you play out of respect for the composer and the crowd, or do you play it out of obligation? Are you presenting that music in a new light, or just plagiarizing to get through the night? If you’re leaning more towards the latter of either question, then you’re a jukebox with arms and legs. There are two types of terrible DJ’s you see- the ones that know they’re awful and don’t care because they’re being compensated, and the ones who do care and try to improve. Don’t assume that this dogmatic code of artistry is limited to the underground either, because it isn’t. A-Trak is no stranger to the limelight, but he’s worked hard to use the turntables as an instrument. He is constantly creating new moments in time, new emotions for both him and the audience. Now take the infamously marketable David Guetta for example- he has made a living out of recreating the same moment each time he performs, and his records aren’t dissimilar. One is creating something, and the other is synthesizing it.
Let me break it down even more: As long as the artist in question is using their music to clarify who they are, in some way, and not doing it to appeal to some outside force, then it is indeed art. They have completed their end, and whether or not they become the next James Holden is up to the universe. Quality is relative to the people rating it. That, my friends, is the artist’s ⅔ of the creative labor. The remaining ⅓ of the responsibility rests on our ability to recognize all of this. As the audience we give artists an opportunity to do what every human strives to do on some level, and that is to clarify who they are, even if they aren’t completely clear on the subject themselves. Yes, it really is that simple. It’s not a convoluted debate on how you might record your music, or whether or not it sounds like other material. It’s about sitting back and looking at the finished product without any regrets.