Usurping Artistry

Dec 10 2011

Artists are one of the fundamental parts of the music industry. So much so they are the chicken to the egg of the business itself; no one knows which came first. This exact question or rather confusion has crafted the current climate of music today. Who is the artist? The term itself is styled in such a cursory manner that anyone who walks within five feet of any medium is in danger of being titled so. No industry is more subject to this phenomenon than the music industry. We live in an age of instant fame, where attracting tabloids supplements talent more so than garnering admiration for their craft. It seems that “artists” are now those who create a buzz as opposed to creating anything substantive. It’s for that very reason the music industry has become complicit in the dilution of the term artistry and its function.

In the past, the term artist held enormous weight to a musician.  No matter what genre, anyone who dared to take up that mantel had to prove themselves worthy. That was made especially clear when it came to the music industry. To be an artist, one had to be undeniably gifted. Although those who simply performed had similar functions, those deemed “artists” provided the rare glimpse of vocal and musical perfection that all others sought in their craft. The likes of Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, and The Beatles set the standard for the artistry we revere in the likes of Anita Baker, Elton John, Prince, and Celine Dion. There is no doubt that these people have actively embodied and expressed a unique and individual talent. The music industry served to foster and amplify these artists. There was no serious need to augment, manipulate, or create the perception of talent through production. This is not to say that the industry did not have any direct impact on the development of their talent, but it was a tangible product that was easily ready for distribution.

Being informed of the historical markers of true artistry, how have we found ourselves in this current predicament? The title of “artist” is doled out almost indiscriminately. It very well seems that anyone who so chooses can be an “artist”. The music industry recognized the desire of the masses to be uniquely creative as an untapped market. It shifted its model from promoting ‘exceptionalism’ to feigning accessibility. With the use of advanced technology and a well-oiled public relations machine, “artists” don’t have to be skilled. Couple this with the viral video and social networking craze almost anyone can stake their claim to fame. This has produced a crop of recording artists who cannot sing, write songs, or play a single musical instrument. They simply possess that “it” factor that for whatever reason garners the attention which generates sales. Now, the rarities are the child singer we watched progress or the café singer who got a lucky break. A career in the music industry is now an option for every celebrity and public personality regardless of singing ability.

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