HOW DOES AN ARTIST MAINTAIN RELEVANCE IN TODAY's MUSIC MARKET?
This blog is my attempt to give my opinion and also to try to challenge myself to write a blog because I have not been in the mood to write recently.
First of all let's look at the word relevant because what it means in terms of the music biz might not be the same as what it means in the dictionary. In the dictionary it means:
"having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand"
O.k that just might sound a bit too wordy for some haha, in music biz terms the word relevant seems to mean, current, popular, marketable, something or someone that is in right now and the current trend, it is something or someome the majority is buying into and therefore willing to invest their money in, whether it is paying for downloads, concert tickets, merchandise or even just attention etc etc
Personally I don't like the word relevant and how it is used in music today, it makes you realise that the first concern of most people is not the music, the first concern is business, image, branding, being popular, clocking a huge following and large youtube views. If that is your first concern as an artist and not being authentic and true to yourself then it can cause what you create to suffer in the long run. That's just my opinion. Of course it can bring you attention in the short run and maybe in those freaky Susan Boyle, Soulja Boy occurences it can make you a lot of money.
On the otherhand if one is naive and not thinking of how they are going to sell their music then they might as well just keep music as a hobby and do it for the art of it and not even bother themselves with things like creating a product for sale. Just make music and perform music for fun, go and busk on the underground, go to open mic nights and perform for the love of music or make music to show your friends and family and there is nothing wrong with all that.
So how does one maintain revelance? Well the first thing would be to be relevant in the first place. This is the part where my opinion might go off track from a lot of people's opinions. To me being relevant means finding a way to stay true to myself and my path and being consistent in creating quality music that I feel and like and letting that music find a core audience that appreciates what I create and growing from there. If the music isn't relevant to my own life and personal unfolding story then it's just not relevant to me. (If only the whole world were exactly like me but that is the problem haha)
It however gets more complicated if you are from a fringe, underground scene like the gospel scene that I have my roots in. It was easier when my crew GK Real were still active before we went on a break from January 2010. We defined ourselves as a gospel group and made that church gospel music. We sang that praise and worship/traditional gospel music with some "urban" flavour and we were strong in our content being all about Jesus. Basically we made church music and mainly performed in churches, christian events, christian concerts etc, even though we did "secular" venues once in a blue moon. We made the music that was "relevant" to our core audience which were Christians. To me that is what gospel music is, music for the Christian market mainly (that once in a while gains an audience with people who are not christians who are able to digest it in the "choir" format they are used to)
Everything was perfect for me as long as GK Real were around because we also functioned as a group of people with individual things going on, so I could do my own Hip Hop/Rapping thing and experiment and push boundaries as long as I had the credibility of GK Real doing the gospel thing and a ready christian audience for what we were offering. As an individual I saw myself more as a Hip Hop mc that happened to be a Christian, in the group I saw us as a gospel group period which didn't do anything else apart from sing about Jesus. On my own I could touch on other issues of life and not feel like I had to be a superhero evangelist rapper trying to save the world with my lyrical super powers (haha!). I could just be. In GK Real however, I saw our main mission and vision to be a gospel group and I was totally for it and we all agreed on it with no problems at all. We had some amazing times and really achieved a lot, more than I could have ever dreamed of in the beginning.
It broke my heart when a break was called for because to me in terms of branding and marketing that can spell the end in capital letters for all you have worked for. Things change so quickly in any market and once you don't consistenly put yourself out there and maintain by touring, producing new music as well as presenting a united front (if you are in a group) it can be a hard job coming back and maintaining. People just simply move on to the next "happening" thing. A market doesn't tolerate vacuums. Something will always fill an empty space if you don't play your position. Markets also don't respond well to change, especially underground specialist markets that are small. If you are known for A, became big for A and all of a sudden you come out doing B? Forget you. You will be given the cold shoulder, unless you are so groundbreaking that you change the game which is highly unlikely but however possible in rare cases.
So how does one stay relevant in a market? You have to know who you are as a brand, decide what market you are targeting and stay consistent with catering to that market and core audience once you find and connect with it. In a market there is always a demand, you have to find that demand, meet that demand and continue to supply that demand. People don't just want music, they want hits, they don't just want hits, they want a whole package, they want to feel part of a movement of greatness that is visual and is perceived as significant because that's what people want. They want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. As you become a brand i.e someone who has people buying into them and the image and lifestyle they represent, then you can continue to maintain or decide to take a risk and expand hopefully without neglecting your core audience which is hard because your audience can get protective and even selfish and not allow you as an artist to grow or experiment. Some don't even like outsiders to come in and share in what they are enjoying or they develop a superior aititude towards people who discover what they've already known before.
People are always looking for music that they want to be the soundtrack for their lives, they are always looking for what affirms their chosen lifestyle, beliefs, feelings, thoughts and on-going stories. They are always looking for people who embody their ideals and aspirations and it seems to be the job of artists to tap into that part of people in general. It also seems those who make the most money and are the most popular are people who have tapped the hardest into a particular ideal or embody certain aspirations the most. Just check the most popular artists in any genre and you will see it for yourself.
I don't necessarily like all of the above but as far as I can see, it seems to just be the way it is. Have I achieved relevance myself? I don't think so because I am from a scene that doesn't like people who try to experiment and be different. I guess I have to become an evangelical superhero and take over the world for Christ then if I want to be relevant (I hope you detect the slight saracasm there hehehe) One thing that is for sure, my music is relevant to me because it is the soundtrack to my ongoing and unfolding story and that is what matters to me the most.