Singers are not always artists. Some are musicians. Some are ensemble players. And a few are artists. As a music producer, it’s vital to separate the musician from the artist. They are not the same thing.
An artist has a point of view
Any artist that is relevant to the world we live in today requires some point of view that is under-represented in that world. We don’t need 2 Princes, or 2 Madonnas. Remember, that a producer’s responsibility is to present the artist to the world in a way that makes their voice resonate within current thinking. We live in the world and the artist delivers a message to that world. This requires a balance between what is “expected” of an artist generically (talent, presentation, production, etc.) and the differentiation that makes that artist stand out from the crowd.
Sometimes an artist comes to you with a fully flushed out artistic identity. But that’s rare. Most need to discover/hone what that identity is. Our job is to manifest that identity in the music, powerfully and creatively.
Artists are unique
I am constantly reminded that each person on planet earth has the capacity to be an artist, because each person has a unique voice emanating from a unique perspective. That does not mean that there is a market for that voice. Essentially, a market is an organized group of people willing to support a particular point of view. One can be an authentic and clear artist who does not speak to such an organized group.
Song selection is key
The vehicle for the artist is always the song. It doesn’t matter if it is original or not—though a mixture of cover and original is a strong approach. What does matter is the message and how it comports with the artistic identity. The Star Spangled Banner played by Jimi Hendrix is a completely different song than when played by Merle Haggard.
If an artist comes in with strong songs – clear messages, good hooks and a strong sense of holding together as a body of work, that’s a very powerful situation. But it almost never happens. Typically, the artist is not fully clear of their own identity, nor of their core message. You need to process with the artist to determine that. Sometimes this is answered in the course of working the songs out, but it really helps to be fully conscious of the process you are both engaging in.
Some artists are just not geared to be world-class songwriters. There are people in the world who do that magnificently. If your artist is not one of them—and yet desires or needs to create their own vehicles—couple them with a world-class writer so they can truly shine.
Core Message and Core Identity
At the heart of each person is a reason to be. I firmly believe that there is a purpose for every person on planet earth. There is a different perspective and a different voice. As people grow creatively, they create many different frequencies of meaning. What are their songs about? What is their past song selection? What does that say about what they stand for? What is it they can say that no one else on the planet can say? What are they “all-in” committed to in the world?
These are the kinds of questions that bring forth clarity on the artistic identity and core message of the artist. It’s there somewhere. It’s up to you to find it, identify it, and produce it—so it can do the work it is here to do.
A larger context
The artist needs to understand that their message and identity fits into a larger conversation in the world. The first question I often ask of a prospective artist is, “Why?” “What is it about you that is so unique, what message so urgent that I will insist that a complete stranger should listen to the entirety of your demo?” Remember, an artist’s realm is not just musical, but social and even commercial. They have to compel complete strangers into action—either to help them along the path or to purchase their product. Ideally, they need to have a community around them that supports what they are saying in the world. That’s how real and sustainable success is created.
The Producer Series is a set of posts that discuss the ins and outs of music production. Stay tuned for more on this series.