What New Music Artists Can Learn From The Classics

I’ll be the first that I have had some choice words (in my head of course) for people who have tried to point the finger about experience and inexperience.  Often for the younger upstarts, experience often serves as a hindrance in their employment and general experience.  Those who are ‘seasoned’ are often considered to be better models and an easier, more sensible fit in the workplace because of that experience.  I say that to say that in music, as much as I dislike the ‘experience’ model/notion, ‘experience’ in music pays dividends to young artists.  I’m not talking about performing in front of test crowds in preparation for the arenas burgeoning artists wish to potentially sell out one day.  I’m talking about the tactics, the professionalism, and maybe most importantly the classicism that past and veteran artists showcased throughout their careers.

To expand, let me first state that this professionalism excludes any sexual improprieties, odd personality idiosyncrasies, and drug usage, etc.  My idea of ‘experience’ epitomized and utilized is that the ‘next’ generation of artists hearken back to veteran influences.  This essay came to mind to pen mostly because recently, I feel that some artists are more focused on timely trends and gimmicks as opposed to music that is going to resonate for years to come. This rejection of  the ‘nu-classic’ is a serious problem for the critical and commercial success of music.  By nu-classic, I am referring to that modern classic that will remain as classic as well proven classics.  Wordy it may be, but I am unconvinced that a song like Chris Brown’s “Turn Up The Music” will be remembered as a truly great, memorable song.

I am going to use R&B as an example.  Recently, Usher and Chris Brown, both superstars commercially and critically (Usher more so) have seen their sales figures tumble.  Yes, music sales are generally down, but the discrepancy from previous albums was troubling.  Billboard penned an article asking if the crossover efforts by these artists (Looking 4 Myself and Fortune respectively) played a role in this lack of enthusiasm.  I say yes.  Both of these artists are incredibly talented and could sing almost anything, but do either need to opt for euro-pop synths as opposed to say wailing organ? Does Chris Brown need to be so explicit in his sexual references as opposed to insinuating the sensual much like lady’s man Teddy Pendegrass did on “Turn Off The Lights?” These are career and music shaping questions.

I am a very anti-bandwagon person, though I don’t have anything against trying new things.  For pop/R&B artists, I feel they need to take a step back and re-examine some of the classics.  Why? The reason is because we as a society are still living and breathing those songs.  Nobody is asking Usher to sing “What’s Going On” and make it his own – Marvin Gaye held that down.  But, perhaps some introspection and some analytical listening might help to move artists into a more sensible direction. Just because it is the current trend does NOT mean you should necessarily opt for that direction.  Usher and Brown’s sales were lower than expected while hipster Frank Ocean, a relatively unknown R&B artist, sold in the same ball park as the two established artists and managed to create his own unique style and give plenty of nods to classic soul.

It is an opinion, but for me personally, I would like to see true ‘innovation’ and personality return to music.  Sure, ‘nothing is new under the sun’ and perhaps my retro proposal sounds ‘old and tired,’ but the past yields great inspiration for the future.

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