Over the years, but especially in recent times, I’ve been seeing many artists complain about feeling limited with the styles and genres they can release. In this article, I want to take a look at the perspective of an artist as well as that of a listener to provide some insight, and give some ideas on how these issues can be addressed.
Perspective of an Artist
With the amount of music coming out, and the way artists are portrayed, it can be easy to overlook the fact that there is a human behind every piece of music—a human with the same feelings and emotions as everyone else. When you look at it this way, I think it’s perfectly understandable that artists can’t always be making the same thing again and again, and naturally will want to experiment and evolve; and often not only within the same genre, but also outside of it. Sometimes, experimenting far out from what an artist is used to can be a great way to learn new techniques and keep the fun in music production.
The issue is that artists regularly have to face a harsh reality when they release unusual genres and experiments: Their tracks get fewer plays, more negative comments, and less support from peers. The natural conclusion many producers come to, is that their fans don’t want to hear anything that isn’t what they’re known for, which is typically a very specific sound. The artist ends up feeling limited and frustrated.
Perspective of a Fan
On the other side of the equation, there’s the listener. They first discover an artist through a certain style, and become a fan as a result. In a world where there’s an infinite number of options, where any kind of music is available anywhere you go, you don’t have to make any compromises with what you choose to listen to. This is why the listeners’ preferences are becoming increasingly specific, and when they find an artist who makes music that aligns with their preferences, they naturally have expectations for similar music to come out in the future. This applies to new followers especially. Listeners who become loyal fans are usually more open to listening to experiments, once they get to know an artist.
The issue from the perspective of a fan is that it can be disappointing not to get to hear more of what they followed an artist for. In a way, they can feel betrayed, or like the artist has changed. They are worried that the unique, specific sound they enjoy might get lost or forgotten.
For a sustainable future, both sides need to be empathic, and try to see the positive aspects. This will require a shift of perspective, and later I will also talk about some active approaches artists can take.
As artists, we have a tendency to look at numbers and statistics as a measurement of how good our tracks are. When a track gets less reach than others, we might think it’s because the track isn’t as good. In reality, your play count is often just the result of an algorithm that decides whether to show your music to more people based on how much engagement it’s getting. Because your fans are less invested in this new style, the algorithm doesn’t push it as much, so it ends up getting less reach. I would say it’s not healthy to measure your value based on the automated decisions of algorithms. Value your freedom and the positives of your experiments first and foremost. And at the same time, understand that fans who follow you for a specific style may not like everything you make. This doesn’t justify senselessly hateful comments from listeners, of course, but those should be disregarded in any case.
As listeners, we need to see that experimentation is crucial for artists to keep the fun in making music. If they end up getting frustrated because they feel like they’re not allowed to experiment, and make no music at all as a result, then that will be the opposite of the desired outcome. If you care about an artist, be understanding and encourage experimentation, even if the product doesn’t always fully align with your taste.
Active Solutions (for Artists)
Aside from shifting your perspective, there are also some active approaches artists can take to keep fans engaged while also maintaining artistic freedom.
My personal favorite approach is to release different styles as part of bigger projects like EPs and albums. It’s the perfect opportunity to add variety to a project and show artistic versatility. When you do release other styles, it helps to tell a personal story about the tracks to provide some context. Showing who you are as an artist helps to connect with your fans, and it can make them more open to receiving tracks in good spirit. It’s a gentle approach, and it lets your fans know to expect other styles now and then. If you don’t feel comfortable releasing entire tracks in other styles, you can also find ways to implement them in your main sound. In Dubstep, intros are often a great opportunity to implement them, for example. Another idea would be to collaborate with someone who’s already established in the other genre to break into it and prime yourself for a more positive reception.
Generally, it can also be helpful to focus on gaining and maintaining loyal followers over a long period of time, rather than trying to achieve overnight success with a specific style. The problem with quick success is that it’s always tied to superficial attributes, rather than a deep connection with listeners, so as soon as your sound changes, people will leave as quickly as they came.
Whatever you decide to do, your experiments will always be beneficial for your music production skills in some way, so don’t let anything or anyone hold you back! However, it helps to take a calculated approach if you rely on your audience to sustain yourself as an artist.
A last consideration to make as an artist is, for example, if you have two distinct styles and a consistent output for both, it would be sensible to start a new alias and keep both in parallel.