Musician (myo͞o-zĭsh′ən): Any Person, Whether Professional or Not, Skilled in Music
There has been a great evolutionary awakening for twenty-first century musicians. In the past, music was used as a form of entertainment, which has not changed in contemporary times however, they have transformed the mechanics and patterns of music to become an even more relatable form of language. One aspect that has changed has been the consistency of rhythm in contemporary music whereas if we were to look at Beethoven, classical composers decorate their music with ornaments and fashionable characteristics that create warm and specific sounds. Composers of today follow the same concepts except they have extended the potentials of what music can do for others. By studying current musicians and the process of becoming popular, there is very distinctive qualities that has given the opportunities to become known in our society. One of the many intriguing details about a musician is when is an artist considered a musician? Perhaps more importantly, who has the authority to say who is a musician or not? From musicians and non-musicians, opinions differentiate greatly however, juxtaposing the voices of musicians and non-musicians argues that depending on the artist’s musicality, impacting their audience influences them. Thus, the ability to relate to their audience and the audience responds back suggests as the vital aspect of what defines a musician.
By thoroughly investigating contemporary artists, it has presented the many qualities musicians process. A musician is a title, and when someone has a title, there are many factors that go in order to earn that title. Sometimes musicians take their title granted. For instance, in an article called Taylor Swift is Not the Savior Artist Needs, the reporter Mike Masnick responded to an incident involving Taylor Swift arguing against a negotiation made by Apple with record labels. Earlier this year in 2015, Apple made a deal with record labels in terms for the copyright holders, deciding they would not be compensated with royalties in the first three months during the “trial period.” This “trial period” represents the time for artists’ music to be played on Apple’s streaming music program. If it becomes popular among the listeners, Apple will continue playing their music. If not, the artists’ period ends.
In correspondence to this new negotiation, Taylor Swift took great offense however, she wrote a blog post that “this isn’t about me.” She continues to refrain the words “this is about” with various scenarios, such as “this is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success” (Masnick, Swift). It is great for a musician to respond to the media when there is a less than favorable action that could affect their need for making income. But Swift is not very subtle in the way she handled this new negotiation. From her blog post, Masnick said it was “touching” but also “almost entirely hogwash for a variety of reasons.” In her blog, Swift said she was thankfully on her fifth alum and does not have to worry about this however, Masnick argues that as Tom Conrad pointed out, her career was built on terrestrial radio play, which is a free service. Thus, “Swift is living proof” that without performance royalties, it doesn’t mean “suffering” but instead, it leads to an “immensely successful and profitable career” such as Swift’s (Masnick). Musicians basically receive nothing in royalties and do not have a big enough fanbase to generate enough revenue. Therefore, even if they were paid, it will not help them overall as a musician because “if they’re getting enough plays to matter, then they have other ways to make revenue” (Masnick). In order to find have recognition has a musician, artists need to advertise themselves in any way they can, and the response they get from listeners will contribute to their success.
Overall, the impact of this move would have been minimal for musicians. Musicians need to take in consideration if “they [rely] on the royalties from Apple Music to make or break their musical career has no musical career” (Masnick). Even if Apple decided to begin paying them, then musicians would demand more, and many artists would give a bad reputation. It would no longer be about the music but their paycheck, and one of the greatest impacts of becoming a musician is to have and present a positive role model for the next artist. Thirdly, the most concerning point is Swift gave “a false sense of hope to those who rely on obsolete business models, rather than innovating them” (Masnick). The Atlantic’s article titled her blog post as Taylor Swift Almighty: Is she the most powerful person in music? Also, Jeremy Olsan wrote on his Twitter:
Musicians were celebrating Swift’s blog post in which will not even benefit them. It’s unfortunate because Swift should be a role model however, her blog suggested to not focus on business models that let them connect directly to fans and give them a reason to buy something (Masnick). They are treating Swift as “a savior,” which is damaging for a seeking musician. A musician does not need to “pray for a savior” but needs to take steps to ensure they are a competent business model. This article submits a critical factor in defining a musician because after her blog, people were believing she was the most “powerful musician in music.” Who is to say there is a most “powerful” musician? Music is a form of language that can be communicated to any ear and by any person. Music stations played Swift’s music for free at the beginning of her career and that was a huge part of why she is where she is—it communicated to an audience. Thus, she is no more powerful than any beginning musician because every musician’s mission is to give to their audience.
This is not to say Swift herself cannot be defined as a musician. In fact, even in the beginning of Masnick’s article, he admits “she’s an incredibly savvy music person, who has built a tremendously successful career, often by maintaining control on her own” (Masnick). This can be seen in the article Taylor Swift Dismisses the Haters, Dances with Fans for New Song ‘Shake it Off.’ Two years prior to her newest CD, it was enough time for her to grow and change. And as a musician, change can be very positive because “[changing] what you believe in and what’s influencing and inspiring you” affects your music, and music is a reflection of the artist’s character (Kreps with Swift). Her new album was “a rebirth of [her],” which further explains that a musician matures as they pay closer attention to the tunings of their craft. Her goal for her next album is to continue this change but to never change in the same way twice because then the musician has not grown as an artist (Kreps with Swift.)
In a review with Swift, an NPR staff has a twelve year old daughter who wanted to ask Swift “why’d [she] address [Shake it Off] to [her] haters and not [her] motivators.” Swift responds how she first wrote a song in the past called Mean, addressing her bully’s asking why they were mean. Swift realized there should be a more positive way to approach an issue, and that it’s important to “be very aware of who you actually are, and to have that be the main priority.” This goes a huge way to relate the audience and be seen as a good role model. Swift is not “the savior” we should praise however, it is not to say we should be attentive and recognize everything Swift tries to do for her audience. One of her goal through her lyrics is to encourage girls who are in middle school to find a way to distract yourself from negativity (NPR Staff with Swift). As a musician myself, I do not relate to her lyrics because they do not apply to my life. But for some others, especially a younger audience, her message is a healthy approach to a problem they may have, thus serving as a great role model for musicians and non-musicians.
In order to represent as a role model, the artist must connect to the audience. If there is no connection to fans, then it will not work for the musician. Music is about connection, and if a musician cannot feel connected to another person through their music, something is greatly wrong. Not every person can relate, but there has to be a message coming across that lets us recognize the relation to a group of people.
Creating connections is one of the extensions of being a musician. Lindsey Stirling, a new musician becoming popular in the music industry, is a violinist and goes against the traditional norm of playing classical music. When she began her career, she first went to America’s Got Talent and made it all the way to the quarter finals. Here are the results of why she was unable to continue:
The judges of the show were very skeptical of her purpose as a musician. She was trying her all as a dancer and as a performer but they believed she should only use her instrument as an accompaniment to a singer, not be the soloist herself. Her performance made them come to the conclusion that the violin “is not what that type of instrument is used for pop music” (America’s Got Talent Broadcast). One of the major problems with her performance was her incorporated dancing, which at some parts of the video, it was evident. However, it’s condemning to say one form of an instrument is not allowed to branch out and be its own voice. They grouped the violin as if it’s an extension of a thought for music, which completely diminishes the capability a musician can do with his or her voice. An instrument just doesn’t make sound, it’s also a voice, her voice. And that’s one of the things most non-musicians do not understand. They believed pop or dubstep belongs only with the human voice, which actually has the same equal amount of emotional and physical delivery as instrument. A violin doesn’t only mean an instrument from a Vivaldi String Quartet—it also can be a part of the contemporary realm our ears hear every other day in the grocery store.
Sharon Osbourne famously opinionated that the “violin would never be able to fill the halls if she didn’t hire a singer” (America’s Got Talent Broadcast). Now, Stirling has been on not only state tours, but world tours. Here is one of her most famous music videos:
Stirling created her own youtube channel in the beginning, and the more she listened to the type of sounds her audience wanted to hear, she tried with whatever talent she had and she delivered. If a musician can use a bad experience to drive them, then they have succeeded already as an artist. Everything takes time. Her moment in America’s Got Talent was five years ago. Now she has two published albums featuring guest artists. For musicians, patience is an absolute virtue, and Stirling waited graciously and has blossomed beautifully. As an artist, she is not so easily woven in a particular genre because she has stretched every possible flavor someone could ask for.
Chris William, a music reporter and non-musician, went to see Stirling in concert in Los Angeles. In his report, he spoke about how a classical and pop critic wondered about this new trend of violin and “who it was for.” Both the critics did not care much for her music, but at the concert, there were a different type of audiences drawn to listen to her that night. He said “the audience would have surely thrown the NYT critics back to square one by being a diverse and indefinable as any you’d see at pop shows” (William). William argues how much Stirling has extended the stereotypical character of the violin and has brought in “ethnically diverse” ages into her concert, from gamer friends, “bordering-on-elderly attendees,” and “the young African-American woman who kept frantically waving her arms and screaming obscenities at the wholesome Mormon violinist—happy obscenities, as in, ‘Can you f-ing believe this? Every f-ing note is so f-ing fantastic!’” (William). It goes to show Stirling used America’s Got Talent to encourage her to prove how powerful music can be in any shape and form.
However, William did criticize her music has “vaguely moody melodies” and “consistently favors frenzy over emotion,” which is a weakness to her record. Then again, she is still a growing artist. People of all ages and of all groups are at her concert eager to listen, and she will move across the block to the bigger Nokia Theatre if she does not change her style (William). The critics may not understand, but as William puts so delicately, “the violin-loving little girls and EDM-craving gamers and New Age middle-agers understand” (William). Lindsey doesn’t solely connect to one age group, but to everyone. Thus, Lindsey changes the perception of the way America’s Got Talent works as a show. Who has the authority to say who is a musician or not? Not the judges. Not the musician. It is the audience.
Lastly, Michelle McLaughlin is also a contemporary artist like Swift and Stirling. She is a solo pianist and composer, who began playing at the age of eight. Unlike the other two artists, she was never taught the piano and yet she is currently working on her 15th album. She reveals that “[she] just learned to play by listening to other musicians” (Mclaughlin). While growing up, she was shy to have people besides close family and friends to listen to her music, but once she began giving new cds for Christmas cards, the positive feedback encouraged her to go even further as a musician. Like Swift, she went to Whisperings: Solo Piano Radio to have her music, for free, be played. Although a reviewer of the station enjoyed it, she had to advance her recording equipment. Once she did, a couple of different stations began to play her music and one night, she even happened to hear one of her Christmas songs be used on TV.
This is also an aspect every musician needs: inspiration. In order to become a known artist, McLaughlin had to have inspiration to listen to, in order to become an inspiration for someone else. For her, her music is “[her] story, [her] diary, [her] journal, [her] biography…a glimpse into [her] soul” (McLaughlin). And to represent that was listening to another’s story through their music. In a music reporter’s review, Bill Binkelman had heard how “[Mclaughlin] presents her emotional intent of song forthwith and front and center” and that “it’s a testament to her considerable talent that this baring of her soul always works so well” (Binkelman). If someone else were to play her music, it would not have the same story anymore. She has the talent to represent her life within the notes she writes down on paper, which is a great challenge for so many, including myself.
Similarly, Swift also had said since her musical career had begun, “people [had] essentially gotten to read [her] diary for the last ten years” (NPR Staff with Stirling). Both of these artists reveal that music is a way to send a message to the audience. To make a connection, either by telling their story or story that may relate to something they have experienced. For Stirling, she has broken the rules of using a stringed instrument as a new genre of instrument play, and it is gathered a great diverse of people, all wanting to hear a diverse world of violin sound. Each of these artists are related in that they aspire as role models and inspire their audience, extend the possibilities with music, and connect with their audiences. These contemporary artists are great definitions for what it means to be a musician because although not perfect, they use their craft as way to create a universal language anyone can listen and understand. There are many aspects that are involved in the title of a musician, and these three represent and own these titles.
One of the greatest learning experiences in this class is getting to know my individual mentored group. It has built such a solid and insightful way of learning about someone else, including myself. During week 5, it asked about our secondary sources and what we had found. One of the people in my group had asked me “I have heard of a lot of people losing respect for modern music because it lacks the intimate meaning that classic music tends to have. Why do you think that might be?”
My response: as for the lack of intimate meaning in modern music, I personally do not think it’s entirely lost, just muddled. Songs now days are very repetitive in their sound and lyrics (not that songs in the past aren’t) but they are losing their uniqueness (which is difficult for all artists). It’s difficult to actually answer your question because I’m not sure if you mean classical music, which don’t have much emotional meaning but focus more on technical and rich detail. Modern music appeals to our emotions more but are not as complex in the lyrics (such as Shake It Off) or in the compositional process. Artist take immense amount patience and diligence in their music, but the technical process has diminished in modern artists (no pun intended). I do not care much for pop music but for a few songs (such as the new beautiful “Hello” by Adele and “Love Runs Out” by Onerepublic”). That’s just my personal tastes. I think Taylor Swift has great musicality however, I believe her lyrics are youthful and simple. It doesn’t move me at all. Her words can relate to some people, but overall, I think the subject about relationships are more than simple. I think Adele captures it very well within her new piece. Does that not define her as a musician? No, because she knows five instruments and her music sells. Her album 1989 she describes it as “it’s the rebirth of [her].” She transitioned from country to pop. And I think that’s great, because music is a huge realm to explore and exploit beautiful differences. However, I also think she could try to stretch her lyrics a bit more, but again, it’s her personal style that I’m not in favor of.
Another great discovery over the course of these weeks is finally observing popular culture and how people and subjects are portrayed in media. In week two course texts, this article really made me critically observe:
One of the great questions asked by a classmate to my response about the article was an old classmate from Race and Social Justice FRINQ course last year. He asked: “How do you think the media is portraying black lives today in relation to the article on Muslim women? Is there relation in the media’s standpoint?” And it made me so happy that could be passionate and intellectually involved in my response. Here is an excerpt of my response:
“Unlike the Muslim women, African-Americans are not viewed as terrorists. There are some pretty well known African-Americans, like Michael Jordon, Eddy Murphy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Snoop Dog, who are all perceived very, very differently. One is inspiration, one is entertainment, one for hope, and I don’t even know about Snoop Dog, all I know is he does rap and a few other shenanigan things, so I don’t really know what to say about him, he’s just a popular musical figure (if you call rap music, but I’m a biased classical composer intended major). But one stigmatization attached to the imagery of an African-American is terms such as “captive,” “enslaved,” “nigger,” “mule,” “powerless,” and the horrific terms go on. A lot of people think of African-American’s as the descent of slaves in the past of our country in the United States. But what becomes so muddled is the fact people do not study the actual history of these priceless figures we never hear about, and there is so much more than simply Africans being brought over to this new land and to serve to their “white, holy masters.”
“…I believe that yes, African-American’s can certainly be tied to certain stereotypical terms or points in history. But like the author for the article about Muslim women argued so well is educate yourself. Why is popular culture the way it is? It’s because we do not take the time to learn about the “behind-the-scenes” of a group of people and their history, but only get an overview of an article or a known piece of history about them and have that be the strong basis to our conclusion of the subject. No, I do not believe Muslim women should ever have to be solely connected to an event such as 9/11. In fact, one of the most intellectual, strong, and powerful voice I heard in my Race and Social Studies class was a Muslim woman. She inspired me. She was the one who wanted to actually speak up, when I know sometimes when I speak, I get tongue-tied because I’ve always struggled lining up my thoughts in an organized manner and make an argument or discussion verbally. Much better at it now, but it’s still a heavy insecurity I think I might always have–unless I listen to more people like the young woman, who covered her face except her eyes, in my FRINQ course. And that means something. Something enlightening. Something evolving–the evolution of listening, understanding, and having acceptance of diversity.”
I felt like I can have a voice, and that makes me feel very proud to share it. And so overall, this class has made me look around my physical community (my home, church, campus) and ask myself, “why is this place the way it is, in terms of representation?” I love having this online community to share our thoughts and ideas and learn from each other. And more surprisingly, what I learned about myself.
Masnick, Mike. “Taylor Swift Is Not The Savior Artists Need.” Techdirt. June 23, 2015. https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150622/22584031428/taylor-swift-is-not-savior-artists-need.shtml
NPR Staff and Swift, Taylor. “‘Anything That Connects’: A Conversation With Taylor Swift.” NPR Music. Updated November 12, 2014. http://www.npr.org/2014/10/31/359827368/anything-that-connects-a-conversation-with-taylor-swift
Kreps, Daniel and Swift, Taylor. “Taylor Swift Dismisses the Haters, Dances With Fans for New Song ‘Shake it Off.’” RollingStone. August 18, 2014. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/taylor-swift-dismisses-the-haters-dances-with-fans-for-new-song-shake-it-off-20140818
“Lindsey Stirling America’s Got Talent.” Youtube video, 7:29. Posted by “America’s Got Talent.” April 12, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2xL7D5lPAk
William, Chris. “Lindsey Stirling Fiddles with the System: Concert Review.” The Hollywood Reporter. May 16, 2014. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/lindsey-stirling-fiddles-system-concert-704996
McLaughlin, Michelle. “About Me.” Michele McLaughlin. 2015. http://michelemclaughlin.com/about/
Binkelman, Bill. “Musical Storytelling to Inspire and Excite the Imagination.” Michele McLaughlin. 2015. http://michelemclaughlin.com/
Harper, Douglas. “Musician.” Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/musician
Higgins, Parker. (August 6, 2015). Taylor Swift’s Streaming Rant Nearly Identical To Garth Brooks’ Used CD Rant. Retrieved from: http://www.hypebot.com/.a/6a00d83451b36c69e201b8d1438405970c-800wi
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Carrillo, Luis David Hernandez. (August 31, 2013). Youtube video: la mejor violinista sin duda una de las mejores lindsey stirling HD. Retrieved from http://i.ytimg.com/vi/sL25AnUDnAY/maxresdefault.jpg
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Jews News Administrator. (October 14, 2015). Muslim Woman Issues Chilling Warning to the West about Dangers of Islam. Retrieved from http://cdn.jewsnews.co.il/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/1380.jpg