We, as fans, have a responsibility. See, we’ve never had it better. We get music instantly, and many times, directly from the artist themselves. We get new music on a daily basis. We have so much to choose from that it’s sometimes overwhelming.
(I’m going to talk about what us fans need to do to support artists in a future entry. Today, we’re going to discuss oversaturation.)
There’s a severe over saturation in music. As with any product, there is the issue of supply and demand. Because the supply is so high, music itself has become diluted. The product is losing value. Music has become disposable.
I often hear “there is no good music anymore”. That couldn’t be less true. There is more good music now then ever. The issue is, there is infinitely more bad music surrounding it that the good is often hard to find.
Music has lost it’s aura. Gone are the days of anticipating a release, waiting online at midnight at Tower Records, opening up the packaging, reading the credits while listening to the album front to back. Listening to an album used to be an experience. I can tell you exactly where I was the day I first heard illmatic, It Was Written and I Am…, as well as how I felt when I first heard.
Now, we usually hear half the album before it’s released, and then we download the leak weeks before the actual release. Our first listen is usually done on a computer or running off to school/work right after a DL. Our ipods are set to shuffle, so we’re not even listening from the front to back. And even if we were, it wouldn’t matter because we heard half the album already anyway, so the intended song order has little to no meaning.
Also, we’ve probably heard 3 mixtapes, countless freestyles and features, and a dozen throw-away tracks before the album. So we don’t have that same anticipation. No other genre does this, by the way. No pop or rock artist is judged for not releasing music on a weekly basis or is coerced into putting out underwhelming music as a means to stay relevant.
When I heard Nas on Live at the BBQ, I knew I wanted to hear more from him. Then when I heard Halftime, I became a fan. I didn’t need to hear Nas mixtapes or throwaways to know I wanted to hear his album. He had mystique. He left me wanting more.
If I had heard all the Nas throwaways and 3 mixtapes before illmatic, I can’t say that I would have listened the same. I knew I heard an amazing verse, followed by an amazing song, so I was hanging on every word on that album.
“Rappers, I monkey flip ‘em, with the funky rhythms I be kickin’
musician inflicting compositions
of pain, I’m like Scarface sniffin’ cocaine
holding an M-16, see with the pen, I’m extreme, now
Bullet holes left in my peepholes
I’m suited up in street clothes
Hand me a .9, and I’ll defeat foes”
That was a memory. A moment in my life that I’ll never forget. It helped shape me as a person
That’s what music does at it’s best. Music touches your senses. It creates moments. That’s what we’re losing now.
We’re in a difficult cycle. If you aren’t releasing music constantly, you risk losing fans, because other musicians are constantly releasing more. Hip-hop is a race to stay relevant. The cycle is troublesome, though. It is this premise that is leading music, specifically the urban genre, to be watered down.
Joell Ortiz is a prime example. I’m a huge Joell fan and happen to think he’s one of the most talented artists in the industry. However, he’s releases so much music over the past year that I wasn’t even looking forward to his album anymore. I had to stop downloading his releases because I didn’t want to spoil the album. The music that is being releases is below his talent level. That’s because no artist can constantly release music and maintain a high level of quality. After hearing so many throwaways and less-than-album quality music from an artist, you start to associate that artist with that caliber of music.
Music is very subjective. If a friend who you really admire and respect says “listen to this”, you want to like it. You listen for the potential. For the good stuff. You tend to ignore the missteps and focus on the positives. If somebody spams you a link on twitter, you’ll – assuming you listen – going to go in wanting to not like it. You’ll look for things to pick apart.
That’s why illmatic created such a moment. I was so eager to hear Nas that I went in expecting greatness. If I had heard a bunch of unfinished, unmixed material first, I might not have had those high expectations. I think that’s a huge problem in the industry.
People talk about Jay Electronica not releasing enough music. But I’ll tell you this. If he set a release date, I’d buy the album. And it’d be fresh to hear Jay at his best for 14 songs instead of a bunch of half-ass music before hand.
My advice to aspiring musicians would be to focus on quality. Make sure every bit of music you release is a direct reflection of your talent. Don’t fall victim to the pitfalls of releasing music below your caliber just to stay relevant. You have to think of it this way: every piece of music you release might be the first thing that somebody hears from you. And because of the amount of music that’s available, there is a good chance that if they don’t like what they hear the first time, they’ll never listen a second time. You usually have one opportunity to make someone a fan.
When we were preparing “Sorry I’m Late”, I got in heated debates with industry folks who said I needed to drop a mixtape or some freestyles in order to build buzz. I wholeheartedly disagreed. These are people, by the way, with a lot more experience than me. But because they were already successful in the industry, they have a very specific way of thinking. It’s difficult for industry folks to break away from the current trends.
I wanted every song that we released to be reflective of Culture VI Records. I wanted to be associated with quality. I wanted John to have a mystique. The first song I ever released from John was Devil’s Eye, featuring Ill Bill and Juganot. It was a bonus track for the album, but it was a fully mixed, fully produced record. Every song we released was indicative of the project. We kept releasing better and better records. That was our way of building anticipation.
My only regret is that we had to release so many records off the album, therefore stripping away the emotion of listening front to back. That was our tradeoff.
Will that strategy work for everybody? No. I had a built in fan base because of my ten-plus years of releasing music, plus our media efforts over the past few years. I had friends at all the major blogs and sites, as well as some incredible guest features and production. But the point isn’t to copy what we did. It’s to think long term. To focus on the artist’s brand. To make sure every piece of music associated is a direct reflection. You build your strategy around that premise. Don’t water down your own music. Keep it valuable. There is nothing valuable about “check out www.******.com and download my FREE beats!”. You’re only diluting your own brand.
I hope that makes sense. I’d love to see some comments about this topic. This could make for a great discussion.