What’s the Best Way to Make Music?

I’m rather opinionated about music. Folks know this.

And while all that frustration criticism comes through loud and clear when I write or tweet, I’m definitely not as good at communicating that I understand and respect how profoundly difficult making music really is.

I thought about this when I came across this Tyrese quote on Singersroom.com:

“Producers these days are lazy. Making tracks. Sending emails. I’m just saying. When you make music under the same roof, with the actual artist that you’re working with, everybody is praying together, eating together, laughing together. It’s a different kind of nuance that’s created around music.”  (emphasis mine)

I do think there’s something profoundly special about the music that can come from songwriters, producers and artists spending time together crafting music that the artist feels a close connection to because that artist has had some input into making it, but with that understanding comes a deeper understanding that I think critics of black music don’t articulate nearly enough: what Tyrese longs for is the exception in the music industry, not the rule, particularly with black popular music.

In other words, a lot of people aren’t afforded the luxury of getting into a room with the best songwriters and producers and creating something that they can feel has the personal touch because that’s not the kind of artist they are intended to be, whether they know it and acknowledge it or not. We should be honest about this fact.

The music industry’s love affair with singer/songwriters is only about 40 years old and even with that it’s a very selective love affair that doesn’t encompass a lot of folks with melanin at all. Popular music has always had it’s share of artists who are handed ready-made tracks, or (if we want to be fancy) “standards,” so that the songwriter (and, by extension, the record label, but almost never the artist him- or herself) can make even more money. The artist has almost always been an afterthought.

I mean, there’s a reason that there are so many versions of “A Song For You,” for instance. (Lalah ain’t seein them coins every time that song is covered or played on the radio, y’all!)

And when we talk about black music, we are talking about a form that becomes commodified and replicated almost as fast as it’s invented such that there is almost never room for even the biggest artists to do anything more than churn out what is expected of them.

So while I appreciate what Tyrese is saying here, it has the faint whiff of romantic nostalgia, ignorance and the kind of snobbery that comes from the luxury of knowing your checks come from Transformers and not from the ever-dwindling number of people who shell out $10 to hear you do what you’re actually best at.

Producers aren’t lazy so much as doing what the industry requires. I mean, I’d love to see what Jazmine Sullivan and Salaam Remi come up with next, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stop wishing Salaam would come through and make Brandy and Kelly Rowland great.

Like many things, what we’re talking about isn’t an either/or proposition. Artists like Usher have built incredibly brilliant catalogues off of ready-made songs and at the same damn time there is magic that comes from the unique alchemy that Janet, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, or (if you want to be obscure) Rahsaan Patterson and Jamey Jaz, typify. Pretending as if every artist has the opportunity to do the latter, and that it’s inherently better, is just categorically false.

And making good music is hard either way.

About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.
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