Even in the age of algorithms, it is perfectly possible to carve your own creative path
The other week I posted the following tweet:
You know that line in Yoncé that goes “radio say speed it up, I just go slower”— emzae (@emzaemusic) April 24, 2019
Well my version of that is “playlist curators and radio say make your track under 3 mins, I just drop a single that’s 5:13 with a semi-long intro of ambient noise”https://t.co/yZCH3cdqeg
Aside from the fact I embarrassingly stated the length of my song incorrectly (Another Lesson Learnt is actually 5:14, people), this marked a moment in which I realised that it was high time I started embracing myself and my unique traits as an artist and an individual.
It can be especially challenging, in a world of algorithms and industry feedback informing you that if only your track was under 3 minutes long and got to the chorus within 0.2 seconds it would be a really good fit, to resist the urge to chase trends and sell your creative soul to the highest bidder. It’s not a weakness to do so — after all, we’re surrounded by numbers every day and psychologically encouraged to pit everyone from our friends to the small rook sitting on our windowsill as our competition. Day after day articles are shared on our feeds about how the real forward-thinking musicians are making music for platforms and algorithms with specific ingredients cooked up to create a recipe for ‘viral success’. And what’s more, they’re younger, prettier and more talented than you.
Life as an artist is often plagued with insecurity and self-doubt, no matter how well you hide it. We are constantly watching the success of others — am I doing well enough? Is my image ok? Is my music relevant? Am I moving forwards or am I stuck? But this way of thinking is setting a trap for ourselves and ignoring the power of our own individuality. It’s likely that no artist you have ever adored has been a follower. They have been an innovator. Someone who stuck to their path and their vision, albeit with some scope for fluidity, and found their own people.
The whole allure of the creative process - whichever craft - is that there are no rules. If we do not embrace our originality then I fear that we are heading into a world that shames us for what makes us unique. I once wrote a blog post about being a misfit. Even when I was a teenager, I was nothing even approaching ‘cool’. I’ve always felt like an older brain in a younger body, and within my music i’ve mostly swerved away from writing anything that references very specific technology or trends that will quickly become dated. My whole philosophy when making music is about trying to make art that means something and makes observations about life and feelings that can resonate during a time when pop culture and most other things are disposable, time moves fast and brands think we have the attention spans of goldfish and fit into neat little demographic boxes.
Yet in this harsh industry climate where people would rather eat a block of tinned ham off a toilet rim (one of my finer metaphors) than click on a band camp link or buy an emzae sticker, some of you may argue that creative freedom is all well and good , but it currently doesn’t allow us to be able to eat said tinned ham, albeit off a normal plate.
But - and just a warning readers, this is where it all gets a bit serious and semi-preachy - shuffle a song on your discover weekly playlist. Scour the best-selling books on Amazon. Scroll through some instagram feeds. What are you looking for? What makes you invest in a creative? What makes you stay? It’s all well and good riding the trends - sometimes it can be done tastefully - but where is your human connection to your followers? Where is your tribe who support you from project to project, not drifting away and being replaced with entirely different people, but staying for the long haul because they enjoy you and your ‘aesthetic’? The one only you can have because there is only one you in the world? (delete as necessary if human cloning becomes possible).
You may not think you have a tribe. But we all do, and it doesn’t matter who they are and whether they are the demographic marketing blogs are obsessed with that doesn’t really exist in the way they think it does. As long as you are authentic, consistent, forward-thinking and determined, you can find and attract the people who need your art in their lives. And they’ll stick around for way longer than a viral audience.