No this is not an ode to Deion Sanders’ early 90’s turn at rapping. Although we’ll cue the video for your viewing/listening pleasure, I guess.

No this is more about a trend that I’ve noticed that has been brewing in society generally for the last half-century and specifically in music for the last thirty or so years and has just hyper-activated over the last fifteen years. Not just the mentioning of money in songs but moreso money being the sole motivation, which I believe has given rise to all types of shortcuts and mediocrity and general silliness when it comes to music and by extension education and the lack there of…

THE BASICS

No one and I mean no one knows everything and that’s fine, no one could or should know everything about everything. However, you should know something about what you choose to engage yourself. Cue Harry Connick Jr.

Music Theory can be an endless, albeit stimulating, black hole of scales, modes, schools, analysis, forms and so on… but if you participate in music what’s wrong with knowing the basics? Would you want to be treated by a Physician who not only didn’t take Biology but could care less or perhaps would even state “What’s Biology?” I know you’re thinking that oh it’s just music, it’s not that serious. But actually it is.

How does this relate to money you ask? Well I believe that we’ve reached a point where in many segments of our society skill has been forsaken for popularity. Nowhere is that more apparent than in music. Sure there’s always been the debate between “serious art” and “popular art” in music but often that was during a time where the bar was so high that even the fluff had some substance, some quantifiable skill. Now? I’m not so sure.

Do I believe that every person proclaiming to be a musician or in music should be a trained musician? No. There are some trained musicians that you wouldn’t want to listen to as well all know. I think what drives me to pose this question in the first place is that I believe that with just a little more knowledge whether it be formalized or self-motivated some different choices would be made as far as musical output is concerned.

Where we are is that because the money and the accompanying popularity that follows drives the creative output often we are left with copies of copies of copies of copies and just like analog tape each copy degradation occurs and what you end up with is a serious shadow of what formerly was. Oh there are exceptions to every rule, but the emphasis on so much on the fruits that too many have forgotten the labor. Why would you want to be compensated for work you have not put in? Actually, I think I can answer that one. A better question might be: Why would you want to work in a field where you solely on instinct and not intellect?

There’s beauty in balance. I don’t think it necessary of desirable for someone to be all instinct or all intellect but a nice combination of the two should net some inspiring results.

So… How Does One Balance The Allure of Money versus Honing One’s Craft to the point of Artistic Integrity?

Well let me clear one thing up before I share this list: I’m not advocating for anyone to live a life of a pauper. That’s not the point. The point is to know your worth and value based upon the work that you’ve put in and how that work holds up against what we all can agree on are the greatest examples of artists at the top of the field. What I just advanced there is part of the problem. Too many don’t know greatness. They know goodness and some not even that. There are too many legends, yet there really aren’t that many if we were honest. There’s far too many geniuses, yet if we were honest yet again there are far fewer geniuses of music than legends.

So yeah about that list…

1. Slow down

What’s the rush? You have a lifetime to cultivate your voice as an artist. Is there some age maximum whereby you’re forced not to make music anymore? I’m sure it is if you want to play the fame game but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

2. Know The Greats/Know Yourself

We all have influences. All of us. Seek out the best, not the most popular, but the best. Know the lineage and take it back as far as you can possibly go and then work forward. Consider context. Always consider context. If you consider yourself an R&B artist then why would you not be familiar with those artists who were at the top of the field in Blues from the beginning of the 20th century forward? Why would you not give consideration to the intersection of Ragtime, Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Swing, Boogie-Woogie, Jump Blues up to Rhythm & Blues. I’m just up to the 1950’s and we’re in 2014 so you’ve got a lot of homework to do if you’re not hip to the last one hundred and twenty so odd years of music. Once you know these greats and you find those among them that resonate with you, you will have a better path to finding yourself. When I say spend time with these greats I don’t mean just enough to know a name, I mean enough time where their music is in you, where their music is you.

3. Integrity First/Bank Statement Second

In a perfect world your artistic integrity should impact your bank statement in the most positive manner. Of course we don’t live in that world and certainly integrity can be subjective. But if everyone focused more on the knowing and the doing instead of all the trappings that surround the prestige and celebrity I believe the music would improve across the board. In other words if everyone took the time to know truly what’s good, the it would make everything we hear just a little bit better and that’s something that even money can’t buy.

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.