Monday, February 11, 2013

Innovator, or Sell Out: Part 2. "Switching your style"

It is a very tricky manoever to switch up your style.  As much as people claim to have diverse tastes in music, the fact is they have a preconceived idea of what they want to hear from a DJ when they see them perform.  Sometimes a DJ brands themselves with a particular sound, and when they decide to go off the grid, people may shun them.  If someone is a huge fan of a certain house DJ or Producer, and they pay $20 to hear them play some of their favorite house tunes at a show, they will more than likely be upset if the DJ starts playing all Trance.  This type-casting is what makes so many performers fearful of switching gears.  People can be so quick to alienate their favorite DJ when all the DJ wanted to do was expand their style.

Most DJs have diverse tastes in music, but chose one sound to define them.  Think of how many multi genre artists are successful compared to the success of the artists who focus on a particular style.  I guarantee the artists with extreme A.D.D. are the ones less likely to make an impact unless they are a band with 30+ years of experience under their belt.  This isn't always true though, and showing how skilled you are across multiple areas can gain you even more respect at times, but it is a fine line.  You need to make sure you are talented across the board, and very few are that brilliant.  If Stevie Wonder started rapping, I'm sure people would think he lost his mind, even though he may have been deep into hip hop for years.  Would it really be that surprising if he was a good rapper?  He shares the same craft of poetry as a rapper, yet no one would take him seriously.

I think people just assume that if you play 10 different genres, that each one is a bit watered down.  I mean, how can you possibly have great taste in 10 different genres (sarcasm).  But that is what I think people assume.  Folks want to know that you have focused all of your time and energy into one sound, and spent years to perfect it.  I feel that having a few sounds that define you is great, so when I say multi-genre, I'm usually referring to way more than a handful.  This can be especially painful if a DJ tries to stuff 8 styles into a one hour time slot.  It is too hard for people to lose themselves to the music when they are constantly jumping from sound to sound and confusing everyone.

As a DJ, it is much easier to switch up your style than a band or producer, but if you do it too frequently, most people will just brand you as a bandwagon DJ.  If your style is just all over the place and has no structure, you probably won't be able to build a solid fan base because no one will know what you will end up playing when they go out to see you.  There are some people that like the element of surprise, and the scatter brain multi-genre DJs sometimes have a decent fan base, but very rarely do they get large.

I personally started my days as a DJ spinning all sorts of music.  I played Trip Hop, Broken Beat, Acid Jazz, Downtempo Electronica, Rare Soul/Funk, Deep House and a little Top 40 when I needed the extra cash and would whore myself out.  Even though I had built some skill and a tiny fan base, I never really had any dedicated fans because not everyone has diverse tastes, even though the genres I described really aren't that far off from each other.  I could tell that some of the people that liked a certain style of mine, may not have cared much for another.

That is one of the many reasons why I decided to change my identity and focus on one sound.  It worked extremely well and I gained a dedicated fan base of people that knew they wouldn't be let down with a sound they didn't like.  Although, over time, the sound that everyone once loved by you, could easily turn into predictability and people may not be as excited to hear you play after a while.  In these cases it makes sense why people change with the times.  It is a survival tactic.  There are many people who fall off the map completely because they stay too true to their core sound.  This is not necessarily a bad thing since everyone has what they are passionate about, but getting bitter at the changing times is an uphill battle.  There are some Drum and Bass DJs I know and respect who hold on to the genre so tough and refuse to diversify.  That is perfectly fine because they are following their heart and what drives them, but if people have moved on to other sounds, but the DJ won't expand, then eventually the DJ will just be floating in the open ocean alone on a sinking life raft.  I must specify that I never think anyone should just alienate a genre they love, but opening the doors to a second or third style may breathe new life into your name.

You hear this statement all the time: "I went to see so and so last night, but all he played was blah blah blah.  What a waste of money"  That scares the crap out of performers because they can be too afraid to branch out and lose people's interest, but on the flip side you also hear people frequently say, "I went out to see so and so last night.  I never really liked him before, but he played blah blah blah, and blew me away"

That is one reason why many DJs switch up their style, but it needs to be done at the right time.  It is hard to predict when the time is right.  If you wait too long, people may see it as a desperate attempt to stay relevant in a changing market, but if you switch too soon, people may assume you are just a trend hopper.  I have no immediate answer on when to switch up, but there are two methods that I think are the best ways when you do decide.

If you plan on switching up immediately, whether completely or just introducing new styles, you need to create a new alias.  This way people will not be shocked when you start playing a new sound.  If you do not want to change your name, then you should ease people into the new style gradually over the course of a few months by sprinkling in the new sound when you play live and release tunes or mixes.  That way it won't be a complete shock to people.  You won't look like a sell out, and you can gauge your audience and see if they are responding positively to the new sound.  If you do have a few different sounds that define you, you may want to specify what style you will be playing at each event so people know what to expect.

Musicians are constantly evolving.  Sometimes a band may completely fall off the map and just be a memory or one hit wonder.  This terrifies people into staying true to the formula that made them a success, but if you stay stagnant for too long and become predictable, you may end up losing that fan base anyhow.  If you innovate at the right time, you may lose a small percentage of fans, but if the music is good, you can open yourself up to an entirely new audience.  There are many people whose popularity has sky rocketed after switching up their style.  Some for better (Pablo Picasso), and some for much worse (Black Eyed Peas), but in the long run it is all merely a matter of opinion.

I personally am in this struggle right now.  The music world I am a part of is opening up to other styles and I want to open up as well.  I do not want to alienate my core sound and audience, but I also want to dabble in some new directions.  I plan on releasing a few different mixes of completely different styles, then gauging the reaction to each sound.  That will give me a good estimate of what people are willing to accept.

Trap music is picking up quite a bit, but it's not quite the direction I want to go in.  I don't have anything against it, but it's just not me.  At least not yet.  Maybe in time I will be as inspired by it as I was with Dubstep, but for the time being I can merely bob my head to it.  I am finding other new genres that inspire me though, that are neither Trap nor Dubstep and I am anxious to share them with everyone.  I won't stop spinning Dubstep, but I am slowly working my way towards new outlets and hopefully people will move with me.

Only time tells whether or not the directions people take will lead to success or failure, but I truly feel that if you are passionate enough about something, and stay true to yourself, you will succeed.  It may take a long time, and lots of hard work and heartache, but in the long run it will pay off.  That's what happened to me when I decided to put on a mask and start playing Dubstep full time.  I lost some fans who thought I lost my marbles, but eventually gained many new admirers who respected me.

If you are just switching styles because you know what's popular, and you are merely chasing the money, I assure you people will see through it.  I have been a DJ that plays what pays (Top 40), but I hated those gigs.  Sure the money was much more prevalent than other gigs, but I still felt empty inside and left the gig feeling low, uninspired, bored, sickened, fake and bitter.  There is nothing more soul crushing than cheapening the artform you love and going against your true passion.  I understand that we all have bills to pay, but to me personally, I see music as much more than just a job.  You should be moving towards what inspires you, not merely what will get you laid and paid.

There is much more I can talk about on this subject, and I may end up repeating myself a few times, but I'll save the next rant for part 3.

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