I used to hang out with a lot of musicians — really good ones of various flavors. One of them was in one of those PBS-sponsored youth classical contests (can’t remember if he won, though.) A couple of them were in the Hollywood movie-scoring scene already. Some did work in games soundtracks. A couple semi-famous singer/songwriters. And some were electronic musicians who wrote dance songs.
The electronic musicians had a problem. Like any artist, they wanted to make something enduring, but they knew that their work was destined to be, at most, a seasonal hit in the clubs. Whatever they wrote would be replaced with the next tune that satisfied people’s dance music cravings.
Electronic music is inherently consumable and disposable.
Electronic dance music is functional — it’s designed to make people want to dance for a long time and strengthen people’s ties to certain lifestyles. These things don’t happen by accident; a good dance music writer knows why people listen to it and leverages his knowledge. To non-expert listeners (people not in the scene), all the songs in a style — like house, hip-hop, trance, d&b, 2step, etc — sound basically the same, since they have to operate within the guidelines of this function.
You’d think that this would make dance music producers take their art less seriously, knowing that their audience is going to consume and discard their work. But no, the best of the electronic musicians still thought of themselves as “real musicians,” regardless of their genre’s critics or their work’s fate.
These composers proved to be as dedicated to their craft as the Hollywood orchestral soundtrack writers.
But it makes sense. If they’re serious about making good music, they have to think of themselves as 1st class musicians, not just “dance producers.”
If they think of themselves as 2nd class musicians — “I just write electronic stuff” — they damn themselves to settling for a lower grade before they sequence a single beat. They won’t think it’s possible to write a great piece within the genre, and their music will never be great, just satisfactory.
Even worse, they will limit themselves to tools within the style only, taking the conventions, cliches, and standards as their starting point. This creates me-too music and basically precludes creativity — the same kind of creativity that Massive Attack had when creating their signature sound and broke out of existing genre rules.
Are you a writer, or a “popular fiction writer?”
So, what does this mean for you, a writer? Let’s pretend you’re a romance writer. How do you think of yourself and your stories? Are you a writer, or a “romance writer?” Have you lowered standards for your own stories just because you write fiction that people tend to read & recycle? In your heart of hearts, do you feel like a 2nd class citizen just because of your genre?
Do you believe that it’s possible to write a masterpiece in your chosen genre?
If you truly want to write something that endures… that’s not automatically destined for the read & recycle fate… that won’t get replaced in the reader’s memory by the next satisfactory thing… then start thinking of yourself as a 1st class writer, not a “romance writer.” Think of your stories as stories, not “romance stories.” Believe that even though you write in a popular genre, you can achieve masterpiece level with your stories.
Only then will you stop being limited by your own thinking, and only then will you be able to write at maximum capacity.