Creative Strategies for Producers w/ Matt Shadetek: Quality Is Not Enough

In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek explains why quality is not enough to differentiate you as an artist in today’s landscape.

 Matt Shadetek - Creative Strategies: Quality is Not Enough

In my previous piece Copying, Learning, and Creativity creative strategies article, I discussed competency and creating professional-quality art. In this piece, I’ll continue that discussion and explain why quality is not enough to differentiate you as an artist in today’s landscape.

Many people creating works of art have a role model, a yardstick they seek to measure up against. Usually, it’s a favorite artist who has been a source of inspiration. As they work, they mentally compare their work to what inspired them, hoping to achieve a similar level of quality. Often, this is a defensive posture. Afraid of being judged, they use this comparison as a way of justifying their work. Making something that is as good as someone else feels safe and easily defensible.

This approach often causes people to look at their hero and think, “They’re successful, if I can make something as good as them, I can be successful too!”  If you emulate your hero and make your work just as good, or perhaps even better, there should be space at the table for you too, right?  The problem is that you’re then competing for a seat at the table already occupied by the hero you’re emulating. Unless something causes him to fall out of his spot, you’ll end up, at best, receiving crumbs from their table. And there’s no guarantee that waiting your turn will work. What if, while you’re waiting, the whole style goes out of favor?You’re next in line (if you’re lucky) to get into a party that’s over. Even worse, most people are not next in line. They’re on the line around the corner when the party gets shut down. Don’t be that guy.

If you want to be successful and compete with the people you admire then quality is not enough. This may sound harsh, but quality is the price of entry. As I like to say in my New York classes, that and $2.50 will get you on the subway. We must have music of adequate quality–it’s non-negotiable. But once we have music of adequate quality, what then? Then the game becomes about differentiation.

Instead of trying to be good at  the game our competition is playing, we need to play a different game. In the business world, this strategy is called disruptive innovation. If everyone is competing around one measurement of quality, change what is being measured and be the best at the new thing. A case study in this is the introduction of the Nintendo Wii. Microsoft and Sony were dominating the video game market with high-powered, expensive consoles (Xbox and Playstation). Both were primarily competing to have more graphic horsepower to render ever more photo-realistic 3D visuals. Both were competing for the hardcore video game enthusiast and fighting to get a bigger share of that core group. Nintendo entered the market with the Wii, a product that was far less powerful but targeted at a different group: casual players, children and families. Most importantly, they introduced a whole new paradigm in playing video games, using body movement for control. Even though their machine was less powerful, had fewer games, and ignored the core group that its rivals were fighting over, the Wii vastly outsold its rivals. Its dominance was so complete that Microsoft and Sony eventually ended up having to follow Nintendo’s lead and introduce motion control products.

If you see everyone competing to be like Artist X, this is an opportunity. Go left when the herd is going right and open up a space for yourself. To be clear, this is not an easy thing to do. Being original is hard and requires a high level of discipline, rigor, and a willingness to take risks.

When multiple artists are competing over a single piece of stylistic territory, the limited audience for that style gets sliced up, with each artist winning a smaller piece. It’s worth noting, however, that art is not a win-lose game where one artist gaining followers means another must have less. The key is to stop fighting for a sliver of the same pie and offer an alternative. By being different enough, you can create a brand-new empty lane with no one ahead of you. There may be less people following this style to begin with–this is where part of the risk is–but if you can build a following, you gain the chance to be the best in the world at what you do. Capture a larger piece of a smaller pie, and if you’re lucky that pie will grow larger over time. The simpler, and perhaps less risky, step is to simply move to a less crowded area in an attempt to stand out.

The core advice here is simple: be different. Take a cold, hard look at where you are headed artistically, your goals, influences, and style choices. Consider how you stack up. While this advice is certainly easier said than done, it is a worthwhile goal. As an artist, you must make decisions. As you make decisions, consider whether they will help you to blend into the crowd, or whether they help you to stand apart. Where do you think you’ll be more likely to be seen and recognized?

About Matt Shadetek

Matt Shadetek is one of New York City’s most exciting producers. His live sets encompass contemporary Dancehall, UK Funky, and Dubstep, all delivered with Shadetek’s unique production voice which bridges the underground-mainstream divide. He’s one of the rare DJs who can rock a crowd with sets composed solely of his own dancefloor bangers and remixes.

Matt’s early love for Hip Hop and Dancehall along with edgy electronic sounds led to his Warp Records debut album Burnerism as part of the duo Team Shadetek. While Matt was living in Berlin and touring Europe, the followup LP Pale Fire was released, featuring the underground hit “Brooklyn Anthem”. The hit song kick-started a dance craze in the Brooklyn reggae scene (leading to over 100 fan videos of kids dancing to it).

Returning to NYC, Matt founded the Dutty Artz label/production crew with DJ /Rupture. Shadetek produced Jahdan Blakkamoore’s debut album, Buzzrock Warrior (!K7), pioneering its signature Reggae-Dubstep-Rap sound. In 2009 he also teamed up with Rupture to release the mix album Solar Life Raft (The Agriculture). His latest release, on Dutty Artz, is Flowers, an effervescent solo instrumental effort that references dubstep, UK Funky and Garage. He has toured internationally both solo and accompanied by Jahdan as vocalist.

Connect with Matt on Twitter | SoundCloud | Website


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