In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek explains that genre-based communities can be beneficial to a musician’s career.
Creative Strategies: Genre and Community
In any art form, genre is a tricky thing. On one hand it can serve as a practical marketing label: put this work in this section of the store. On the other hand it can feel like a set of rules or checkboxes that a piece of work has to fulfill to qualify for status in that genre which can feel limiting. Some people are perfectly happy to climb into a genre box and sit there and for them this is less of an issue. Others say things like “I don’t believe in genres, I just make music man!” This is of course, a perfectly valid approach but I’ll argue here that it’s also a bit of a missed opportunity.
We understand the marketing value of genre, it allows our audience to find more things of the type they like. If we’re in the science fiction section of the book store, we don’t want to have to sift through all the romance novels. In this sense it’s very practical. The problem arises when people in the business or the artists themselves begin to police the genre borders and limit the type of work that’s allowed. The result can be boring, conservative works that check all the required boxes for the genre but fail to add anything to the conversation.
Genre can also become an excuse for shallow imitation. People see a genre, understand its superficial characteristics and believe that if they put X, Y and Z in their work, then they can participate in the genre. Take science fiction novels for example. Sometimes authors think that by adding spaceships and aliens to their otherwise standard mystery novel they can cash in on the massive science fiction market (good luck with that, by the way). The same thing happened with dubstep. People thought that by adding certain types of modulated wobble bass sounds to whatever they were already doing they could get in on the dubstep craze and be successful. By not engaging with the genre on a fundamental level and failing to understand the spirit, values and motivations of its core community, the result will rarely be embraced.
I believe there is usefulness in understanding genre as a collection of stylistic check boxes though. As I’ve discussed in some of my other writing, there can be a great value to working within a set of limitations. By saying “I am going to create a work today in genre X” it can help to quickly answer a great number of questions and make the blank page seem a bit less blank at the onset. I’ve found that working within certain loose constraints can allow me to focus more intently on developing a certain part of the work rather than trying to reinvent the wheel every time I sit down to create something.
Although many people tend to focus on the way genre manifests itself directly in the produced work, another way we can explore the concept is by looking at genre as the group of people creating those works. Stylistic movements are made up of communities of people and what some may fail to notice from the outside is that these groups of people talk to, work with and otherwise interact with and influence each other. This can lead to the rise of stylistic movements which are much more loosely connected aesthetically and are much more broad and flexible due to strong social connections.
In my own creative practice I’ve found it very valuable to have other creators to talk to who share some of my aesthetic goals. We may agree on only a few big picture aesthetic landmarks but that’s enough for us to share creative space, have a conversation and share resources. In the music world, creative resources might include opportunities to perform live, connections to label outlets to release music or business contacts like shop owners or distributors. A shared genre identity can allow for the creation of a social community. I’ve met many interesting people over the years through different musical communities I’ve been a part of, ranging from charismatic gangsters to stoner programming savants. The single thing that allowed us to start a conversation and connect was that we were both part of a genre community and we were both passionate about music.
Genre communities can also be very valuable by offering visible entry points to new creators who can grow and strengthen a movement. A powerful and interesting thing about a genre movement is that anyone with a desire for membership can participate on some level. At the lowest level, they can participate as a fan and supporter, a role open to anyone. Although some people may complain that they feel excluded from a community of creators, usually these groups are basically meritocratic: if what you make is good and is somewhat aligned with the interests of the community, you’ll be allowed in. I’ve found personally that even when my work wasn’t particularly good that being active, willing to show up, reach out and connect with people was equally or more important than the quality of my work. There are many roles for different people to support creative communities and if you fill one of these roles, you’ll be welcomed. In music, examples of this include moderating an internet forum, organizing parties, festivals, or conferences, blogging, being a journalist or running a radio show. The people who participate in multiple ways and make contributions to the community are recognized and move towards the heart of the group.
I believe that this social dynamic is more important than many formal aspects of the work. Of course there are limits to how far aesthetic boundaries can be stretched but often if the person doing the stretching is a respected member of that community, a great deal of stylistic deviation will be tolerated. It can also be very interesting to have a bit of friendly competition with other creators in your community. I know personally that when I see someone who I consider to be a part of my community create something excellent I feel challenged to meet or exceed that standard. This process of continuously raising the bar can ensure that members of the community do not become stagnant or endlessly repeat past successes and therefore protects the artistic vitality of the movement.
Genre community participation does not have to be an artistic straight jacket, nor should it be. Building and supporting a group of people around a loosely shared set of creative ideas can offer both creative and practical benefits to the membership of that group. Not every artist will be able to meet their goals in this type of group, but I believe many, perhaps the majority will find value in such a community.
Human beings did not evolve to be the dominant species on the planet by being faster, stronger or having bigger teeth or claws than all the other animals we were in competition with. We reached this point because we have an advanced capacity to cooperate, form groups, organize and protect each other. What was true for our ancient ancestors building a village to keep their families safe from packs of wolves is true for the modern artist as well. There’s strength in numbers.
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.
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