When Consumers Suddenly Become Professional Musicians; Best Buy and Soulja Boy Poised to Boost Profile of Beatmaking
|By Amir Said (Sa’id)|
When electronics giant Best Buy announced (six months ago) the launch of their in-store “Club Beats” section (a section specifically for DJ and music production-related products), my first thought was: Sam Ash and Guitar Center may soon need to merge. My next thought was: This will inevitably further affect the quality of “professional” music.
Before I ever owned an EMPI (Electronic Music Production Instrument) of any sort, I already knew that the creative musical process was a daunting task mastered only by those who spent extended hours in music studies, and those who pledged the depths of their imagination and ingenuity in the service of making art. I also knew that even the most money-inspired music artists had standards of quality and professionalism. That was then.
There has always been high-end and low-end music audio and recording gear and equipment. But some time around 1995, mid-end gear began taking a stronger hold of all gear sales, subsequently, creating a new music gear and equipment retail market commonly known as the “prosumer” market.
No other music sector has been impacted by the prosumer market explosion more than hip hop/rap music. Hip hop/rap music, made chiefly through the art of beatmaking, has long been achievable through audio recording tools of low ability. Thus, as technological advancements made it more possible and, I should add, much more practical for EMPI manufacturers to assemble products for the prosumer market, more consumer-musicians (hobbyists) aggressively pursued the ranks of professional musicians. This was cool, so long as the pursuit of the professional music career included a respect for and recognition of the demands of the artistic integrity-based creative musical process.
But the rapid development of the prosumer market has had unexpected consequences in hip hop/rap music. Although technological advancements have, in effect, handed over the music-making process (in this case, beatmaking) to virtually anyone, it has also not only diluted the creative musical process, it has blurred the line between consumer-musician and professional musician. Now, I’m all for more consumers being able to actively participate in the world of music-making. That being said, however, this occurrence should not come at the price of losing standards of quality that the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions have long employed.
If we look at the case of Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, perhaps the most well-known case of a consumer-musician in recent history to leap fast into the ranks of professional musicians, we can see a great deal. Less we forget, Soulja Boy’s rise to stardom had more to do with his effective use of the social media websites, MySpace and YouTube, than it did with a respectable knowledge of and serious commitment to either the art of rapping or beatmaking. This is not a knock against Soulja Boy or any other rapper/beatmaker of similar vocation. Instead, this is a reminder of how notions of “quality” hip hop/rap music can easily be misconstrued. When a one-time occurrence like a dance craze and social media phenomenon propels the commercial success of a record, in this case, Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” which was predicated upon a very sparse hip hop/rap beat, there is the risk that far too many people will perceive such a record as some measurement of high quality. When this happens, many consumer-musicians (many of which who are not too committed to the creative musical process in the first place) surmise that they, too, can “capture lightning in the bottle.” Inevitably, what happens next is an onslaught of similar beats, and similar “dance crazes.” And with so many people duplicating the exact same sub-par, incredibly minimalistic (for all the wrong reasons) beats, the concept of a quality beat and/or a professional musician is dramatically compromised.
Regardless of region, age, race, or ethnicity, whenever there’s a lack of commitment to the art of rapping and beatmaking, and a dilution of the concept of a quality beat and a professional musician, hip hop/rap music suffers; and hip hop culture becomes more trivial, while its power and appeal weakens. When this phase occurs in hip hop/rap music, the only solution is a reaffirmation of what constitutes an artistic, integrity-based creative musical process. This brings me back to Soulja Boy.
What is most interesting and revealing about Soulja Boy’s case is the fact that his recent reported musical association with Kanye West might be less of a reflection of marketing a new music project, and more of a reflection of his recognition of what constitutes higher quality in hip hop/rap music. In an interview with XXL Magazine (October), Soulja Boy said of Kanye West, “I work with a lot of artists but out of all of the artists I worked with I think that’s the only artist that try to push my talent to the next level, like it wasn’t easy working with him…” (XXLMag) And in an interview with KeepItTrill.com (November), Soulja Boy said, “Me as a producer, I think I’ve grown tremendously;” while further revealing that Kanye showed him “a lot of stuff.” (KeepItTrill.com)
So even if Soulja Boy doesn’t recognize that his future success depends upon his commitment to a more informed, more artistic, integrity-based creative musical process (though I think he does), at least he’s acknowledging that Kanye West, unlike him at the moment, is widely recognized for pushing music creativity to the next level. Moreover, Soulja Boy sincerely appears to be reaffirming my point: That the consumer-musician’s leap to the ranks of professional musicians is cool, so long as there’s a recognition of the demands of an artistic integrity-based creative musical process. And I think Soulja Boy’s recognition of this demand, and his subsequent beatmaking improvement, can only help to encourage many others (particularly, impressionable teens interested in beatmaking) to take a more serious approach to beatmaking.
In summary, Best Buy’s recent muscle-move into the prosumer music audio and recording market will inevitably put the EMPIs of beatmaking into the hands of more consumers than ever before. This, in turn, will increase the number of consumer-musicians who aspire to join the ranks of professional musicians. So what does this mean for the metrics of quality in hip hop/rap music in the future? Well, on one hand this means that there will be further dilution of the concepts of a quality beat and a professional musician. On the other hand, this could mean something beautiful. You see, there is one important “X factor” that must be considered here. Unlike typical music audio and recording stores, Best Buy receives a heavy load of kid (tween) foot-traffic. And thus, the earlier a consumer dives into the art of beatmaking and the creative musical process, without any interference from those who are less committed to the art and craft, the more likely it will be that the consumer will be able to really study and learn the art of beatmaking and the broader hip hop/rap music tradition. Should this happen, and I believe it will, the overall quality of hip hop/rap music will soar.Articles, BeatTips, Editor's Choice, Editorials, Music Education, Themes, Theories, and Concepts