Art vs. Entertainment: How do you see yourself in the world of music?
by Melissa Axel
How do you see your role in the music industry? You may say that you're an artist, creatively interpreting your experiences and the world around you to evoke an emotional response. Or perhaps you identify more as an entertainer, offering delight and diversion from the ups and downs of everyday life. The two are not mutually exclusive, but how you see yourself—in music and in life—determines everything from what you write about to what kind of performances you give (if any) to how you interact with everyone who hears your songs. What works for Regina Spektor (see picture insert) does not work for Lady Gaga, and vice versa … but why?
Regina's power lies in her purity: intelligent, honest lyrics and raw vocal delivery are the essence of her style as a performer and as a writer. Her work may not compel you if you're more interested in fantasy than reality, but her unique talent for highlighting the humor and poignancy of "real life" is unmistakable. And, she's incredibly engaging to watch even when seated in black on an empty stage, save for a baby grand.
Lady Gaga has said that she considers herself a songwriter first, yet so much of her energy goes into extravagant stage production and image design. Love her or hate her, if you've seen any of her live performances, it's hard to argue that she's not expressing herself and often sharing emotions that ring true with others, albeit surrounded by spectacle. Remember, even the most seemingly unnatural things on earth were created by us humans.
So who is the artist and who is the entertainer? These two examples show us not only what differences there can be among performing songwriters, but how each music creator has the ongoing opportunity to define him or herself through creativity, emotion, amusement or all of the above. Artists entertain, and entertainers create art. Both require talent, skill, endurance and vast amounts of hard work. Both roles can touch and inspire, heal and comfort, sometimes provoke and even alienate, but above all, connect. Whatever approach we bring to it, music brings us together and returns us to our core essence, in all its diversity.
A more important question may be "are you being true to yourself in all that you create?" In an industry full of manufactured imagery, mass-marketed talent and carefully crafted showcases, authenticity is a rare gift indeed. It is the bold singer who approaches the performance of a song with humility, choosing quiet notes over vocal affectation to highlight an important lyric, saving the big wails for contrasting emotional impact. It is the brave writer who chooses to speak the truth, in his or her own words, even when there's no telling whether anyone else wants to hear it.
Let everyone else try to decide whether what you're doing is "art" or "entertainment" … they certainly won't all agree anyway. It's your choice how to express yourself through your work—and defining who you are to yourself will give you the best understanding of your role in the world of music.
Who are you, really? Who do you want to be? Are they one and the same?
Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, Melissa Axel was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Her new album “love. humanity. Metamorphosis” will be released September 20, 2011. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net