The fine art of balancing artistic integrity & commercial viability

Being a commercial artist is a lot like walking a tight rope between making stuff which I think is cool vs. something others think is cool.

On one hand, there’ll be times where I’ll create something that is so obscure that it doesn’t make it out into the public sphere because I know that it’s just not really relatable. These are often the things I like a lot, but I’ve been around for long enough to know very few others will like it – and if they do, it will be a very small audience. Maybe I’ll show it to my brother or a close friend.

On the other hand, there are times I’ll create something that’s almost too relatable – something that sounds too much like the latest radio hit. These songs also don’t often make it out into the public sphere because they have no artistic integrity – essentially anyone could’ve made it. These are often things that I have no real attachment to, but there’s the temptation to go this route because I know there’s potential for it to reach a larger audience.

For me, the magic is in the space between these two extremes – when a song is obscure enough to have my signature stamp on it but relatable enough for others to enjoy. I think it’s much easier to veer to the side of creating music that’s just a carbon copy of what’s popular, but ultimately there’s no real satisfaction in that (even if it does become majorly popular). It takes a lot more courage to veer the other way – to create something that is more personal & that’s often at the risk of having your heart broken if it falls on deaf ears. With that being said, there’s also a much greater chance of making real fans who appreciate the authenticity of your work.

Lately, it feels like I’m finally starting to get into that magic space between the two extremes – where the balance feels right. For the last few years I’ve been in a comfortable space of creating stuff that I’m proud of while managing to do music full time, but I feel like I’ve veered too far to the side of creating stuff that’s safe – like I’ve only been scratching the surface of my artistic expression. I could carry on that way (and I’d probably carry on living comfortably), but I’ll always just be somewhere in the middle of the pack, walking a path that’s already been forged by someone else. I don’t blame guys who play it safe either, because the music industry is nuts – there’s so much pressure on musicians to cater to the audience, but I believe it’s only those who forge their own paths that will make a true success of their careers in the long run.

I hope this is useful to anyone in any creative industry.

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