This is a response to a post by Seth Godin about genre, I was hoping to edit it for this context, but I'm spent, here it is:
I've been thinking about genre and these conversations for weeks, and I think I've put my finger on what's bothering me. The start of the genre conversation put me into a tailspin because I realized that although I came here to take my music seriously, I sound most like myself when I'm speaking about the creative process. The creative work is my raw material that I operate on and to that end it's the foundation for the work to come, but ultimately my genre is as a thinker about creative process.
I think this is your genre too.
I have learned a lot from watching the way you're breaking down creative practice in this workshop, and I suspect I may be coming to view my work in a similar way to how you view your's. That by using your own creative process as example and testing ground, you are able to present a meta analysis that can be of service to other creatives. Thank you for this, both for the work you do and for the framework.
However, within this genre of creative process I think we are operating in two roles - as both creator and as critic.
The creator produces from the bottom up. Starting with the raw material of human experience, emotion, and intention and then produces the work that seeks to express that experience. You might say that it seeks to make change for the people that the creator seeks to serve, that in this sense each creator is fundamentally a marketer. However the creative act doesn't start with a vision of the audience. It starts with the experience of the artist.
The critic analyzes from the top down. Seeing the produced work and classifying it into those around it. That doesn't mean this perspective isn't valuable to the creator, but it comes from a fundamentally different direction. Genre as we think of it now is defined by the critic, not the creator. It's become about the sound, about the aesthetic. My argument is that genre from the perspective of the creator is about [process, not about product (blog post Art as Artifact, Process as Product).
You are absolutely right that an understanding of genre (from the critic's definition) informs the work. When I sit at my synthesizer and produce music, my choices are guided by my experience in many genres. When I move towards a certain bpm and vibe I feel pulled towards the offbeat hi-hat of a certain techno I know extremely well. When things slow I feel a different gravity towards an ambient wash with a pulsating bass drone. Right now I feel a pull towards a certain tone, paragraph structure, an ending place that has been absorbed from reading writing about creativity and personal development.
Yet these pulls are emotional. They are the result of skills and training. They are not conscious choices. I don't think "I'm making techno." I make music using a specific set of tools through a specific process and what comes out might be classified by a critical perspective as techno. In my conversations with many at Akimbo, I think the critic's view has developed as a sticking point within the genre conversation. Whether you intended this perspective or not, I see myself and others trending towards interpreting your argument as saying that we should be aware of our genre ahead of time, and to use this to inform and create the work.
In this video, I don't think he's sitting there thinking - in metal there's often a tom hit on the 2 and 4 so I should do that. He hears that and plays it intuitively because he has experience with the genre. Looking at this video and saying that the reason he's effective is that he understands the genre is the perspective of a critic. It's after the fact. What does that teach us - that we should understand genre? I would agree that it means we should create a process for intentional listening and practice. You are right that great artists understand genre. But I don't believe they think that way. I don't think Prince sat around and thought about how he could make original music while still incorporating elements of genres that would ground the work. The elements of genres ground the work because he has deep experience listening to and playing within those context. But his own music emerges from his experience, not through some process of intentional selection of his experience. He might tell you he hates genre. You argue that his work is coming from there. Both are true. These perspectives are those of the creator vs the critic.
Genre to me is a representation of process. It's not about the sound. Genres in the past were about an approach to the creative process. The blue are a way of life. Big Bands or chamber music describe both a context and a set of instrumentation. I think genre in music has moved away from this and ultimately lost itself in the idolization and classification of specific sounds over the process itself (I wrote a blog post about this recently). In this we lose the thread. The point of genre as you say isn't to lock yourself into a particular sound. It's to understand context so that you can operate within a framework that is relatable to the people that you seek to serve. For me this framework isn't "techno," it's a meta engagement with the creative process.
I've seen a lot of people in this workshop get stuck while trying to figure out which box they fit into so they can they figure out how to intelligently move back outside that box.
Instead of asking, "What genre are you?" Perhaps we might ask, "How does the way you approach your work align with the practices of others?" "How do you build an intuitive understanding of the work of those that came before you?" And then when we step into the role of marketer and critic about our work, "Who are the others that have similar creative practices" "How do they reach their audiences?" "How do they create the change they seek to make?" I felt us going this direction in the early prompts, but I think we lost the thread. "What do you sound like when you sound like yourself" is a great question. Fitting that into a group of people is ultimately useful to be able to market and sell your work to an audience. But in creating the work itself, the question is about process - its inspiration, its equipment, its emotional pitfall - not about the classification of the product, that is the role of the critic and marketer.
How might we separate the role of creator and critic in the understanding of the creative practice? When do we want to understand our work as a marketer? When does that become an active hindrance to the work itself? I think there is space for all of these perspectives, but without some clarity and separation they may leave many in the weeds as I felt for some weeks.
My apologies that this was so long, as Twain said, I'm sorry I didn't have time to write you a shorter one.