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What Makes an Artist?

This seems an interesting topic to bring up since the artist poll has just finished...

Is the strength of an artist just the sum of their catalogue, as in the AM rankings?

Or are there other factors of rationale to consider, e.g. how good they are live; influence; even image?

Or is there some other special, indefinable something (to other posters from the UK, I hesitate to say an X Factor) which makes you say, although that act has a song I like more, or has albums which stand above those of this one, this artist has to be it - my favourite, the greatest.

The results of the album poll suggest that the way people make up their mind about artists varies greatly. The ones some place highly imply that influence is not a big part of their decision-making process, and that they simply choose the artist which, overall, they like listening to best; others maybe see a certain artist (Dylan comes to mind) as even greater as an artist than what his music totals to; and so on.

The one that I really find interesting is the live factor. Without ever experiencing an artist live, their music doesn't have an actual personality. No matter how much egoism, self-agrandisation, life or relatability is in the music itself, can it ever be personable? Is the artist actually a human being? Or is one of the points of an art form like music to remove the personable element of interaction and put up a mirror to humanity instead (artists themselves probably divide into different schools on this last point which is what makes it so difficult to bunch them all together in comparison)?

This debate is the reason why, even if I had taken the care to pay attention during the run up to the artist poll and the time to listen to as many artists as possible, I probably wouldn't have voted. It's easy to say whether or not you like a song or a collection of songs upon listening; easy enough from there to say how much you like one relative to another. But when you start adding artists into the equation, it becomes not just about different noises coming out of speakers or whatever, but about people. People whose own definitions, especially in relation to their art forms, are so subjective (based on what you do and don't know about them, your own environment relative to theirs, etc.) that it all comes down to that indefinable, extra special quality again. Then it's all just points of view anyway, isn't it? (I'm very good at arguments which don't go anywhere)

A Culmination...

a very strong artist may be particularly strong in one area compared to another. Or, they may be strong in a number of areas.

Someone can be a great singer/vocalist- but if the material is pedestrian (which can be enjoyable), then they're probably not a GREAT artist- unless, of course, the voice is so strong and the material is so good- i.e. Aretha Franklin, at her peak.

On the flip side, someone may not be an out-of-this-world vocalist, but has strong material and other things going for them. For instance, Madonna. Overall strong material, one of the best in terms of staging concerts, and she has challenged so many societal mores via her work that that's what's made her stand out from the pack and given her the status she holds.

There's room for everyone- the ones who play it safe, have churned out formulaic, non-adventurous, light material; and, the ones who shook up the system, did things that others didn't, went above and beyond to express themselves via their work and produced standout work. There's an audience for both types, but it's the latter who earn more respect, no doubt.

Re: A Culmination...

Isn't being innovative dependent on when you enter into the music world though? The Beatles would be considered by many as the ultimate in shaking the system, but now they are the system. So what was once counterculture is now as formulaic as it gets.

Re: What Makes an Artist?


(to other posters from the UK, I hesitate to say an X Factor)

Hesitate you should!

I think this is the Sex Pistols argument again. The formula that AM uses calls them the 36th best band of all time. The formula that AMF use as a whole calls them 119th best band of all time. We all have our own formula. Whether that's objective and just compares albums and songs, or whether it's subjective (influence, innovation, mass appeal, "dinosaurness" etc), is different for everyone.

For me, I don't think that a band could reach the summit of my artist list if they made the ten best albums of all time, but no one heard them and they had no influence. Likewise if a band was the most popular band on earth and had the "va-va-voom" and everything they did influenced other people, but they had no good albums or songs (is this possible?), they wouldn't reach the summit of my list either. It's a mixture of both.

Re: What Makes an Artist?

I learned about X Factor from my days on RS, an dI will say that you were right to hesitate.

I'm liking these arguements, but to me, if an artist has good songs they are good, but if they can have good songs and influence they are great.

Re: What Makes an Artist?

4 people that proved that is not about the vocals:

Bob Dylan, Kate Bush, Tom Waits and Joanna Newsom

If you have good material you go far and away further than people with vocal chops. And if you;re an influential artist, that'll surely reflect in your AM rank. Look at Laura Nyro, very overlooked back in the day, after the singer-songwriter boom in the early to mid 90's people finally gave her some credit because of her influence on so many. The same goes to so many artist, is almost countless. This is much harder to happen these days, with internet and al that shit you can hype someone years before something come out and it is much harder to let anyone really great "slip by accident"