Monday, November 3, 2008

Something New Under The Sun?

As a professional artist, something that I've struggled a lot with in the last few years is creating art that is deemed "artistic".  Go figure.  The world is full of nay-sayers who are quick to speak their minds about how a song is a "sad excuse for music" and frankly, people can be downright ugly and hurtful about what some artists have created.  (some toward me, some toward my colleagues) I'm not sure when that becomes acceptable: ugly critiquing that is.  I would never tell an 8th grader that the clay pot she just fired in the kiln was a sad excuse for pottery... "if you could even call it that!"  That would just be mean.  I guess the day I put my products on shelves for sale, I subjected myself to public opinion and scrutiny.  I just wish it weren't ugly. 
So I started thinking about the reviews that seem to flood the industry on the subject of "nothing new".  They go something like, "This artist needs to reinvent him/herself" or "is resting on the successes of their past" or simply "not original songwriting".  

Here's what I thought:  I kind of liken songwriting and the entire CD creation process to painting.  The Renaissance developed a style of realistic painting that is still mimicked today. Or take Bob Ross for example.  People LOVE his stuff.  What if he completely changed his style before he passed away to something completely...'original'.  What if his "happy trees" became "angry trees" in the name of reinvention?

I think people who review and critique professionally getting tired to listening to 5,000 albums per week in the same genre.  I'd get tired of hearing the same thing too.  So while they may want to hear something different, radio stations play exactly what their listeners want to hear.   If you're not hearing what you want to on the radio, and want to listen to things that are unique and original and quirky and cool...there are tons of great Indy artists out there making some pretty unique music.    Soak up some "Abstract Art".

I can promise you that everyone I know, who's making music, is trying to write the best songs they can, and create the best music we know how.  So don't believe it when anyone says that we gave up, or that our songwriting is struggling, like I read someone say about some friends of mine this morning.   We are giving our all for the pleasure of the King of Kings!  And when He becomes the priority, man's opinion, while it can still hurt, becomes unimportant. 


Chris said...

Aaron, I'm sure most of your readers and listeners know you, your band and your collegues put forth "110%". I read a comment before following the "same stuff" mantra. My feeling is the commenter didn't know you as many of your fans do. Stating the obvious, be who God continues to make you. Your personality draws people to worship God with you. I would say use the critiquing to push you towards ponder new artistic sytles but not to let it get you down.

Mayra said...

I admire the vulnerability that you and other musicians subject yourselves to by releasing the songs that the Lord has put on your heart. Even if some critics don't really get anything out of the music...your fans do.

Just a random thought but I wonder how a critic would respond if they were told how a song they claimed was "a sad excuse for music" actually brought someone to Christ or transformed their daily walk with the Lord? Would it still be a "sad excuse for music?"

Anyways, I'm glad you are feeling better and now that it's November I can start looking forward to the annual free Christmas song you release!! =)

Bethany Haile Photography said...

Ecclesiastes 1:9- What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Your title made me think of that verse (probably your point.) As a new photographer I often feel as if I am just re-doing the same thing with each shoot. Same ideas in my brain as last week, same general locations as last week....but somehow God has transformed my focus. Each time I am looking for something unique and I see...His creation, so unique.
God meets us where we are and music, at least for me, is a huge part of hearing Him speak and feeling Him move.
I love what Mayra said about the music bringing someone to Christ...if you (and I and everyone else) didn't do what you were led to do, how many opportunities would be miss, to be used by God? How many people would miss hearing God?

Aaron Shust said...

Great thoughts guys. (and great photos, bethany) Sometimes, Chris, the Pro Reviewers DO know the artists, we artists get to hang out with the Reviewers sometimes, which I would think would just make it more awkward for them when it comes time As if they'd Have to be nice, just cuz they know us, you know? But they seem to be able to keep to their task. (and what good are reviews if they're always "two thumbs up"?)

The hardest thing to accept is the ugliness. When I read tough reviews of my friends, the "mama bear" inside of my wants to come out. And it seems like the Non-pro reviews (iTunes, amazon, etc) are only that much More harsh, especially if they're anonymous. Maybe this is another blog thought: but why do we as humans tend to hurt each other in the name of anonymity? Like those High School gossip blogs. horrible.

anyhow. have a good night guys. thanks for conversing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Aaron,

I really appreciate your transparent blog about this! I know all too well what you mean. I pray the Lord would continue to encourage you in continuing to offer your "loaves and fishes" (through songwriting). I know that sometimes when we offer the simplest things (even when we think it's not worth offering), God can often be even MORE glorified when amazing things happen - in spite of our shortcomings!

Bless you & your songwriting for years to come - Sheri Carr, Flowery Branch, GA

Heather said...

Glad to hear you are feeling better! I can totally relate as we are experiencing the "bug" here in Delaware. There is nothing worse than feeling yucky and seeing your child feel yucky too. Thanks for all you do! We are praying for you here in DE.

Jennifer Dukes Lee said...

Aaron, I'm new to your blog (found you through twitter) but not to your music, which I love.
I really appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable here. Whether it's music or painting or art or writing, this is a struggle we all face, isn't it? In this case, life truly imiates art. I know, as I struggle with this day. And it's during these times that lyrics from Sara Groves come to mind ".... I live and breathe for an Audience of One." Oh, how I want to do that, clearing my bleachers of the critics, and even the "fans," just keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus alone.

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10

Thanks Aaron, for making me think this morning. I'll be back to your blog again! Great stuff here.

Lucie said...


I just wanted to send you a note of encouragement. God is using you to reach so many. I am new to Twitter (heard about it at a recent Women of Faith conference) but have been following you on there. I didn't know much about you to be honest, before being on Twitter. But I can say this, your songs, the words to your songs are so meaningful! "Give Me Words To Speak" is such a personal reflection not only of yours but many of us."My Savior My God" is a song that we sing all of the time at our church. This is such a deep, heart-felt song. Your words perfectly express all of the emotion behind them.

If that is "repeating yourself/sameness" then please keep doing what you are doing - which is blessing many in Christ's kingdom!

I am thinking of doing a music review every once in awhile on my book review blog - I would love to have you on there.


lucieluvsca [at] yahoo [dot] com
my website is listed on my profile I believe

Dan said...

You make a good point Aaron. All of us at some point want to harshly criticize someone, but we hold ourselves back because we don't want to put our name to it. However, if an opprotunity arises that we can say/write what we really think w/o attaching our signature to it, so to speak, we jump right on it.

Human nature to gossip I suppose.

Anonymous said...

When what you sing is to glorify God, that's what matters. Not someone else's opinion on whether you're writing the same old stuff. I write poetry and when I think I'm writing the same things, I think of how I'm praising God, thanking Him, and it's all good!