The Artist Within Speaks

Jillette Johnson - artist
Jillette Johnson

If I had a quarter for every time someone asked me about the overall state of the music industry, I would be a very rich man about now. There seems to be a consensus feeling among some young musicians and music fans that we are witnessing some collapse of the music industry. Personally, I do feel that the music industry has changed greatly and is still headed toward……something different than before. However, I’m not sure if what we are witnessing can be classified a collapse. Still, I field questions about the lack of “quality music” in the market today.  I’m sure many of you reading Weekly Music Commentary may also question if the standard of music has been lowered in modern times. In my opinion such questions are too broad to speculate upon. First of all you must understand the question and the person asking the question. What do they mean? Are they speaking about a particular genre or all music the world over?

Each time I have been engaged in such discussions it seems to always come down to a particular genre that the inquisitor enjoys. Also affecting a person’s opinion could be the environment. For example, I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Illinois to a professional jazz musician father. Most of my contemporaries listen to and enjoy music from the R & B and Hip Hop genres. Predominantly African-American, both genres happen to be the most popular in the community and children from infancy are exposed to a steady diet of the music forms. It is the equal to being born in a musical box. The only difference for me is the fact that my father exposed me to jazz music, and other parents did the same for their children thus widening the box. In spite of this some raised in this “box“ expose themselves to other genres, thus they begin to associate with music outside of their personal box, and find so much more music in the world to enjoy. Certainly this is my story. I have opened up to more genres and styles and have found wonderful musicians such as Jillette Johnson, our featured artist this week.

The twenty-four year old singer/songwriter from Pound Ridge, NY has spent the last decade cultivating her sound and defining her unique perspective. Johnson signed with Wind-up Records in 2012 and her début album with Wind-up Records, Water in a Whale, was released on June 25, 2013. I took the time to listen to her album and found the music impressive. The fact that I enjoyed the album is not unusual because I have discovered several extraordinary musicians new to the industry during my tenure of writing for Weekly Music Commentary. One of the factors that separate Jillette from some of the other singer/songwriters is her awareness of the human experience. In speaking about Water in a Whale her bio states that the album reveals Jillette’s pensive reflections on the world around her, leading to a deeper understanding of self-identity.

Further explanation can be found in her song “Cameron”, which was written from personal experience with someone Jillette knows and from the idea of what it means to grapple with who you are. In listening to “Cameron” I realized I don’t hear songs as expressive in telling a story.  Songwriters are storytellers and poets by nature with some providing more access to their consciousness. “I do have someone in my life that’s transgendered and I’ve learned a lot from this person,” Jillette says. “But I think I actually wrote ‘Cameron’ more about myself and about that feeling of being alien in your own skin. It’s been really awesome to play that song around the country and meet people who share stories that may have to do with being transgendered or may have to do with feeling a bit different.” The entire album possesses the same tone with Jillette Johnson adding to the story her talents as a wonderfully gifted pianist and musician.

Jillette enjoys performing for a live audience and feels that it has added to her artistic expression. “There’s this funny thing that happens when you go on the road,” Jillette says. “Because you’re not around the people who you’re normally around and you’re in a different environment and you’re constantly being creative and putting out things. Your voice starts to change, both literally and figuratively. I just started growing really rapidly and my perspective started changing a lot.” If you still listen to music within a specific box, please step outside of your box. There is a lot of music in the world and we can listen to it all. Make sure to download Jillette Johnson’s Water in a Whale and challenge your own sensibility, and listen as the artist within speaks.

photo by Rebecca Miller

6 thoughts on “The Artist Within Speaks

  1. So true! It is still just as hard to find success in the industry, but many are doing it without major label backing. Create good music and let the audience decide. Thanks for being the first to comment this week.

  2. Your comment is on the money! More artists are doing the promo work themselves and meeting with success. Definitely the more established artists are making it a go without the major labels.

  3. I don't know if the music industry has collapsed due to low quality in music, but I do know that an artist's goal is no longer focused on selling an album that is a cohesive artistic statement. Billy Corgan said once that it's more like we are back to the 1950's mentality where singles were more important than complete albums.

    The only thing that has collapsed about the music industry is that album sales are no longer generating the income that they used to. Then again, with the way most record contracts were written, the executives wound up making more money off those than the bands anyway, so to hell with it! Let it all fall apart. I don't care if some cocaine-snorting record exec can't afford his habit anymore. They aren't the ones living on the road to support an album. Road life is a lot harder than sitting in an office bigger than most people's apartments and making phone calls all day.

    I think with some legwork, musicians could make it without a label anyway. Record the album yourself. Book the shows yourself. Get a van. Will you get the promotion a label could give? No, but then again, what's the point when most of the money from your album sales goes to them instead of you?

  4. Thanks for the introduction to Jillian. Loved the song, love her style. Youj are so right about the storytelling…I found Cameron powerful!

  5. Hey Ed,

    Proud to be first to comment. I have two musician friends in nyc trying to make it in Pop, and it seems like it's 1 part who you know, 2 parts creating simple and catchy verses and beats.

    The whole "appealing to mass" audience thing would appear to reduce the quality, but that doesn't mean the music is easier to make at all. Seems to be quite difficult for Pop artists, unless you have some formula.

    G from BHB

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