It’s Time to Think Big Again: How to Develop as an Artist

There’s a tendency nowadays to view simple as good, to regard the stripped down as authentic. In music we’re still seeing a reaction to the 1970’s, to the overblown theatricals of prog rock, to the tendency to “big” sound in classical orchestras. Well, that was forty years ago today, and things have gone too far.

This was illustrated in an article I read today about the singer songwriter Ed Sheeran.

Last week, IoW boss John Giddings caused controversy when he said that the industry wasn’t nurturing enough newer acts to rise to the role of headliner, and that the pool of more established legacy acts that could be called on to top the bill was forever diminishing – adding that Ed Sheeran was ‘boring’ and that if he’s the future, ‘we’re all screwed’.

If I read the article correctly, John Giddings problem was Ed Sheeran’s habit of playing solo concerts, just him and a guitar.

I don’t know enough about Ed Sheeran to have an opinion on whether he’s boring or not, but John Giddings may have a point about the solos. I’m getting tired of hearing minimalistic sets on acoustic instruments. To my mind, stripped down instrumentation all too often reveals a failure of the imagination. Why? Because arranging is difficult. Writing many parts is harder than just writing for voice and guitar. Thinking of something original to do with a larger sound palette is hard, full stop. Yes, all too often a bigher band can also be used to hide a lack of content, but that’s not an excuse to try something new.

You might disagree with the above. I’m sure some of you have your fingers poised on the keys, ready to type what about JS Bach? What about Chopin? Well, good point. And if Ed Sheeran’s playing in his live act involves him adding to the range of guitar techniques due to his extended arpeggiations, if he is using the instrument to provide a counterpoint that highlights the inner harmonies of his music in unusual fashions, if what he’s doing is pushing back the boundaries then fair enough. Actually, better than fair enough. Hats off to the artist, we can all learn something from him.

But if he’s just singing along to the chords, then, no, that’s not enough, not anymore. I’ve heard enough of those sort of acts, I want something different. (I should add at this point I listened to Ed Sheeran whilst typing this. I was rather impressed, and I didn’t think him boring. I haven’t heard his live act, though.)

That doesn’t detract from my main point, though. If you want to develop as an artist., yes. keep it simple to start with. But there has to come a time when you do something more exciting, when you try to work on a larger scale. You’ve got to take the journey before you can return to your roots.

You’ve got to get out into the world and experiment before you bring it all back home.