Living In Liminality: Why Do Artists Fade Away Before They Make It Big?
I was having a chat with the boys from Black Tiger Sex Machine the other day about their new release, “On the Run,” and they said something which really struck me. One piece of information which rings true for every artist, whether they are a DJ, producer, promoter or just involved with the music scene in general. They said, “When you think you’re that close to making it, that’s usually when most people give up.” That got me thinking, what is it about this period of time that makes people quit? Why is it that when people start getting recognition that they stop? Is it because they get too full of themselves, or do they just get too comfortable? I think they’re stuck in a liminal phase and don’t have the motivation to break through the final barrier.
Victor Turner, a British cultural anthropologist, has an interesting paper called “Liminality and Communitas.” This paper speaks about the forms and attributes of rites of passage in conjunction with the rituals of certain tribes in Africa, but we can take these examples and apply them directly to the electronic music scene. Turner describes a liminal phase as being “necessarily ambiguous.” It means that these persons can waver through the social milieu and can’t be held down in natural classes or space. The liminal entity is “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremonial.” I think this rings true to any artist who has a had a taste of fame. The artist can go to a show and be bombarded with fans, but then when they step backstage maybe no one knows who they are or vice versa. This period of time where there is recognition, but they’re not on the same level as Deadmau5 is an interesting time to look at since it is the time where we see so many producers and DJs stop playing shows, drop out from the scene, or just become stale.
Contrary to popular belief, this is the hardest time for any artist, and one of the most frustrating, which does cause a lot of could-be-big-name-artists to simply drop out of the game. Since this liminality phase has been likened to death, or to being a little baby in your mommy’s belly, it would only make sense that to exit the liminality phase and really make it big, one would have to really push through this “twilight” zone to reach their end goal. Which is to be jetsetting around the world on your own private plane, playing all the big festivals and doing collabs with Kanye West or something. There are ways to achieve this though, it just takes hard work and dedication, or as I have labeled them The Three P's: Politics, promotion and pushing boundaries. If you stick to these, you will be successful in the music industry and pretty much any other endeavor you embark on.
Understand your market. Grab your target audience and run with them, grow with them, and bounce ideas off of them. You have to know who you're working with, whether they are promotion company and have signed you to play one of their shows, or a label, etc. You have to get to know the way the company works so that you can offer them your talent in the most useful way. Acquire power and apply it effectively.
This is easily the most effective tool when breaking out of that liminal phase. Promote your music and company. Brand yourself to make yourself marketable. Once you have branded yourself, people will take notice, and the buzz that will be generated around you will be incredible.
Take some risks with your sound. Try out some sleazy new synths in that track you've been working on, play with some plush vocals, or try different tempos. Push yourself. Even if it doesn't turn out great, you'll never improve if you're too afraid to try new things.
Of course there are other things that could influence people dropping out of the scene. Maybe they get too hitched into drug culture or hate touring, but in Turner's own words "liminality implies that the high could not be high unless the low existed, and he who is high must experience what it is like to be low." So it's kind of like being really down, and then getting a shock of serotonin to boost you up. Once an artist graduates from this liminal phase, it showcases their drive and determination, and they can relax in the communitas. The communitas is success, where you have been integrated onto a higher plane.
Written by Gabe Gilker
Cover photo credit: Rukes
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