Chuck D: Artists Are Like Children. They Simply Lack Discipline

The do-it-yourself revolution is demoralized, but is it the fault of artists?

Why are 99.99% getting left at the starting gate, despite more access and tools than ever?  Here’s a discussion that happened at Digital Music Forum in Los Angeles yesterday between Chuck D and TAG Strategic founder Ted Cohen, on this very topic.

Cohen: Let me ask you a tough one.  Do you think artists – outside of their craft – are industrious or lazy?

Cohen: The toughest education for me is saying to the artist, ‘Here’s all these tools at your fingertips.  Use them.’  Then the artist saying, ‘Isn’t there someone else that can do that for me?’

Chuck D: Well let me tell you why this happens.  When you go to school in the United States, and you’re part of a high school.  If you want to play sports, 99 percent of the time you’ve got a coach who’s telling you,

‘You want to play on this team?  Seriously kid, there’s a chance that you won’t be good enough and I’ll cut your ass.  Oh, you’re the best player on the team but you broke my rules?  Run five laps around that goddam track.’

So by the time you graduate in twelfth grade, after you’ve played ball for this coach since ninth grade, you were coached in what you were doing.  Musicians are there in high school getting coached by whom?  They play in a band and take music classes, but they don’t really teach artistry in the high schools.  And they don’t teach the discipline, they don’t teach the music history. So it’s just basically people going home on their own time playing in a band, it’s all outside during recreational time.

12 Responses

  1. Visitor

    Most professional artists have considerably more self-discipline than the average guy.

    • Bandit

      Chuck D is not talking about professional musicians. He is talking about musicians just starting out and discipline alone won’t hack it.

      I think Chuck D is saying young musicians need someone teaching them early on what is the right way and wrong way to pursue a career as a performer.

      And hiring a manager is not the same. Last I checked managers don’t work for free and how is a rookie musician able to know which manager will give the most for your money.

      • musicservices4less

        Of the 99% who don’t make it, the vast majority, 90-95% of them aren’t good enough to achieve any sort of recognition even for a niche audience. That has been the history of music discovery (or any other art form for that matter) and will continue to be no matter what the delivery system is and whether or not there are middlemen, websites, etc. Sorry struggling musicians.

  2. Joda

    lol @ The Most professional musicians having discipline comment.

    Clearly you’ve never worked at a major label.

  3. TrillTrax

    I totally agree. New artists today simply have no direction. They just buy some gear, throw up a tape and expect grand results. Instead of actually taking their time to put together a quality project they rush and have no helpful opinions. When an opinion is shared it’s seen as hating

  4. The Highway Girl

    You think the Rolling Stones ha discipline? Or Jimi Hendrix? Hell no! They passionately dove into the music which is what made them amazing. Everybody expecting artists to be disciplined is what is watering down the artistry itself. There are a few indie artists who are really making strides because they’re using all the tools, but their music is still crap. Give me a great artist playing night and day in his basement over someone who’s learned to work fb any day.

  5. mdti

    What is discipline for Chuck D ?

    IS it a coach yelling at you while you are trying to finish the mix of your latest hit ? slap that coach twice, and let him wait outside until he has calmed down and until you have finished your work.


  6. danwriter

    The infrastructure that used to do all of the grunt work for music artists has crumbled. They’re living now in the equivalent of a post-apocalyptic landscape in which they have been given rudimentary tools and told to hunt their own food, kill it, dress it, drag it back to the cave and cook it. This business doesn’t need Ted Cohen; it needs JJ Abrams.

  7. Ankhtress

    Like Chuck said, and paticularly in our home-based boutique entertainment service group, we run up against artists all the time that lack discipline, which is 75% of the work required to maintain success. For example, we had a great potential talent from the ATL, kid was diverse, had a great look and sound. His EPK was good, although it could have been better.

    We asked him who wrote, arranged, produced the tracks, because we hadn’t talked to him in four years. Four years later, he came back with a few good, potentially great tracks. He also had a Chris Brown featured track and so when we asked for explanations, who did what, did where, publishing questions and all, he dissapeared again, which was now, four months ago.

    We are established industry experts and have gotten stricter about even accepting unsolicited materials now. There was a time when artist reps would comb through piles of submissions, to find one golden talent, a rare find then, and even rarer now. It takes talent to rouse an audience, to wake an audience up, to make us feel, what you feel, to make us, sweat, drop to our knees, bounce our bootys to the beat. To make us want to sex it up, to make us want to cry, to laugh, to love to hurt, and to make us want to go into Amoeba at 1:00AM and buy your DVD, CD of music. That takes talent, and talent next to love, is what we just don’t have enough of.

  8. Mojo Bone

    Jimi Hendrix wasn’t born fully-formed as an artist, though he was complete and nearly self-contained by the time Chas Chandler ‘discovered’ him. He had discipline from his father, Al, from school, from the Army, (he was an elite paratrooper) and from years of honing his chops on the chitlin’ circuit. As others have pointed out, much of the infrastructure that once enabled artists to develop themselves or be developed by others is gone. On the other hand, the the educational materials, the production tools/instruments and the distribution channels have never been more cheap/available.

    You’d think this would be a recipe for greatness, a golden age of music, but kids today are taught that they’re all good enough; in the name of self-esteem, every kid gets a trophy for participation. Self-actualization, accepting constructive criticism and dealing with adversity are skills, not attributes, and our schools have chosen, quite deliberately, not to teach them.

    Is it any wonder we have this glut of underdeveloped artists?