The concept that artists must change and evolve in order to stay “contemporary”, or “current”, is really only partly true, but still should be addressed. The reason I say “only part true” is because I have always been a believer in sticking to my guns musically, and not letting trends always “sway” me and my music one way or another. Still, if you expect to be impactful as an artist, and even more so as a sideman, you must, to a certain degree, be able to shift and bend a bit with the times.
This holds true in many ways, and even came to mind recently, when I was playing on a song of daughter Lexie’s that is slated to be in a new film. Even though she and I have played together for years and made all kinds of music, this particular album she is making was deliberately shifted more away from my kind of thing to a more contemporary, and even more hard-hitting kind of sound. So naturally, it called for some different kind of guitar playing than I normally do, which for myself, was extremely refreshing! I had to put a different guitar “thinking cap” on, and had to put aside technical skill and complexity for a sound that was much more about simplicity and playing a supportive part just for the song! Not so unusual, since I always play “for the song”, but this was just even further into the world of minimalist parts than I normally would venture. Sure enough, it was really just right, and I love listening to it all the time…because it works!
So, the sideman in me or you must be able to shift and adapt so we can always get the sounds a given artist or producer may want, but it’s even harder on the artist themselves, because they’d have to be hip and cool and contemporary right from the “get go” just to even begin to make it, and then they must fight to stay contemporary and relevant long into their careers. I saw this with many of the artists I played with such as Phoebe Snow, Paul Simon and others, who seemed to have a real obsession with remaining relevant and current with their styles. Of course, an artist can wait sometimes for years to come out with a new album, and that album can totally shift their music into a whole new direction that will either let down their fans, or even create more new fans without alienating the old! Regardless of how that all turns out, one should never base all their musical moves on what they think their fans or critics may or may not like….if you do that, you’ll always stay one step behind the very music and scene that you are struggling to stay a part of in the first place!
Stay true to your music and your tastes, and believe me, if you’re really “that good” one day, maybe, just maybe, the music scene will shift to adapt itself to you!