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Rodney Crowell on Art vs. Commerce: ‘I Want to Be an Artist’

Rodney Crowell
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

It’s obvious that the music industry has changed a lot since Rodney Crowell got started in the ’70s.

In an interview with Yahoo Music, Crowell says that the atmosphere around songwriting has shifted drastically, with more of a focus now on earning rather than artistry.

“Songwriting in 1972 was less about making money and more about finding your voice — finding the poetry,” he states. “No thought to what the earning power of any given song was — we all assumed if we wrote a good song, the money would come in the mail — and it did. Whereas now, whatever you write has gotta earn that money pretty quickly. If it doesn’t, the shelf life of songwriting is very short.”

But Crowell’s advice to artists hoping to break into the scene hasn’t changed from the advice he was given when he got started.

“Someone once said to me when I was a young man, ‘Look. you’re talented — you can pursue stardom. It’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with stardom. Or you could pursue artistry. Stardom is fleeting — the shelf life could be short, it could be long,'” he says. “It just so happened the person that was telling me that, at that time, was an artist. Somebody I admired very much. And I said, I want to be an artist … I’m going to dedicate myself to the process of realizing I want to be an artist.”

Crowell may have gone into the business solely seeking artistry, but he’s also achieved a level of stardom that most don’t.

“I think my 15 minutes of stardom happened 20 years ago — and, to be honest, was not as fulfilling as the notion right now that I’m getting better at what I do. Certainly better at what I do now than I was in that 15 minutes in the spotlight,” he says. “So the artist path was the right one for me.”

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