What makes an artist great?

There are 3 things that I consistently come back to when I have to defend why I think an artist is great.

1. Longevity

2. Periods

3. Distinct, but continously different sound.


Though less important that the next two, there is something to be sad for an artist / band that merely remains relevent for extended periods of time. But, that could just mean that the core audience is growing up, and still buying records. So, while this is important, I will quickly move onto the next two.


This is something that is understated when it comes to musicians. Other artists in other mediums all go through periods, in which their style changes, their message changes, etc…

I haven’t seen this applied musicians as much as it should. For example:

  • Prince
  • Madonna
  • 2Pac

All of these artists remain popular today, but all have gone through significant transition periods when it comes to their lives and their music. These periods could go from clever instrument experimentation ( Price ), the reflecting ones ever changing self expression ( Madonna ), or merely the traversal of ones soul as they step through life ( 2Pac ).

What ever the basis for the periods, the fact remains that each artists goes through transitions, and these transitions are reflected wonderfully in their music. Yet, there is always the artists underlying style anchoring all of their music. Which leads into the last one.

Distinct, but continously different sound

Have you ever heard a band’s new cd and been hard pressed to not think of their previous albums? I know I have. Not that the album is bad, per say, just that you have this nagging feeling that you have heard it all before, even though it’s completely new. Some examples of this can be found in the following artists:

  • Green Day
  • Godsmack
  • Eminem

These are just a few of the artists whose albums are consistly “good”, just not consistently discernable from any previous works. In my opinion, a great artist is able to come out with fresh, new sound, while still sounding like themselves.

My most recent example of this is the new Rosi Size cd, Return To V. Now, for those not familiar, Roni Size is the premier artist in a sub-genre called Drum & Bass. The music within Drum & Bass is just that, a lot of pulsing drums and thumping bass. With Roni’s new cd, however, he chose a different path. Rather than another Drum and Bass cd, he chose to take all 18 ( yes, 18 tracks with no filler ) and insert the dynamic vocals of artists from all different genres, including Neo-Soul, Hip-Hop, R&B, and Jazz.

The result is a unique album, filled with dizzying vocals layered ontop of rhythmic drum and bass. Even through all of this, Roni Size’s presence is still there, in the forefront. You never doubt that he’s still there making all of music that has made him famous, just with some slight twists.

And that’s what I am referring to when I allude to a distinct, but different sound. Some other artists that can accomplish this:

  • Basement Jaxx
  • The Neptunes
  • The Roots
  • Nelly Furtado
  • Kanye West

Again, this is just some of my babblings, but I am curious as to what other people think makes an artist great?