Jazz Icon Robert Glasper on How Artists Can Harness the Magic of Being Themselves

Monica Freeman / April 22, 2022

The award-winning pianist and producer discusses how crucial it is to embrace what makes you special to elevate your music and find your audience.

If you’re a rising artist, now is not the time to self-edit your unique qualities, says jazz pianist and award-winning producer Robert Glasper. “It’s becoming almost boring to be regular,” he says in a new episode of our Co.Lab Sessions podcast.

The Grammy and Emmy award-winning pop and R&B producer, who has collaborated with the likes of Mac Miller, Anderson .Paak, and Kendrick Lamar, certainly knows more than a thing or two about staying true to your voice and vision – and how to cut through the clutter to make it heard.

The New Cool: ‘Be Who You Really Are’

When reminiscing about the creative journey of Black artists over the past few decades, Glasper addresses the barriers of self-expression. “[Black artists] weren’t always allowed to have a Boy George… or any of these artists that are doing ‘wow’ things,” he says. “We’ve always been creative, we’ve always had Tylers, we’ve always had Lil Nas Xs. They just didn’t always feel comfortable being that.”

Now, he explains, is the time to put history aside and go full steam ahead with your creative purpose. “Being honest is opening up a whole new door for other people to feel the same way.”

Social Media Is Still Changing the Game (And That’s an Advantage)

“The whole process of marketing a record is going to be out the window,” Glasper says. With the power to build a fanbase through Instagram and drop a track with a click of a button, artists have more control than ever – and their fans are here for it. “It creates a certain kind of buzz that does not happen when you promote too much,” Glasper says. “Unless you’re Kanye – he’s figured it out.”

Not only can social media alter who determines when and how people listen to your music, but it’s also transforming the discovery process. More than ever, labels are approaching artists with robust social media followings, as opposed to artists sending their demos around to seek interest. “You could be somebody that no one knows, but you could have two million followers and those followers know you,” Glasper says.

Performance Is Practical Magic

Since college, Glasper has repeatedly returned to fellow jazz pianist Kenny Werner’s book Effortless Mastery for inspiration on how to shake up his routine with more effective rehearsals. Werner’s ideas, which deal with letting go of second-guessing and distraction, have helped Glasper step outside of traditional ideas of practicing music.

“As musicians, we think that playing for 13 hours straight in a room is practicing,” he says. “It’s like, ‘No, you just played 13 hours in a room, you didn’t really practice.’”

Werner’s techniques have freed him to perform like one of his favorite masters in another art: famed illusionist David Blaine. “[Blaine] found a way to take something, it could just be a deck of cards, but something that existed way before [he did, and] leave people mesmerized unlike any other magician I've ever seen.”

Despite being in a different medium, Glasper has found that performing is performing, no matter who you are or what you do. Having studied the magician, he’s been able to make Blaine’s stunning presentation techniques work for his own audiences. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I have a piano in front of me. How can I present this thing to make you feel like that?’”

Anyone can agree that making music is magic, after all.

To hear more from Robert Glasper, listen to his episode of our Co.Lab Sessions podcast below, and click here to browse more episodes from the series.

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