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Collectors Producers

The cool air bit my fingertips as we stood on the outdoor patio, indie guitar melodies flowing through the air from the nearby PA system. Ian, a local techno producer, was performing that day and telling me about some of his gig experiences:

“I was invited to play in Montreal at this loft party. There were tons of these huge artists on the lineup, and then just my name. I could tell everyone was looking around at each other thinking, “I know all these names but who the hell is this Ian guy”? I laughed and told them that I was invited by one of the organizers who really liked my sets. I only recently got into DJ, I would never really have described myself as a DJ, almost all my sets were exclusively hardware driven [synthesizers, sequencers, et cetera]; everyone would be setting up their decks and mixers and I would just be standing there with 5-7 different machines with a grin on my face.”

Curious of his comment, identifying himself as a producer instead of a DJ, I pressed a little:

“What do you mean you think of yourself as more a producer than a DJ?”

He replied:

“Well, I’m not really a collector”

Though I am certain his comment contained only a one way data transfer, his perspective pulled out from me an unexpected personal insight - something you might hope to obtain after years of onerous reflections or psychotherapy. Up until this point, I had never really considered the role of a DJ as “collector”, but, held under this light, my peculiar intrigue for genre exploration, playlist and library building suddenly made more sense to me. Though I don’t circulate it as often, I’ve been mixing electronic music about ten years at this point as a hobbyist. But this idea of “collectors” versus “producers”, got me thinking a little more.

In reflecting on this label, I would describe a “collector” as an individual who is intensely systematic in a given domain. They enjoy broad ranging exploration in possibilities - drawing sieves through a fertile riverbed - eagerly catch new items (be it perspectives, ideas, interpretations, et cetera), but with an interest of filtering them for addition into their library. They follow an internal algorithm of sorts that helps them select what to include and forego in a given presentation. Collectors also like definitions. They want to define the perimeter a bounding box which they can use in their internal model to filter new items (e.g., musical piece, written work, poem, et cetera). They want to know an items: shape, weight, colour, distinguishing features, why it fits here and not there, and more. In building this architecture, they curate new material into their collections and possess a recommendation for possible onlookers. A collector is like the urban planner of a given domain - foreseeing where historic buildings have lived and where new sprawling developments may occur - attempting to integrate them harmoniously into the whole.

A producer, on the other hand, isn’t really a collector. They are more experimental assemblers. Where the collector asks, “What is this?”, the producer asks, “What could this be?” I am fond of retelling an example shared in Dr. Robert Greenberg’s How to Listen and Understand Great Music from The Great Courses, describing the historical context for one Beethoven’s great pieces: its imagery of great conflict, catapults and battle cries, torrents piercing free from a thwarting dam into open and clear lake, bellows of hearty ballroom waltz to roaring cheers of performance and encore - all of this originating from a source that could not be anymore unpicturesque: the intestinal gurgles of his afternoon lunch. Creativity is a strange beast. Even watching an amateur producer in flow, you can observe the strange intuitive leaps made from experimentation and the latter assembly of such “voyages” into a grander whole: like an explorer set about mapping a cave, taking one turn then another and walking their way back; though I am romanticizing a bit (out of greater envy than admiration I can assure you). In this way, a producer is a holistic gardener: planting new seeds, crossing breeds and moving material around towards an internal harmony that remains unseen until finished.

Naturally, in all of this, I asked myself: so, which am I?

In a prior essay I wrote reflecting on my twenties, I mentioned:

Several years ago, I wrote an obscure post covering a theory I had that all people have a functional and envious art medium. Functionally, we have an art form in that we possess a natural talent. Counter to this, we have an art form that we are secretly covetous for. For example, a decent writer who wishes they were instead a musician.

With regard to my question, it would seem - if my speculation holds water - nature, in her expected comical wisdom, provides us a trailing means to calm our lustful hearts. That is, an individual is not “one or the other”, but usually develops the opposite fixation towards “collecting” in the domain of that which they covet for lack thereof. Put simply, we collect what we wish we ourselves could create, but detest those who impose similar measures on our own creative mediums.

The hidden irony is pleasing: as collectors, we long for structure in the domain that we collect, but, as producers, we abhor definition and strictness in the domain which we create. One might say, a DJ becomes a collector of music out of yearning to produce it - the music producer detests the DJs definitions and genres comparing him to stylist A or B. The writer, standing up from her desk, screams, “Get away, out out out ! Leave me be!” to looming linguist and grammarian shoulder surfing her work in critique of her use in punctuation and dialogue. The poet exclaims, “you just don’t understand!”, as the art critic demarcates their poem as slam instead of free verse. In seeing all this, there is cause for personal consideration.

To borrow another’s framing, I would liken a collector to what Julia Cameron calls a “Shadow Artist” (1). A trailing passion for a given art medium which, in believing ourselves incapable or bowing to the internal critic, curtail any effort in development. It is place where curiosity might be of double benefit:

“What do I collect out of reflex of being unskilled in producing? Could that be something I might actually enjoy myself doing?”

Perhaps you do not become a renowned producer in your chosen area of fascination (or perhaps it has chosen you (2)), but it could connect you to a part of yourself, a stranger on the veranda, heretofore you’ve never known.


(1) See Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way - I must credit Shannon Lodoen, a formidable resource for creatives, for her recommendation of this title.


“I know also it was not you who ate the idea, but the idea that ate you”

Demons, F. Dostoevsky (1882)