SXSW: Nile Rodgers discusses discovery, the universality of music

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Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

An energetic and soulful performance by artist Mobley prefaced the appearance of a man who built his career making and producing some of the biggest hits of the past 40 years.

When Nile Rodgers first stepped on the stage Wednesday morning to discuss ‘discovery,’ he began by telling the story of the time he first listened to The Doors as a 15 year old while high on an LSD trip.

“For the next two days, we discovered the doors,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said he spent those two days feeling as if he were moving through outer space, a feeling he recalled as akin to his journey towards discovering his own musical style.

“The great thing about music is that it’s probably just like the universe,” Rodgers said. “As we bump into stuff, our trajectory changes.”

From his beginnings playing music for Sesame Street, to performing at the Apollo Theatre and eventually forming Chic, Rodgers said each experience influenced him in different ways.

His biggest lesson, he said, was learning to accept that commercialization doesn’t necessarily replace authenticity within one’s music.

As a student under Jazz instructor Ted Dunbar, whom he cited as his biggest musical influence, Rodgers said he learned the power of popular music is in its ability to hold significance to people around the world.

“Any song that sells is a great composition,” Rodgers said. “It speaks to the souls of a million strangers.”

Rodgers said this lesson taught him the skills he needed to be able to identify artists whose music had the potential to speak to millions.

“I developed a whole way of thinking based on music that would be preserved,” Rodgers said.

Advising all music producers and consumers, Rodgers said people should keep an open mind to the universal messages that lie within all types of music.

“Love all the music that you’re around,” Rodgers said. “At least try and appreciate what that art is trying to say.”