I got a CD in the mail recently from a songwriter who is a friend of mine. I put the CD in and listened to some really fine writing and a well produced and recorded disk. But I still felt that there was something lacking. I like to think that I have a wide ear and you’re apt to catch me listening to almost any style of music at any given moment. But I’m not the general listening public and as I finished listening to the disk I felt that once again my friend will probably not reach a much wider audience than they hope to.
I have several friends that write music that would be considered outside the mainstream. I’ve watched for the past 10 years as they try to support themselves as performing songwriters, but with minimal monetary success. They’ve had great reviews, radio appearances on the eclectic radio shows that would play their type of music, but no record label has reached out, no tours, no money and my friends still have those non-music business day-jobs we all hate. The songs my friends create, on the other hand, are amazingly inventive, quirky and interesting. Just not mainstream.
So what to do if you want mainstream success but you are inspired to write music that is not mainstream? Well I think that the artist needs to begin by defining what success means to them. If good reviews and a niche local following equal success, then no worries. But, if success is a recording contract, TV appearances on Late Night, a national or international tour, then something has to give. Now, what is that ‘something’? In giving in (or adapting or compromising, or whatever you wish to call it) are you staying true to your music?
Well I think we can look to Bruce Springsteen for an example of staying true and yet giving in just enough. Bruce was willing to make subtle changes to his songwriting so that the music he made could be heard by a larger audience. After Springsteen released “The Wild, The Innocent, and the E. Street Shuffle”, the record company was down on him for not selling more copies and he knew he wasn’t reaching as many people as he could. While there is a similar sound to “The Wild/Innocent…” and his next album “Born to Run”, you can hear that he made a slight adjustment in what he was writing about. He wrote less about the individual and more about the everyman. His songs became more ‘radio friendly’ and more succinct. He had a success with “Born to Run” and he seemed to find a formula for connecting with a wider audience.
I’ve run across many articles on the net and in magazines that talk about the rules for songwriting. They talk about writing a good hook, writing a memorable melody, good production, and on and on. I think that rules like those are good to know about in the back of a writer’s mind, but to start basing one’s style on what other people think a good song is will only lead to stagnation. You need to write the music you need to write. Artists have ideas inside them that need to get out and be expressed. But are they all making a connection with an audience and garnering success?
How are you making a connection? How are you staying true to your music? Are you worried about success? These are the things that artists should be asking themselves as they write and as they work their butts off to get people to hear their music. Let me know what you think – firstname.lastname@example.org.