Change, Love, Mystery, Gratitude, Gifts
Life is change. We focus on change as a ritual on January 1. We write resolutions, which have been called a to-do list for January.
In February, we focus on love. In Halloween, we add mystery and fear to our rituals. In November, we focus on giving thanks. In December we focus on gifts.
Perhaps when we focus on love in February and gifts in December, we concentrate too much on what we will get rather than what we can give.
I'm finding that focusing on change, giving love, looking for mystery, expressing gratitude, and giving are things to do year round.
So, what does that have to do with music? Performing? Songwriting?
Perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything.
I've found that the songs that resonate with me are those that are based in emotion. And that emotion is conveyed by imagery in the song lyrics, tempo, rhythm, chords, and the way the singer lets his or her emotion come out in the vocal.
I love the craft of songwriting, but it doesn't compensate for a lack of emotion in the song. Craft is necessary to augment the emotion of a song, to polish its delivery, to remove irritants that prevent the song from connecting to the listener.
The point of performing music is about creating an emotional change in the listener. (Change!)
What kind of change can you give (give!) a listener? Well, most songs seem to be about love. (Love!) Whether they are about loss and heartbreak or about giddiness and excitement, they're still about love.
Other songs are about mysteries, or their lyrics are a mystery. (Mystery!). Some songs are about giving thanks. (Gratitude!)
Notice, I ignored songs of anger and hatred and those that promote violence. Well, anger can be a natural reaction to loss of love. But, I've ignored songs with these emotions because they are negative emotions. They don't make me feel good. Even sad songs that bring tears to our eyes can make us feel good.
So, to me, a good song must be not only about an emotion, but a positive emotion.
It's possible to take anger and write a positive song from that emotion, but it usually takes some distance from the event which makes the songwriter angry. The exception to that could be topical songs that address a serious political issue: domestic abuse, bigotry, gun shootings in school. If the songs are written to draw attention to a problem that needs to be fixed, then there is a positive message in a negative emotion.
But, some of the best songs of this genre were written gently, not viciously. One of the most powerful anti-war songs was a gentle song that described the death of plant and human life due to radiation in the rain. But the lyrics do not include the words "war," "bomb" or "radiation." The title is "What Have They Done to the Rain." It could just as easily be an environmental song.
Recently I said, "Life is just laughter and tears." Either action, laughing or crying, creates an emotional change. Crying can be positive: it is a form of emotional cleansing. Laughter releases endorphins and makes us feel good. It's a form of emotional cleansing, so don't eliminate funny songs as being frivolous. (Note to songwriters: some of those angry break-up songs can be turned into great funny songs. It's been said that bad decisions lead to good stories.)
Recently I was asked about being a professional performer. I don't claim to be, but I played in a band with a few pros and learned from them. The essence of a professional on stage is a person who is giving something of him- or herself to the audience in the form of stories, jokes and songs. The focus of the professional is the audience, not the performer. What can the performer give the audience, and is the audience getting it?
A performer who thinks "look at me" and "I did a great job on that song" while performing is not giving his audience an emotional connection. He or she is simply showing off. Watching showoffs can be entertaining, but the audience wants an emotional connection with the person on stage.
So, if you're trying to build a fan base, you might think about giving to the audience. Give them emotional changes. Sing your songs from the heart. Maybe entice them with a little mystery. Thank them. And, most of all, give them your attention.
These are things you can do all year long.
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