Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Angels Aren't Crying

As the changes in the music industry continue to come at us like Nolan Ryan fastballs it's easy to lose sight of what matters. What matters has always been, always will be, great songs. No amount of home recording technology or do-it-yourself social networking can replace the good old, chill-bump-raising, heart-tugging, gut-wrenching, gotta-hear-it-again song.

Bob Lefsetz's interesting recent post, "Singles Only", discusses the need for new artists to earn the listener's attention by promoting great single tracks as opposed to whole CDs. It's another way of saying, "Don't bombard me with 46 minutes of self indulgence, send me one great song." He's right. Nobody has time to listen to all the cheap music that's available on the Internet these days.

Why are there so few great songs out there in the sea of mediocrity? That's an easy one. We're all too busy pimping profiles, networking, auditioning for American Idol, Facebooking, emailing, and mixing the tracks we wrote and cut in the garage last Sunday. Who has the patience to nurture a great idea, or to write and re-write a really great song? Besides, we're the judge, jury and executioner for our own careers these days, so why not pretend none of this matters?

And yet, more than ever, it does. A voice is just a voice. I'm sorry Mariah or Justin (or whoever you are), but without a great song your vocal exercises amount to nothing, you're toast.

Voices are all different but how do we fall in love with one that has little or nothing to sing? If you could make the angels cry just by opening your mouth, you'd be discovered by the whole world overnight. But you can't. So you have to sing to mere mortals. But we'll listen if you just understand this simple fact : we want to hear a great song.

Maybe you're only trying to sustain a career, you're late for the tattoo parlor, and you think I should just butt out of your business. But you forget : I AM your business. I love songs. I listen to music. I even buy it. And guess what? All you have to do is trust what you feel when you hear the great song, then record it.

But you didn't write it you say.

Did it ever occur to you that Katherine Hepburn didn't write "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" and Ben Kingsley didn't write "Ghandi" and Denzel Washington didn't write "Malcolm X"? In fact you've spent your adult life watching great performances on film and never once criticized the actors on screen for not writing the words they speak. No actor would dare insist that he or she co-write every film he or she acts in, and yet if you're a young country artist or another pop diva...

You see, we have all the musical wallpaper we need. We don't require more mundane thoughts hung upon the ordinary scale, sung by your standard-issue lungs and mandatory vocal chords, even if you're cute, shapely and young. Even if you sing perfectly. If you love the sound of your own voice, for God's sake get over it. I have never, not once, bought a record simply because I loved someone's voice, nor because the drum samples were hot for that matter.

What we lack, what we'll always lack, are great songs that move us, that make us feel more human, that show us something about life we may have missed, that kill us with great lines and make the hair on our neck stand up. We lack meaningful communication in non-disposable form, and we'd sure like to be able to sing along with it and not sound like adolescent dweebs, bitchy models, hoes, thugs, Satan worshipers or meth heads.


Jannie Sue "Funster" said...

Hey, I'm totally GETTING OFF THIS COMPUTER NOW, to do what I should be doin' -- working that new tune I think could rage the world and elsewhere.

(Loved this post, tho.) You're in my Favs.

Back to it, I think one angel is starting to get a little quivery on her bottom lip over my "whirling, twirling tangerine" line...


Kevin Emmrich said...

I always check in on your blogs -- it's great. Never commented before, but thought I would say hello.

I written a few great (or good) 1/2 songs or 1/3 songs -- but I don't think I have managed 1 great song that is great all the way through. Gonna keep trying, though.


Jannie Sue "Funster" said...

I think you should submit this article somewhere. I really do. It's really really well written and cuts to the heart of what songwriting should be all about -writing songs we wonder how we ever lived without. Have you thought of that, submitting it somewhere, that is?

O.k. now back to that future hit I'm conjuring.


chromehead said...

Thanks Jannie. I admit I wouldn't know where to start. Performing Songwriter maybe, if I knew someone there. I've been rejected by that mag so many times I don't think I want to try again unless it's directly to an editor. I appreciate the compliment!

Anonymous said...

It's the Song
Craig you are right. It's the song and that's it. The idol phenomena, along with craving to be "known" has for a long time now, bred mediocrity.

Some-one called this "optimal homophally" (correct spelling I don't know) which basically means maximum acceptance due to the fact that most ideals are close to being agreed upon between two people. Just like a strong and happy marriage.

Six M's
To be a good song, a song needs what I what I call the 'Six M's of Music': Melody, musicianship, meaning, emotion, mouth (vocals), and lyricism.

I was reading your blog. You mentioned Chris Smither. I've done some research, listened to his music, listened to him speak. Guess what? He fits. He is a whole package for me. Not every song, not every ideal - that can never be - but the deal is sealed for me. He has done everything right to niche into my desires, feelings, emotions with his music and he seems like a nice sort of fella.

So What?
So when you listen to a small radio program like mine, or go around to a mates place, youll hear Chris Smither, or Craig Bickhardt, or Craig Carothers, or Greg Trooper, Billy Kirsch, Ciff Ebergardt, Gary Burr, Tom Kimmell, Paul Kelly etc because they're the one's (for me) that write right.


Ladyblue72 said...

Wow. You say exactly what I feel about the music today. It is so difficult these days to find music that touches the soul. Thanks for putting my frustration into words for me.

Barbara said...

I found your blog today and have read over this one twice. Your insight and emotion jump from the written word and sting as it hits the brain. Thanks for sharing. I live in the world of "rewrite", thanks to guys/girls like you that inspire the developing writer, I am inspired!!