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Can We Talk

Mike Roberts By Mike Roberts

2004-2005, Mike Roberts. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.

"COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN." Yes, that's the title of a Led Zeppelin song, but it's also the headline on the February 11, 2004 Chicago Sun-Times. Miscues, misunderstood commands, undelivered emergency messages and an overall "breakdown of communications" among firefighters is said to have led to the six deaths and four near-deaths in the Cook County Administration Building in October 17, 2003. It was a frantic scene where confusion escalated during the 90-minutes it took for emergency workers to actually discover the six casualties. In the end, a "failure to communicate" (I'm quoting Cool Hand Luke) was to blame.

The only thing more fascinating about clear communication and it's value to our lives is the common oversight on our part to fully appreciate that value. Songwriters live and die by their communication skills. Communicating ideas to a collaborator, grooves to a drummer, pockets to a bassist, feels to a guitarist, or meaning to a potential investor or label are critical to our survival. In fact, songwriting in and of itself is simply communication with a soundtrack. Yet the skill of communication (particularly communicating ideas to other musicians) is not inherent to every songwriter. Sometimes this may stem from a lack of knowledge about the other person's instrument; we don't "get it" so it's hard to give the right cues. Other times it may stem from personal differences or lack of technical knowledge. Whatever the cause, strained communication makes for a tumultuous artistic environment.

When communication fails, the results can be unfortunate at best: the band fights, feelings are hurt, self-esteem takes a beating, delays set in. At worse, things die: the band, the project, the song, the motivation to pursue a dream. If you're like a lot of songwriters that know too well the pressure of communication, then my column may provide some relief. I will talk about effective ways to communicate your ideas, needs, wants and passions to others-musicians, collaborators, other band members, even your audience. My idea came from my work with several bands over the years for which I acted as leader. The fact that I play all the instruments made it a lot easier for me get what I was after and keep everyone feeling good. I hope you find some ideas and suggestions that help you, because how well we communicate determines whether we live or die as artists. Let's live-let's communicate!

A short bio


  • When Confrontation Arises - Good communication isn't about the absence of confrontation, but the healthy resolution thereof. Usually it's a matter of finding and cutting through to the main point as quickly as possible and then casting the most honest and sincere light you can find onto the situation.
  • Don't Be Pushy: Artistic Assertiveness - As songwriters and artists, we can find ourselves working with a plethora of personalities and character-types. Not always will we get along. But how do we go about addressing concerns, disagreements or differences of artistic opinion without burning the bridges that may be useful to us in the future?
  • Laying the Groundwork - Sharpening our communication skills with musicians, collaborators and others involved with or being entertained by our art begins with a few basic principles. Here are four ideas that can improve our interactions with others in general.

A short bio:
A multi-instrumentalist for 20+ years, Mike Roberts has lead several bands, taught music, collaborated on songwriting/recording projects, and was a Texas regional finalist in Guitar Center's 2002 annual guitar competition. He supplies a diverse set of instrumental and stylistic talents, and excels in communicating across the lines of instrumental knowledge and personal backgrounds. Career work includes ten successful years in full-time pastoral ministry, and the last two as a loan officer for a leading mortgage lender. Clear communication and effective people skills are his pillars. He currently lives with his family in Rockford, IL where he is collaborating with other songwriters and musicians in his digital DIY studio and is working on his first indie CD.

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