Three Key Questions for Every Songwriter
||The Emerging Artist
By Leon Olguin, Edited by Sheryl Olguin
© 2001, Leon & Sheryl Olguin. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission
...Continued from What do you write about?
Who's going to listen?
If you're like most songwriters, you want people to hear what you do. That's why you perform your own songs! If you're just starting out, naturally you're curious to find out what an audience thinks of your creations. You may also be wondering about what kind of people will make up your audience.
It's natural for you as a performing songwriter to ponder over just who your audience is. What type or types of people are going to respond to your music? There's really only one way to find out, and that's to go out and perform as often as possible, in as many different settings as possible. Of course, first you have to have something to perform! We're assuming that you've written quite a few songs, or if you're just getting started, have written enough to make up a good program. A huge catalogue of songs is not needed to begin performing. You don't start out doing a four-hour concert! Just half a dozen good tunes will enable you to play in many places; coffeehouses, private parties, bookstore cafes, churches, songwriter association meetings, showcases, etc.
Make your songs as effective and well crafted as you can, using all the tools at your disposal.
One thing we tell every writer we work with is to write in the style that suits him or her best. Don't be tempted to try and write in a "popular" style just so people will like it. Just be who you are. It sounds like such simple advice, but even some big stars have ignored this advice. The result? Anyone out there ever hear Ethel Merman's disco album? Now Merman was not a writer, but as a performer she had a recognizable style. Starting in the 1930's, she was unequaled at belting out the great Broadway tunes by the world's greatest songwriters. By the time the 70's rolled around, she, or at least those who advised her, thought that she should try to keep up with the times by recording a disco album. It was not a hit. It really wasn't her style.
Another famous artist caught in this trap was one of the greatest performing songwriters of all time: Elton John. If any of you are Elton fans, you know that his disco album "Victim of Love" is usually ranked as one of his worst. Elton himself later admitted that he was better off sticking to what he did best, and vowed to never work again in a certain style simply because it was popular.
I'm not saying that you should never try to expand and explore different musical styles. As you continue on in your career you occasionally need to experiment. Very often, established artists will do this to freshen their sound. However, the ones who do this successfully are exploring types of music that interest and move them. They are not simply trying to do what is popular at the moment.
Two great examples of this are Paul Simon and Sting. Paul Simon experimented with using South African musicians and musical styles on his album "Graceland" and with writing his songs in a new way (they started by recording complete tracks, then Simon would take them and write the song over them). Simon revived himself creatively through this unique process, and no one else was doing what he was at the time. He was even criticized for "borrowing" musical styles that were not his own! However, his experiments were successful, because it was obvious to his audience that this type of music inspired him to new heights of creativity.
Sting became world famous as a member of The Police, a band doing a style of music that no other group had done before or since. Since going solo he has experimented with jazz, country, and other influences in his music, but he never tried to adapt his sound to what was currently popular. As a result he continues to this day to write and produce unique, compelling and original music. He followed his "muse", and a huge portion of his audience went with him. So it is with you and your music.
So let's get back to the subject at hand: finding out who will listen to your songs. We'll assume you have put a program of your songs together and are out playing whenever you can. While you are writing your songs, you may already know what kind of people may be in your audience. You may instinctively know that your music will appeal to Baby Boomers, or to teenagers, or to older folk. As you gain experience, and word gets around about what you are doing, you will begin to see more clearly whom your audience is. They'll be the ones who show up when you play, and bring their friends. They'll be the ones who buy every CD you release. You may also be surprised by who winds up in your audience. If your music is great (and we know it can be!) you may create fans from several different age groups. One group may be dominant (maybe you're a female writer with a predominately female audience, or you write songs for children), but people are amazingly capable of liking music that they're not "supposed" to like. The mainstream major labels relentlessly market their music product to certain "niches" in the population. Producers create groups and solo artists to appeal to pre-teen girls, teenagers in general, professional women and men, children, etc. But I've known some teenagers who like jazz, folk, adult contemporary, and even classical! I've met some "older" folks who are very interested in what "the kids" are listening to.
What it comes down to: if you've done your homework, if your music is as good as it can be, if you're doing a style of music that works for you, people will listen, and you'll win new fans from all different age groups wherever you go. You don't really need to worry about finding your audience; they will find you! Get out there and play, and you'll soon find those who respond to your music.
A short bio:
Leon and Sheryl Olguin are the owners of S.O.L.O. Productions, a music production and digital media company, founded in 1990.
Sheryl Olguin: Sheryl is a performing songwriter with three independent releases and several published and recorded tunes to her credit. She has an extensive background in digital media. She led strategic Internet initiatives at Harris Corp, and later was responsible for the interactive digital TV demonstrations on the Harris/PBS DTV Express nationwide tour to promote digital television.
Leon Olguin: Leon is an arranger, producer, and recording engineer with two independent instrumental releases and numerous published and recorded compositions to his credit. He's a classically trained pianist with a BA in music theory and composition. He's had extensive experience as a studio musician, live performer, and music minister/director. His song "White as Snow" reached the status of classic worship song faster than any other song in the history of contemporary Christian music.
You can learn more about S.O.L.O. Productions, and about our studio, by visiting us at http://www.soloproductions.net/.
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