Saturday, May 15th, 2010

We, Songwriters, live in very confusing times. We know that we are singers of the human heart, the interpreters of the human condition, that a sincere expression can redeem, and that all people, everywhere, acknowledge these gifts as our God given duty to express. Yet we are confounded on all sides by voices that would have us limit this capacity in the name of professionalism and commercial viability. What are these proposed limits of our present situation?

We are told that we should avoid all descriptive language that would require of our listeners anything beyond a surface involvement during the drive time window of between 4:30-6:30pm. Anything bordering on nuance, ambiguity, or abstraction will simply go unnoticed or shunned by a demographic that needs a deep personal experience with music like another trip around the Take-Out line. We are instructed to adhere to a list of qualifications for writing a "Hit" song that is based on the lowest common denominators of human intelligence. Our higher powers of expression are to be held in check when "servicing a consumer base" that, we're told, has the attention span of a horse fly. Our work is to be judged by the fallacy that good equals good enough. This language is, of course, not the language of art, of craft, not of human relations even, but the language of commerce- a version that has lately relegated the song to a product category that includes television commercials and news updates: anything that is good for now, and then gone for good.

Who could be telling us this? Unfortunately, many of those in trusted positions of perceived expertise. From fellow songwriters and publishers, to song-writing teachers, many have enjoyed a stake in our ignorance by maintaining that imitation of inferior models is prudent, and "dumbing down" is smart business practice. In short, all those who scramble for the last crumbs off the table of a convulsed and dying business model. Well, good for a few songwriters, bad for songwriting.

What are we to do? We can continue ministering to the symptoms or contribute to the cure. Part of the cure could come from our acknowledgment that all artistic requirements based on limitations are a fallacy. I'm not talking about the natural limitations imposed by form and other parameters of craft, but limitations that deny us the power of our higher skills. We can earn the right to discern between good advice and bad by educating ourselves with the best that has come before us, in song craft as well as critique, and admit that there does, in fact, exist a hierarchy of quality, and that popularity does not automatically mean good works. We can assume the special role that nature has created for us by serving an art form first and not an industry, and by trusting in our talent, earn our own respect. We can work and wait. And by doing so, we can "make the need felt which only we can supply, and create the taste by which we shall be enjoyed."

Creative acts fostered by courage and sincerity, without hope or regret, will find an audience. Or rather, the audience will find it. Truth abhors a vacuum. This same creative energy created a New Orleans, and Motown, and Austin, and will create the next.

Songwriting is fighting for its creative life, and only by a renaissance of integrity can we wrestle it from those who have, almost without opposition, breached the gates.

"When bureaucratic impulses overwhelm freedom of expression an industry dies, and a new community of like believers is created." -Richard Geldard

"Do your work then step back.
The only path to serenity." -Tao Te Ching

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