Last month, I kicked off a series of blogs centered around what I believe are some of the keys to success as an independent band in today’s music culture. I was going to make the series just run through the month of October, but I realized I have at least one more point to make. I won’t say that this is the last one in this series, because there’s a good chance I’ll make a liar out of myself. Instead, I’ll move on to part four of the series I’ve been calling “Taylor’s Tips.” Here goes:
Write what you want to write. Play what you want to play.
It’s really trendy to say that people these days can spot someone who’s being phony with little trouble. Honestly, I’m not sure I completely agree with that – I’ve seen plenty of celebrities maintain a classy, genuine front until all of a sudden that wall comes down and we see them for who they are – but I do think the take away from that little axiom is useful. While people are sometimes easily fooled, they do appreciate someone who is comfortable just being himself. Because of all these celebrities who fall from the good graces of the public, there is a real hunger out there for genuine people.
The first practical thing I’d advise from this is that if you’re a songwriter and you’re going to write songs about personal issues, don’t pull any punches, sugar-coat your emotions, or otherwise mask how you’re really feeling. Generally, the better a job I do of writing a song as an accurate and honest portrayal of something – anything – going on in my heart, the more people tell me how much the lyrics resonated with them. I’ve written brutally honest songs with lyrics that I see as sloppy and poorly composed, and I’ve written songs where I dial down the heart-on-the-sleeve attitude but really crafted what I thought was a well-written song, but the honest lyrics are the ones that affect people.
If you don’t care so much about your lyrics and the music is really the focus for you, you can still use this principle. Stylistically, there’s a lot of pressure on artists these days to create a new and interesting sound, and I would definitely say there is plenty of merit to that. If your music blends in with everything else everyone is hearing, people aren’t going to have much reason to listen to what you have to offer unless you just happen to be one of the best in the business.
At the same time, the decisions you make about your bands sound can’t come from anyone except for you and your band. You could be writing the most artsy-fartsy, original-sounding, avant-garde fusion-rock but if you’re doing that while the whole time you’re thinking “I sure wish we sounded more like Lady Gaga,” then this great original accomplishment you have loses some of its artistic merit.
Originality is great, but it’s my opinion that art has more to do with doing what you want to do than separating yourself from the crowd for the sake of separating from the crowd. At the very least, you’ll enjoy your work more if you’re playing what you want to play. And if you enjoy your work, it shows.