Music, most art for that matter, is a reflection on the society and times in which it is created. Hitting the road for over 200 performances in the last two years introduced me to the nuances of a changing world fueled by social media interaction, counter cultures, and a search not for a voice, but for understanding. This realization was the groundwork for the finishing touches to the songs which make up my first full-length album, “Fall Your Way.”
From my earliest days as an artist, I always looked at the live element of music and studio recordings as interdependent entities. When approached by a veteran record producer to make my first full-length album as a “solo artist,” I charged into the recording studio the first day with almost 50 songs in various stages of completion. He sat me in the live room with one microphone and said, “Play me everything you’ve got that has never been recorded.” So I did…
We sat back and listened, and discovered a tremendous amount of ideas, melodies, and thought patterns. My producer then gave me what he called the “So What Test” – after every line I sang, he would say “So What?” and the next line I sang would basically have to answer that question and lead to the next part of the story.
In doing so, he was teaching me how to properly convey my perspective lyrically, so the vocals, melody, and music would be able to act as a vehicle to deliver an understanding to an audience.
After picking 13 tunes out of the 50 early ideas that we believed best displayed me as an artist, I realized that in order to effectively work on the delivery and lyrical nuances, and be confident that I was properly conveying these songs, I had to perform them in front of an audience. So I hit the road…
The road taught me a lot, and it’s been the catalyst to this album. The songs were tuned, tightened, inspired by, and completed during my journey as a touring musician. They also were “beta tested” live in a magnitude of different settings, from breweries, to wineries, to theaters, to old blues clubs and saloons. While performing these shows for all different audiences, I realized something about music and the art of delivering a song in this social media-centric modern world…
Social media has raised the bar at all levels, from songwriting to the live performance. Simply providing a voice as a songwriter is not enough. I have to be more conscious of audience expectations in the emotional perspective my lyrics convey..
Today, if you Google the effects of social media on music, you will find an abundance of websites showing how social media and the Internet have affected the “music business.” But nobody really talks about how it has affected the actual art of creating and delivering the music.
Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen, for instance, sang “Get Up, Stand Up” and “Born in the USA,” songs which gave a voice to people who truly never had one. On a more personal level, I remember listening to the Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam when I was feeling frustrated or filled with some sort of teenage angst. I listened to James Brown when I was feeling funky. I listened to Muddy Waters when I was feeling blue. I had no immediate public voice at that point, and I listened to music, blasted it loud on my stereo, hung these guys’ posters on my wall, and wore these artists’ T-shirts, ‘cause in many ways, they were my voice and represented how I felt.
Social media has created the ability for anybody who is feeling angry at work, or gets dumped, to simply express themselves to the world on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Everybody now has been given their own immediate public voice.
Roots music used to be about the message, or act as a voice for a group of people. These days, your art has to afford perspective, emote feelings, or provide understanding to truly grab your audience.
So where does new music come into play now? And where does it connect with an audience?
My belief in music and delivery has always come from something Sam Cooke said when he first heard Bob Dylan: “From now on, it’s not going to be about how pretty the voice is. It’s going to be about believing that the voice is telling the truth.”
It’s about writing from a thoughtful perspective, and expressing it with melody, soul, and the conviction to convey an emotion. This is essentially what Americana, Soul, and the Blues are about.
After being on the road all year, in November I taped a TV performance in Massachusetts and performed a solo acoustic rendition of a “How Dare You Say You’re Sorry,” from my new album. Afterward, I was pulled into a small office by a gentleman working on the set that night. He had recently been heartbroken and emotionally shattered by a woman he cared for deeply. Like me when I wrote this song, he had become a member of the “Broken Hearts Club” and couldn’t yet fully the mixed feelings of sadness, loneliness, frustration, anger, and pride that come with somebody walking completely out of your life and taking a “piece of your heart” with them.
We spoke for almost 40 minutes, and he thanked me for writing the song because it provided him a level of understanding and comfort to know someone else had experienced the same thing. He found peace in my perspective, and that gave me an understanding of what my art was meant to bring to society at this juncture. It also gave me the full confidence in knowing the societal lessons I had learned through my journeys as a touring musician have been put to good use in perfecting how I express my perspective through the art of song.
With the constant changes in this world and our society as a whole, I am not certain of much. But I do know for sure that the world I encounter on the road continues to humble me and teach me new things that will continue to shape my life and my music.