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writing from melody vs chords first.. and vocal range Reverb & Delay Plugins
Old 10th January 2018
  #31
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I personally would suggest melody first. Whichever you write first is, to some extent, going to drive the other, but IMO it is easier to write a good progression that supports a melody than vice versa.

I spent many years working with a singer friend in a situation where I would usually work on chord progressions, and he would write top line melody. I used to become frustrated because he would refuse to work on what I consider to be some of my most beautiful progressions on the ground that “there’s no room for a good vocal line, all the interesting parts have already been taken.” When I expressed annoyance, he would challenge me to write a melody for the same progression. When I tried, I found out that he was generally right.

What I have found to work best is sketching out the melody first, over a very basic progression. This is how my friend and I now work. He sketches out the melody over a 1-4-5 or 2-5 or 1-6-4-5 and then I dump the backing track entirely (sometimes without listening to it) and start on a new chord progression, often moving a major key into the relative minor and so on. I leave 90% or more of the vocal intact, changing only notes that can be more dramatic with a different chord underneath.

As for” lyrics first or last” again we work quite differently. My friend tends to write lyrics first, then try and put a melody to them. I usually have only a few words, and fill the rest with place markers ( al la Paul McCartney and “Yesterday” being “scrambled eggs” while much of the song was being written.)
Old 11th January 2018
  #32
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Brilliant post! Just curious, I bet some of the progressions you found would make the basis of some cool vocal licks.

Chris
Old 11th January 2018
  #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by patshep View Post
i would like to write songs with a lot of vocal range, and don't think i can achieve this really... i wish i had access to a great singer to sing my stuff
anybody else in a similar situation?
do you find singers?
do you just sing them anyhow, in a rough way?
basically I was in this same boat 2 years ago. I started playing guitar way back in 1988 but never really considered myself a singer although of course we all sing along to the radio etc etc

So a couple years ago I really wanted to start writing and recording songs. Well, i didnt really consider myself a singer at that point. I didnt know the first thing about singing technique or even the terms for it

So I started trying to find people to sing on my recordings etc. man, it was pretty much impossible and a real drag.

Finally, at the beginning of 2016 I just decided to start actually singing myself. So now, 2 years later, im a pretty good rock singer with plenty of range.

So even if you think you arent a singer or you say "I only sing low stuff"...you CAN learn to sing much higher etc. For instance I used to sing high stuff in something like a BeeGees falsetto, but once you start learning some technique etc you can turn that falsetto into decent headvoice etc.

I was 48 when I decided to start learning to sing. If I can do it anyone can

Peace, JJ
Old 11th January 2018
  #34
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I'm studied opera singing for about 15 years now. Dramatic tenor. Sung stuff with ultra high range. Also very good at rock style, which is what I'm focusing on now. Range for a lot of people takes time to develop who don't understand how to sing high naturally. Especially cause with singing, you are kind of tuning yourself to produce a complex structure of harmonics. If I sing C5 or D5, I'm not just singing those notes, but many other notes above and below, its just that the harmonic center is at those tones.
I'd be willing to lay down some vocals for you if you want to try that out as a collab.
Old 11th January 2018
  #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by norfolk martin View Post
I personally would suggest melody first. Whichever you write first is, to some extent, going to drive the other, but IMO it is easier to write a good progression that supports a melody than vice versa.

I spent many years working with a singer friend in a situation where I would usually work on chord progressions, and he would write top line melody. I used to become frustrated because he would refuse to work on what I consider to be some of my most beautiful progressions on the ground that “there’s no room for a good vocal line, all the interesting parts have already been taken.” When I expressed annoyance, he would challenge me to write a melody for the same progression. When I tried, I found out that he was generally right.

What I have found to work best is sketching out the melody first, over a very basic progression. This is how my friend and I now work. He sketches out the melody over a 1-4-5 or 2-5 or 1-6-4-5 and then I dump the backing track entirely (sometimes without listening to it) and start on a new chord progression, often moving a major key into the relative minor and so on. I leave 90% or more of the vocal intact, changing only notes that can be more dramatic with a different chord underneath.

As for” lyrics first or last” again we work quite differently. My friend tends to write lyrics first, then try and put a melody to them. I usually have only a few words, and fill the rest with place markers ( al la Paul McCartney and “Yesterday” being “scrambled eggs” while much of the song was being written.)
I agree with one exception...I actually think writing to a chord progression is very helpful in generating melodic ideas, at least for me. I find I work better with limitations, and it helps me narrow the possibilities. Then again, I'm a fan of simple chords, and I long ago learned to temper my inclination to want to use a ton of changes and make things too complex. I still like to experiment with different progressions, but now my primary focus is on melody. The chords provide a framework for the melody, but the melody is still the main thing. I guess my rule of thumb now is to not use more chords where there could be fewer chords.

I think musicians who are technically proficient on an instrument tend to think of songwriting the same as composing classical or jazz music. To give an example, in classical, all the instruments play an integral role in the composition. Take any element out and it wouldn't be the same. Whereas in songs, the vocal melody and lyrics are what matters, and everything else is secondary. You should be able to strip out everything else but the vocal, and the song will still be there. A song is not a cool chord progression, or intricate guitar/piano piece or instrumental track that happens to have someone singing over it. Generally speaking, what one would think of as "composing" in classical, would be considered "arranging" in the song realm...the step that comes after writing the actual song (although the lines have blurred in recent times with DAWs and computers.)

So yeah...if you tend to get a little overzealous in your instrumental experimentation, might not be a bad idea to put the axe down for a little while and just focus on the melody and lyrics.
Old 11th January 2018
  #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by patshep View Post
i'm sorry, you may not have read my earlier posts... i've been playing jazz since the mid 80s... lol
i studied at North Texas and have studied with some of the best in NYC..
you sound like you are trying to be my jazz teacher instead of being helpful... never mind....
That last post of mine was in response to Sagicorn35, which is why I quoted him.

At any rate, if you have the background you say you have, how in the world are you struggling with any of this stuff?
Old 11th January 2018
  #37
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kadeemusic View Post
I think musicians who are technically proficient on an instrument tend to think of songwriting the same as composing classical or jazz music. To give an example, in classical, all the instruments play an integral role in the composition. Take any element out and it wouldn't be the same. Whereas in songs, the vocal melody and lyrics are what matters, and everything else is secondary. You should be able to strip out everything else but the vocal, and the song will still be there.
I approach songwriting in the "classical" frame of mind you're talking about . . . and do not agree with the comment about songs. I like consciously approaching things in that "classical" manner, and in my opinion, some folks could really benefit from that approach. It would make their work far more interesting.
Old 12th January 2018
  #38
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I think what he's trying to say is. Its not that classical or jazz or instrumental style composition is a bad thing. But If you get all these amazing parts, but then at the end cannot come up with great emotional meaningful lyrics that will move people along with a catchy melody, its gonna suck no matter how good everything else is.
I spent the last few years attending special masterclasses for opera singing, where we broke down many sections from great opera Wagner etc, and examined, not only the compositional, but moreso the way the lyrics and melody interact in great vocal works. I will give you one major tip. If you want your lyrics to be most effective, they must be about sex in some way.
Old 12th January 2018
  #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alcoyot View Post
I think what he's trying to say is. Its not that classical or jazz or instrumental style composition is a bad thing. But If you get all these amazing parts, but then at the end cannot come up with great emotional meaningful lyrics that will move people along with a catchy melody, its gonna suck no matter how good everything else is.
I spent the last few years attending special masterclasses for opera singing, where we broke down many sections from great opera Wagner etc, and examined, not only the compositional, but moreso the way the lyrics and melody interact in great vocal works. I will give you one major tip. If you want your lyrics to be most effective, they must be about sex in some way.
I have unusual views about lyrics (that I won't detail at the moment unless you're really interested), but I don't at all agree about melody-writing. I would say that the folks who approach things in more that "classical" sense are the folks tending to write better melodies. Keep in mind that I am a huge progressive rock and fusion fan, and I think that melody is often one of the weaker elements of more commercial rock songs along with contemporary pop. That's not to say there are no great melodies in commercial rock or contemporary pop, but there is a much greater percentage of relatively weak melodies than there is in progressive rock, fusion, etc.

One of the problems is that a lot of rock and contemporary pop writers don't compose melodies on an instrument, where they're making sure that the melody works well by itself, with a skeletal version of the harmony, etc. What happens instead is that they "sing a melody by ear," often as a means of simply delivering the lyrics, and that has a tendency to produce really generic, not very interesting, overly simple, usually pentatonic melodies that don't produce robust tension-release contours.

If you're approaching writing in more of a classical frame of mind, one thing you're likely to do is write more contrapuntally, where a number of instruments have interesting melodic content, where it works both well in isolation and in combination with everything else.

But just one interesting, engaging melody would be welcome with a lot of mainstream stuff.
Old 12th January 2018
  #40
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Here's something I consider to be an example of really fine melody writing, where the writing overall was also approached in a more classical frame of mind, there's lots of great counterpoint, etc.:

Old 12th January 2018
  #41
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
I have unusual views about lyrics (that I won't detail at the moment unless you're really interested), but I don't at all agree about melody-writing. I would say that the folks who approach things in more that "classical" sense are the folks tending to write better melodies. Keep in mind that I am a huge progressive rock and fusion fan, and I think that melody is often one of the weaker elements of more commercial rock songs along with contemporary pop. That's not to say there are no great melodies in commercial rock or contemporary pop, but there is a much greater percentage of relatively weak melodies than there is in progressive rock, fusion, etc.

One of the problems is that a lot of rock and contemporary pop writers don't compose melodies on an instrument, where they're making sure that the melody works well by itself, with a skeletal version of the harmony, etc. What happens instead is that they "sing a melody by ear," often as a means of simply delivering the lyrics, and that has a tendency to produce really generic, not very interesting, overly simple, usually pentatonic melodies that don't produce robust tension-release contours.

If you're approaching writing in more of a classical frame of mind, one thing you're likely to do is write more contrapuntally, where a number of instruments have interesting melodic content, where it works both well in isolation and in combination with everything else.

But just one interesting, engaging melody would be welcome with a lot of mainstream stuff.
I agree with your assessment of the "problem" in large degree but not necessarily the solution you prescribe. Imo ultimately it comes down to who is doing the writing and not the what of their process.

In discussions like these it also helps to define what is meant by "great melody" beyond just one example. That's not a criticism of you. Obviously you don't have time to be posting 20-50 songs! But the piece you posted doesn't fit the criteria of great melody by any metric I'd use. It's certainly complex by pop standards, has a lot of movement, but there's nothing particularly memorable or singable about it. Nearly like it wasn't written with the voice in mind...

Last edited by creegstor; 14th January 2018 at 06:59 PM..
Old 12th January 2018
  #42
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
I have unusual views about lyrics (that I won't detail at the moment unless you're really interested)
Color me really interested! Go for it!
Old 12th January 2018
  #43
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
[...] But the piece you posted certainly doesn't fit the criteria of great melody by any standard I'd use. It's certainly complex by pop standards, has a lot of movement, but there's nothing particularly memorable or singable about it. Nearly like it wasn't written with the voice in mind...
I agree!



~HW
Old 12th January 2018
  #44
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
I have unusual views about lyrics (that I won't detail at the moment unless you're really interested), but I don't at all agree about melody-writing. I would say that the folks who approach things in more that "classical" sense are the folks tending to write better melodies. Keep in mind that I am a huge progressive rock and fusion fan, and I think that melody is often one of the weaker elements of more commercial rock songs along with contemporary pop. That's not to say there are no great melodies in commercial rock or contemporary pop, but there is a much greater percentage of relatively weak melodies than there is in progressive rock, fusion, etc.

One of the problems is that a lot of rock and contemporary pop writers don't compose melodies on an instrument, where they're making sure that the melody works well by itself, with a skeletal version of the harmony, etc. What happens instead is that they "sing a melody by ear," often as a means of simply delivering the lyrics, and that has a tendency to produce really generic, not very interesting, overly simple, usually pentatonic melodies that don't produce robust tension-release contours.

If you're approaching writing in more of a classical frame of mind, one thing you're likely to do is write more contrapuntally, where a number of instruments have interesting melodic content, where it works both well in isolation and in combination with everything else.

But just one interesting, engaging melody would be welcome with a lot of mainstream stuff.
I don't think you're wrong. It sounds like you have acquired quite a bit of songwriting experience, and have figured out how to utilize your formal musical training to find the method that works for you. However, though the OP may have a similar musical background as you, he appears to be newer to songwriting as well as singing, and is struggling with this kind of approach. Eventually, with more experience, he may learn to achieve the right balance between melody and whatever's going on behind it, but for now it may be beneficial for him to strip things down and simplify.

I do agree about mainstream music...I wish much of it would contain fewer generic melodies (when they contain any melody at all). But I don't really know if it's necessarily because of how they typically get written...could just be that not much focus is placed on them anymore because there doesn't need to be. Mainstream music these days is more about the rhythm and the beat. That's just what's in right now. But trends can change.
Old 13th January 2018
  #45
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally Posted by chessparov2.0 View Post
Hi Pat. FWIW I'm not playing any instruments (yet anyway), other than singing.

So...

As a fledgling songwriter, am starting by recording just singing acapella.

I figure if it that method was good enough for Anthony Newley, it's (more than) good enough for me!

You find it interesting to compare versions of "Everbody's Talkin' At Me" by Fred Neil (who wrote it) & Henry Nilsson's hit rendition. Would Neil's key be OK for you? BTW Nilsson's singing/songwriting has been a huge influence on me too.

There's an excellent channel on Youtube regarding singing...
It's "New York Vocal Coaching", by Justin Stoney

For me it's like being back in school as a kid, and having that term paper coming up. I've got a solo artist's record coming up to help co-write & sing on.
Also requests from some music industry folks, to submit vocals and/or original material. I have to admit when it might involve other musicians, it puts more of a fire in me!

I got to sing with Kenny Loggins, around 5 months ago (very small venue BTW), so I plan to ask him some of the "good questions" in this forum-like the one you presented in this thread-whenever I might see him again.

Chris
I love that song, and I think I could probably sing most of it in either key... if i go sorta nasal i can do the henry nilsson key, he just goes falsetto a bit in that version... i was working on vocals a bunch and it really helped me out, i've been trying to relax and let go more when i sing and that works wonders... i feel like i have a similar range but if i am not afraid to do falsetto i can really sing lots of stuff if i practice... i just saw an incredible spanish singer tonight and i need to practice a lot.. lol
Old 13th January 2018
  #46
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also let me just say that i saw one of the great singers tonight, and all the practice in the world won't get me there, technically, but she said one thing that was crazy... she was kicked out of her church choir, because they didn't like her 'dog voice' lol..... and this woman just blew my mind from the first note she sang... and i would rather hear neil young sing than steve perry most of the time, i'd also take billy holliday over ella fitzgerald, what i'm saying is that i agree about emotional content over technique 1000%
Old 13th January 2018
  #47
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Old 14th January 2018
  #48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
I agree with your assessment of the "problem" in large degree but not necessarily the solution you prescribe. Imo ultimately it comes down to who is doing the writing and not the what of their process.

In discussions like these it also helps to define what is meant by "great melody" beyond just one example. That's not a criticism of you. Obviously you don't have time to be posting 20-50 songs! But the piece you posted certainly doesn't fit the criteria of great melody by any standard I'd use. It's certainly complex by pop standards, has a lot of movement, but there's nothing particularly memorable or singable about it. Nearly like it wasn't written with the voice in mind...
What makes something great is subjective. Different people like different things.

The piece I posted is extremely memorable and singable to me by the way. But obviously that's subjective, too. It's going to depend on one's tastes, what one is acclimated to, how easily one learns music (in a recall sense), one's performance capabilities, etc., and those things also depend to an extent on just how well one understands what one is hearing from a theoretical perspective.
Old 14th January 2018
  #49
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
What makes something great is subjective. Different people like different things.

The piece I posted is extremely memorable and singable to me by the way. But obviously that's subjective, too. It's going to depend on one's tastes, what one is acclimated to, how easily one learns music (in a recall sense), one's performance capabilities, etc., and those things also depend to an extent on just how well one understands what one is hearing from a theoretical perspective.
the pretense ugghhh
Old 14th January 2018
  #50
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
What makes something great is subjective. Different people like different things.

The piece I posted is extremely memorable and singable to me by the way. But obviously that's subjective, too. It's going to depend on one's tastes, what one is acclimated to, how easily one learns music (in a recall sense), one's performance capabilities, etc., and those things also depend to an extent on just how well one understands what one is hearing from a theoretical perspective.
Great may be subjective.

But singable and memorable are easily quantifiable. Could most of the population easily sing this? No. Hence not very singable. Could most of the population easily memorize or recall this? No. Hence not very memorable. (Now whether it's WORTH being remembered, which is the other possible meaning of "memorable" is another thing entirely and quite subjective)
Old 14th January 2018
  #51
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Quote:
Originally Posted by patshep View Post
the pretense ugghhh
In a nutshell! !


~HW
Old 16th January 2018
  #52
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Quote:
Originally Posted by patshep View Post
the pretense ugghhh
Ugh rather at the extremely non-specific dismissal of things that should read like a press release from Captain Obvious. Those things should seem like truisms to you. If they do not, dismissing them with no apparent thought about them isn't going to help you.
Old 16th January 2018
  #53
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Great may be subjective.

But singable and memorable are easily quantifiable. Could most of the population easily sing this? No. Hence not very singable. Could most of the population easily memorize or recall this? No. Hence not very memorable. (Now whether it's WORTH being remembered, which is the other possible meaning of "memorable" is another thing entirely and quite subjective)

Why would one of your principal criteria be what most of the population can do?

(And why wouldn't that also be one of your principal criteria for "great" in that case? . . . It just seems inconsistent that you'd be so lowest-common-denominator and/or argumentum-ad-populum and/or populist-oriented in one of those situations but not the other)
Old 16th January 2018
  #54
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
The piece I posted is extremely memorable and singable to me by the way.
There are places in that record where, to me, the singer doesn't sound entirely sure what the note is supposed to be. So I guess it's a good thing that you are :-).
Old 16th January 2018
  #55
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
Why would one of your principal criteria be what most of the population can do?
Because that barometer is the ONLY one that gives those particular words meaning. Without it they mean nothing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
(And why wouldn't that also be one of your principal criteria for "great" in that case? . . . It just seems inconsistent that you'd be so lowest-common-denominator and/or argumentum-ad-populum and/or populist-oriented in one of those situations but not the other)
"Great" is an opinion. Whether somebody can remember something or not is not an opinion. One is measurable as fact. The other is not.
Old 16th January 2018
  #56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Because that barometer is the ONLY one that gives those particular words meaning. Without it they mean nothing.
Just to try to keep this simple, friendly and not combative, we're not disagreeing on what "singable" and "memorable" mean, are we?

"Singable" refers to whether it's something one is able to perform vocally, and "memorable" refers to whether it's something where one can recall how it goes (and perhaps a tendency for it to pop up in memory later).

Do you not agree with those definitions?
Old 16th January 2018
  #57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
Just to try to keep this simple, friendly and not combative, we're not disagreeing on what "singable" and "memorable" mean, are we?

"Singable" refers to whether it's something one is able to perform vocally, and "memorable" refers to whether it's something where one can recall how it goes (and perhaps a tendency for it to pop up in memory later).

Do you not agree with those definitions?
Totally friendly!

I do agree with those definitions. Do you agree that those definitions, BY definition, mean, "singable in general", not "singable by one guy with a lot of training"?
Old 16th January 2018
  #58
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Totally friendly!

I do agree with those definitions. Do you agree that those definitions, BY definition, mean, "singable in general", not "singable by one guy with a lot of training"?
No, not at all. I don't know why there would be any implication a la "by the average person on the street."

Different things are singable/memorable to different people. If something is just singable and memorable to one person and no one else in the world, that doesn't mean that it's not singable/memorable to that person. We're not using the word in some illegitimate way just because it's only singable/memorable to that one person. It's still singable/memorable to them (it's not something else that we're misconceivedly calling "singable"/"memorable"), and singable/memorable is always to someone (or not), even if in one case it's to most someones.

So that brings us back to why we'd focus on whether something is singable/memorable to the average Joe versus a smaller number of people.
Old 16th January 2018
  #59
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carnalia Barcus View Post
So that brings us back to why we'd focus on whether something is singable/memorable to the average Joe versus a smaller number of people.
Depends on what you want your music to accomplish. If you want it to reach a wide audience, you need to at least give a passing thought to the average Joe. If you are content with it only ever having an audience of a small number of people, then go ahead and be ad obscure and convuluted as you want.

I would wager that most musicians would rather have a wider audience, but if that isn't you, that's fine too.
Old 16th January 2018
  #60
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kadeemusic View Post
Depends on what you want your music to accomplish. If you want it to reach a wide audience, you need to at least give a passing thought to the average Joe. If you are content with it only ever having an audience of a small number of people, then go ahead and be ad obscure and convuluted as you want.

I would wager that most musicians would rather have a wider audience, but if that isn't you, that's fine too.
Well, you can definitely make a living in music without trying to appeal to the biggest audience possible, where you're seeing your pool as the entire population of the world, and you're trying to shoot for the lowest common denominator there.

I've been making a living with music for four decades by not shooting for the biggest audience possible, and there are plenty of other folks in the same boat as me.

It seems like a good thing to me that not every musician aims for the same audience. That's a good thing because as consumers, not all of us like just the same music. So if, as a consumer, we prefer stuff that's not so mainstream, we prefer stuff that's off the beaten path a bit--heck, even if we prefer, say, jazz or classical to pop music, it's a good thing that some musicians desire to make music that most appeals to us. If all musicians decided to just go for the biggest audience possible--which would I suppose be making the sort of pop music that winds up on top of the Billboard Hot 100, then there would be a percentage of us who'd be perpetually frustrated by the fact that no one is creating the sort of stuff that we'd like best.

Frank Zappa often said that he creates music for "the sort of people who enjoy the same sorts of things that I do." I feel just the same way. And by doing that he tapped into a niche audience that followed him very loyally, and that spent lots of money on his recordings, concerts, etc.

That audience is maybe a lot smaller than the audience who mostly listens to Billboard Hot 100 type stuff, but it was a big enough audience to enable making a living with music, and it's an audience that wouldn't have been tapped into otherwise.

So that's the sort of path that some of us have followed, and it's a path that's available to follow. I've been able to pay all of my bills, including my family's bills, by following that path (well, partially--I've actually taken a journeyman approach where I've worked in a crapload of different situations in different genres). Which is better than some people who shot for the "I want to be on the Billboard Hot 100" path, but who didn't succeed (long term), as that path is no more a guarantee of success.

You could compare it to something like farming. If you want to go mainstream, you grow corn or wheat, say. Whereas if you decide to farm yams and rutabagas, you're not tapping into as big of a market. But it's a good thing that not everyone just grows corn and wheat. People who really like yams and rutabagas wouldn't be able to get what they liked if that were the case. And it's not as if there's not a market for yams and rutabagas. You can definitely make a living as a farmer by concentrating on those items.

Last edited by Carnalia Barcus; 16th January 2018 at 07:21 PM..
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