Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Behind the Music - Part 2

It's been fun reminiscing about concerts this week. Now for a slightly different slant--the writing behind the music.

Growing up, I listened to country music almost every day. And although I had a somewhat discerning ear that allowed me to pick out hit songs, I didn't delve into who had written the music or pay that much attention to the words. I focused on the beat. Was it catchy? Was it somehow different from the rest of the songs on the radio?

Once I started listening to Pat Green and Sarah McLachlan, I noticed the difference between singers who are also songwriters versus those who simply sing music written by other people. There's no doubting that some musicians, like George Strait, have made it very far in the music business by choosing songs suited for their voices and have seldom, if ever, written their own music.

Maybe I am creating a difference in my mind, but it seems to me that the singer/songwriter musicians have a stronger connection to their music because they've written it. It's easier to convey authentic passion for your own story than it is to conjure it up for a story about someone you don't even know or a situation that you haven't even experienced. And that difference comes across in a powerful way in a live concert setting.

In Billy Joel's boxed set, the fourth CD contains recordings of Billy Joel explaining the stories behind his greatest hits. Hearing his rendition of the people he met and incorporated into "The Piano Man," makes the song come alive in a new way. The same goes for when singers take the time at concerts to explain the inspiration for their songs.

It's also interesting to compare the singer/songwriter's interpretation to the one I've created or imposed upon the song. I connect with many of Sarah McLachlan's songs, but not for the reason that she wrote them. And that to me is another sign of great songwriting: it has multiple layers and allows listeners to connect with one of a variety of meanings behind the lyrics.

Do you prefer to listen to singer/songwriters over singers who sing music written by other people? Is there a noticeable difference to you between the live performances of the former versus the latter?


Anonymous said...

No doubt about it, I prefer singer/songwriters. I agree, they have more invested in their music.

Amongst other reasons, that has always predisposed me to disliking George Strait. Despite all that, he's got some very catchy songs out there.

Madison Richards said...

I too prefer singer/songwriters. I especially dig people who play Taylor guitars (guess what kind of guitar I own?!)

I love Jennifer Knapp for that reason - a chick who plays a Taylor AND writes her own stuff - tough to beat!

I like Sarah M a lot too though. I lean toward passionate, real expression even if (maybe especially if?) it borders on raw.

Renae said...

I'm a singer/songwriter (though not a famous one!!!). Though I'm not a GREAT songwriter, there's no doubt that singing my own stuff is more personal, more pure in a way, than singing someone else's stuff. When I sing another's song, it's almost like being an actress, performing someone else's thoughts. But when I'm singing my stuff, I'm giving my own testimony.

However, there are a lot of great songwriters who REALLY CAN'T SING! So, I'm grateful for the George Straights out there who can take a great song and give it life.



"Bluebonnet in the snow" said...

A, M, & R - It's fun to hear all three of your responses since you are all musicians yourselves. I'd love to hear your music at some point. And Madison, I'm not a guitar player, but those I've known have sought after Taylor guitars.

Krista said...

Singer/songwriter- definitely.