Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is! ~Mark Twain
I recently had a conversation with a singer/songwriter friend of mine who has been doing a lot of work recently on defining himself as an artist….on figuring out what his voice is and what his contribution to the music world will be. He’s written and recorded some really good songs….very radio friendly / commercially-viable songs. He could easily have a solid career as a pop/rock star with the material he’s already recorded.
But he’s come to the realization that his music is too “safe”.
Now, there are many ways to be “safe”. His songs are intelligently written, sincere, and unique. They aren’t safe in the usual watered-down, lowest common denominator sense. What he means is he wants to be bold – to shut out the inner critic that holds so many of us back from making something great.
This isn’t easy. As artists, we’re people-pleasers. We like to say we’re not – even fool ourselves into thinking we don’t care what anyone thinks – but the fact is, very few of us would continue to write and perform our music if we only heard “I hate it!” when we present it to people. Even the most rebellious of us what someone to connect with what we’re doing. So it’s tempting to edit ourselves and, at least to some extent, gear our music towards something that will be liked by a lot of people.
But I’ve seen this pattern over and over again (with my own songs and with other artists): the songs we write purely for our own enjoyment are the songs other people end up appreciating the most. On the other hand, almost every song I’ve worked on with the intention of making a “hit”, ends up getting a lukewarm reception if it doesn’t get tossed out first. Furthermore, I’ve seen many artists go into a record deal with an amazing vision and great demos only to have the label spend tons of money to re-shape (and dumb down) their music in order to have the broadest appeal.
It reminds me of a story I heard about a famous artist who did a series of paintings of a nude woman tastefully covered by a blanket. When his wife saw the paintings, her comment was “lose the blanket”. He did and they became some of his best known paintings.
The point is: lose the inner editor. Stop wondering what other people will think about your art and write purely for your own enjoyment. You’re an artist because you see the world differently than other people. People connect to art because it expresses something about them that they can’t express themselves. When you are most YOU, you’re at your best. If you’re going to just re-create what’s already been done because it’s “safe”, why bother? If nothing else, YOU will get enjoyment from your art. And trust me, when you approach your music this way, it stops being work – it becomes fun again.
So be brave. Be bold. Write out of fun not out of fear! Make something great to share with the world!
Jonah Brockman is an independent music producer and engineer dedicated to empowering songwriters with the resources they need to make great music. Visit jonahbrockman.com for more information, rates, and work examples.