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Do you have a musical philosophy?

 

Have you ever thought about where your music comes from?

 

By this I mean other than "a burst of creativity", "it just comes to me", "I have to create", or similar things you hear people say.

 

You may only play one style of music but have you ever wondered or explored what the guidelines are for your thought?

 

I can list a handful of statements made by artists, none of whom I sound like musically, who define the structure of my musical thought and process.

 

  1. Woody Guthrie: Any damn fool can be complex, the hard part is keeping it simple.
  • There are thousands of technically great musicians who will never go anywhere or will have a niche audience.
  • They don’t speak to people on a simple emotional level.

 

  1. James Brown: Every instrument is a drum.
  • Rhythm preceded Melody.
  • Even if you just tap your foot to a song it is rhythmic.
  • Name the last ballad you paid money for.

 

  1. Jimi Hendrix: Most of today’s music is rooted in the Blues.
  • The operative word in the sentence is “Most”, he didn’t say All.
  • Jazz is a direct descendant of it.
  • Rock & Roll was a melding of Country and Blues.
  • Arguments could be made that even Techno/Electronic Music is simply a progression of Rock or evolved from some form of dance music and “most” modern dance music is rooted in Jazz, Rock, or Blues at some point.

 

  1. David Bowie: Pretense is everything.
  • They don’t call it Show Business for no reason.
  • People have a deep desire to be entertained, to have someone or thing to take them away from the dreariness of their day to day lives.
  • Many people aspire to be musicians to escape their mundane everyday existence. I ran away from home the first time when I was 6 years old. It wasn't the last.

 

These artists's statements are the foundations of my own personal philosophy.  Emotion is the only thing which matters.

 

This is probably different from your point of view.  What is yours and where does it come from?

 

Edited by Clay Anderson Johnson
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1 hour ago, Clay Anderson Johnson said:

 

I always liked what was written on his guitar too, "This Machine Kills Fascists."

 

My current fav for that type of art is Tom Morello's guitar which reads, "Arm The Homeless."

 

I love Tom Morello. He's currently writing an ongoing series of essays for the New York Times on the intersection of music and activism.

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31 minutes ago, Steve Mueske said:

 

I love Tom Morello. He's currently writing an ongoing series of essays for the New York Times on the intersection of music and activism.

 

I posted the first one on my Facebook page last week. I'm taking his course on Masterclass.com also.

 

There are lots of great artists there. I'm always getting emails on new teachers. They added Yo Yo Ma last month. They just added Metallica on running a band.

 

I alternate between subjects just like in college. I'm also taking Steve Martin on Comedy and Neil Gaiman on Storytelling.

 

Before I laid down the drums for the track on Showcase I took Sheila E's course.

Edited by Clay Anderson Johnson
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10 hours ago, Popthree said:

i may have a musical philosophy but i never bothered to try and write it down.  its just something innate that i don't really feel a need to verbalize to anyone.

 

I actually learned something about myself I had never realized and was not intentional while I was mixing the track on showcase. My note choice and phrasing on guitar is more influenced by Jazz horn players than Rock guitarists. 

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Hi Clay.

 

I like posts like this, firing dead synapses back into some semblance of activity.

Much of what you said is solid ... i.e. I can agree with it (so it must be right!)  😊 


The only additional points I would offer include:

  • Aiming for “simple, rhythmic, genre-based (Jazz, Rock, Blues), emotional” is (for me) being overly prescriptive.  It could lead to repetition, especially on an album.  E.g. complex can be great, and would provide great contrast to a simple unaccompanied folk song.
  • If one can critique other people’s work, one should be able to apply that skill to one’s own. The first and only person I NEED to satisfy is ... ME.  Does it meet my own minimum standards? Does it still work after 100 listens?
  • If someone ELSE like it, that’s really great but, with millions of songwriters/performers, only a few will ever get noticed, and much of that can be through sheer luck.  ‘Popular’ does NOT necessarily mean ‘good’.
  • While co-writes/collaborations work for some, it must by definition mean there is creative compromise.  The same is true writing for a genre.  (Flick through any Top xx list these days and it all seems to fit very narrow boundaries.)
  • For me, the test of whether a song works is in its rawest form of voice plus just one instrument ... does it still remain interesting? If so, how can the production enhance it?

I doodle with chords, lyrics, melodies and constantly critique until I have something I like.  If not, it all goes in the bin.  In production I try to make each track sound different from the others ... which is not easy given I’m no professional performer or engineer.

 

I should also clarify that I never considered performing, songwriting and recording as a ‘career’ or even as a side hustle ... a consideration proved beyond all doubt 😊   Along the way there have been many many people I’ve met who are better than me in every facet but who’ve not broken through and continue to have very ordinary lives.   I have four albums of which I am very proud and I am content that I did the best I could.

Greg

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10 hours ago, GregB said:

Hi Clay.

 

I like posts like this, firing dead synapses back into some semblance of activity.

Much of what you said is solid ... i.e. I can agree with it (so it must be right!)  😊 


The only additional points I would offer include:

  • Aiming for “simple, rhythmic, genre-based (Jazz, Rock, Blues), emotional” is (for me) being overly prescriptive.  It could lead to repetition, especially on an album.  E.g. complex can be great, and would provide great contrast to a simple unaccompanied folk song.
  • If one can critique other people’s work, one should be able to apply that skill to one’s own. The first and only person I NEED to satisfy is ... ME.  Does it meet my own minimum standards? Does it still work after 100 listens?
  • If someone ELSE like it, that’s really great but, with millions of songwriters/performers, only a few will ever get noticed, and much of that can be through sheer luck.  ‘Popular’ does NOT necessarily mean ‘good’.
  • While co-writes/collaborations work for some, it must by definition mean there is creative compromise.  The same is true writing for a genre.  (Flick through any Top xx list these days and it all seems to fit very narrow boundaries.)
  • For me, the test of whether a song works is in its rawest form of voice plus just one instrument ... does it still remain interesting? If so, how can the production enhance it?

I doodle with chords, lyrics, melodies and constantly critique until I have something I like.  If not, it all goes in the bin.  In production I try to make each track sound different from the others ... which is not easy given I’m no professional performer or engineer.

 

I should also clarify that I never considered performing, songwriting and recording as a ‘career’ or even as a side hustle ... a consideration proved beyond all doubt 😊   Along the way there have been many many people I’ve met who are better than me in every facet but who’ve not broken through and continue to have very ordinary lives.   I have four albums of which I am very proud and I am content that I did the best I could.

Greg

 

Great response Greg! You have obviously thought about this.

 

I kind of fell into the business more than having a career goal and have played music along with producing live events and at one point having a web development business building commercial websites during the Wild West days of the Internet when it was first really becoming popular 1999-2001.

 

I'm all for genre busting. Japanese accountants at record labels segmented the business into niches more than actual audience preferences did. People are steered like cattle into a chute for their listening choices. 

 

We don't differ so much on issues as much perhaps differing on what I was attempting to say. I outlined what are the foundations for MY music not what I think should be guidelines for anyone else.

 

My PERSONAL preferences for playing are simple melodic lines and heavy percussion for myself. I was not implying that it should be anyone else's. I have extremely diverse tastes in music. I listen to everything from Merle Haggard to Beethoven.

 

I mostly play single note lead on guitar. I can chord a keyboard easily but am a lousy rhythm guitarist. I got started in college acting as a stand-in soloist with different groups for certain numbers because I could play Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. Things just took off from there. I am a musician more than a writer.

 

People have strong reactions to most things I do in anything not just music. They either love me or hate me, I am very polarizing. This makes me a show biz natural. Although I have never had anything more than regional success I have appeared in a feature film as myself, my wife refers to her friends as my fan club, and I have around a dozen small investors who don't really have any significant financial impact but are wildly enthusiastic and supportive of anything I do.

 

 

Edited by Clay Anderson Johnson
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On 11/2/2021 at 11:49 PM, Clay Anderson Johnson said:
  1. Woody Guthrie: Any damn fool can be complex, the hard part is keeping it simple.
  • There are thousands of technically great musicians who will never go anywhere or will have a niche audience.
  • They don’t speak to people on a simple emotional level

 

 

I recently saw a video by Rick Beato (he's a guitarist/producer who does song analysis on YouTube) in which he went over “Never Gonna Let You Go” by Sergio Mendes, which he claimed is "the most complex pop song of all time." Arguably, it's wrong to call anything that complex "pop" but anyway, it's an 80s song, a time when a modulation from verse to chorus became common. This song takes it to new levels, with modulations all over the place, using every chord in existence, seemingly to prove how clever the writers are.

 

Rick seemed to think it was great, a remarkable achievement of songwriting talent, but to me it fails the whistle test and the k.i.s.s. (keep it simple, stupid) protocol. Older viewers will be aware the whistle test comes from the golden songwriting era of Tin Pan Alley, when a song would be played to the janitor and if he couldn't whistle it after one listen, it failed. Writers like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael weren't averse to using a number of extended chords but I don't remember any of them ever needing a modulation.

 

My songwriting partner and I have a guitarist friend who's a jazz funker. He wrote a song once. It was awful. It turned out he'd never had a long-term relationship, had only had a string of one-night stands, so had never been in love and never felt the pain of breakup loss we mined for our songs. Bob Dylan's written (and is still writing) some fine political commentary but Blood on the Tracks, his divorce album, is still his best-selling.

 

I think most of us went through that thing in puberty of not being allowed to like pop anymore, which was for little kids. You had move on to rock. Posing around school with the latest rock album was a thing. Luckily, I started trying to write as soon as I started leaning guitar at 15 and realised writing a good hook is the hardest thing to do in music. If pop was so easy to do, there'd be more pop songwriters and fewer lawyers.
 

On 11/2/2021 at 11:49 PM, Clay Anderson Johnson said:
  1. David Bowie: Pretense is everything.
  • They don’t call it Show Business for no reason.
  • People have a deep desire to be entertained, to have someone or thing to take them away from the dreariness of their day to day lives.

 

Misery may love company but it'll be playing to a much smaller audience in a much smaller venue for a much smaller fee. My own band was all about entertainment (70s glam rock covers was as base as it gets) and there were one or two of my jazzier muso associates who looked down on us, which we were fine with. We were making ten times what they did. I used to say Gary Barlow was a better technical singer than Robbie Williams but only Robbie played Knebworth.

 

For the last few years I've been listening to a lot of kpop, which isn't all cutesy bubblegum or novelty EDM. There's some interesting songwriting going on. Song structures are often different to the trad western ones we're familiar with. They'll throw in a two-beat bar here and there. Somebody described it as jazz chords, hiphop beats and pop melodies, though that's obviously a generalisation. One common thing is to drop the drums out for a quieter section. When I heard Piri by Dreamcatcher it seemed like prog rock but with choreography instead of extended solos. That's clever pop and not a modulation in sight.
 

 

Edited by Glammerocity
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1 hour ago, Glammerocity said:

Misery may love company but it'll be playing to a much smaller audience in a much smaller venue for a much smaller fee. My own band was all about entertainment (70s glam rock covers was as base as it gets) and there were one or two of my jazzier muso associates who looked down on us, which we were fine with. We were making ten times what they did.

 

One of my biggest irritations is people who don't care enough about their audience to dress the part. You don't have to wear designed stage clothing but JFC don't wear the jeans and shirt you wear to your day job. Show some respect for your audience. 

 

If you are attempting to be noticed get a clue that people don't pay money to see their grocery clerk with a guitar.

Edited by Clay Anderson Johnson
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