There are a number of myths about music and the music industry that are forever floating around. Once upon a time, musicians were skilled entertainers, but didn’t warrant the level of fame we now attribute to them. Somehow, the rise of film and television turned musicians into celebrities. Having televisions in the home not only stopped families congregating around the piano in the evenings in the active pursuit of making music and singing together, but shifted their attentions to the passive enjoyment of merely watching and listening to music and other entertainment.
Suddenly, everyone was a whole lot less musically literate than they used to be, and music was a thing for stars, for pop icons, for really talented people to do. Within a few short generations, our culture had relegated music to this money, status and talent symbol. It wasn’t worth doing as a career unless you could be famous doing it.
With the internet, and possibly the proliferation of reality television, however, we’re slowly seeing a reversal of this. Millennials and Gen-Z-ers have a growing sense that, while money does in some sense make the world go around, fame isn’t everything and you don’t need to be the best in the world at anything to be able to make money doing it. For the last 20 years, we’ve seen reality television show after reality television show in which ordinary people sing, auditioning for judges and whittling down to a select few who tend to go on to fame and record deals and eventually money. And that concept is having a really positive effect in bringing good work ethic back to our culture. For every entitled, indulgent brat who thinks the world should just give them stuff for existing (#firstworldproblems), there’s two young adults with their heads screwed on, who believe that if they persistently, passionately focus on pursuing meaningful career dreams, they will eventually be successful.
And they’re right. More often than not, the difference between success and failure boils down to wisdom, work ethic and perspective. And I’m going illustrate this for you with a personal anecdote of mine that I will call: the Tale of Two Bands.
I remember watching the MTV Music Awards back in 2003 or 2004 or something. I was excited to see a particular band (who shall remain nameless) performing their big recent hit that I was already covering and jamming with my friends. I was incredibly disappointed to hear them performing live. It was sloppy. It was pitchy. The lead singer was obviously high and couldn’t connect with his live audience. I still had a lot of hero worship for bands that I loved at this point because I hadn’t really worked at that level, so I was cut pretty hard.
Immediately after they were done, there was another band, one I hadn’t heard before. They were young, they were fresh, they were sharp. They performed a far more complex, far more coordinated song at record quality. I was sold. They went on to do 10 studio albums, 2 live albums, 3 compilation albums, selling tens of millions of records worldwide. But more importantly, I loved their sound and felt like I grew along with them. I still consider them in my personal top 10 all-time favorite bands.
The first band? Well, they haven’t been unsuccessful. Apparently, they’ve flipped labels a few times. Recently did their 6th album. But I wouldn’t have known that this morning. As far as I was aware or concerned, they were one-hit wonders. I haven’t even heard anyone I know even bring them up for at least 10 years, And they had a top 10 hit! That song was hugely popular for a year or two there. You would all know exactly who I was talking about, if I told you, but because I’m using them as the negative example here, I’m not going to publicly name them. But they were huge at the time.
But it didn’t last. That’s the lesson here. They treated playing at a massive music awards show like it was Friday night at the Phi Gamma Beta Male frat house, and built a career of nothing substantial or lasting. Okay okay, so they do have 6 albums. And my top 10 band, while they definitely had more Top 40 hits back then, they’ve probably also fallen out of the collective public consciousness somewhat. And so, maybe the differences between them don’t seem all that big on paper, but the difference to me was one group treated their work like play, and the other treated their playing like work and were actually serious about being the best they could be at their jobs, and built something, in my opinion, far more influential and lasting than the first group.
The moral to this whole tale is that if you have passion and are willing to work hard, you can make it. Anyone can sing. Anyone. And 9 times out of 10, hard work and passion beats raw talent. Every time. So the myth that you can’t sing it bogus, and I think people are slowly waking up to the fact.
There’s literally no such thing as tone-deafness. If there was, there would be people born in China who would grow up perpetually unable to understand Chinese because it’s a tonal language. Someone who was actually tone-deaf could never speak Chinese, or understand inflected questions, or sarcasm.
But perhaps even more interesting is the fact that according to prominent vocal experts and health professionals, speaking is actually one of the worst things for the throat and vocal chords. This is why after a long day of talking or teaching, your can begin losing your voice. Our throats were not designed to speak the way we do. They were designed to sing. Singing, with the correct technique, has virtually zero stressing effect on the throat and vocal chords. You can literally sing 12 hours a day and not lose your voice, if you’re doing it right.
So, now that you know you cannot possibly be tone-deaf, and that you were in fact made to sing, you’ll hopefully realize that all you need is practice. Hard work and perseverance beat raw talent every time. You’re not born with skill, you learn it over time. Everyone knows Michael Jackson spent hours every day dancing his moves in his mirrored studio. He worked hard to get to an elite position and then continued to take it seriously, working hard at maintaining his top-level status.
Anyone can sing. And, with hard work and quality practice, anyone can sing well. And I think we as a people are starting to believe in that again. Which brings me to my main point…
Anyone can write a song.
Seriously. You just need to learn how songs work. Most of us have some intuitive understanding of them. We listen to them all the time. Our brains filter subconscious data about the world to us constantly. The act of listening to things repeatedly tells your brain to pay attention and figure out the patterns it hears.
You just need the creative application of a little bit of know-how and you’ve got yourself a song. Obviously, the more you learn, the more you know, the more you’ll be able to play around with while you create, but we’re inherently creative beings. We rule the world as masters of the animals, capable of building society, building infrastructure, building nations, building laws, building culture, building different governmental structures, philosophies and religions, building giant multinational corporations and more. We are creative beings, living in most advanced time in human history, with the greatest wealth and freedoms. And most of us have the time to pursue recreational activities. Most people in the world have some time where they can do stuff just for the enjoyment of it. And it’s worth learning to write songs. Because, honestly, when the robots take over, what will you have left but your own creativity; the things you can build and create yourself?
Do it. Get creative. Write a song.
If you have no idea where to begin, we have a tonne of great resources here for you at Sound Songwriting.
Honestly, anyone can do it. And that means YOU too.
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