Is being "commercial" a cop-out?

When I look back to see when I began to seek external validation, it was of course as a child, trying to survive in an unfair, scary and often joyless world. When it feels like you are only loveable when you do the 'right things' then you try to do the right things, even if you don't like them. Even if they make you feel bad, or uncomfortable, or hurt you. You learn to conform. You learn your own thoughts and feelings don't matter.

I always felt that everyone else knew what to say, what to do, how to be. I looked to them for clues, because they were the ones who obviously had the how-to manual of life. I tried to anticipate their thoughts, and morph myself to be what I envisioned they wished me to be. Then they would like me. Approve of me. Want me around.

You end up 'getting' the fact that you have no value as a human being. You distrust your own instincts, push away your own opinions, and silence your own voice.

I guess one of the reasons I believe that creativity is a 'way out' of the jail I've just described is that in the act of doing a creative thing, we are expressing something that goes beneath the consciousness, using whatever medium it is to engage in asking 'what do I want to say'... and hopefully listening to the answer to that question. We work to be authentic and turn off our own critic. Plus it gives us the opportunity to say some of the things we have never allowed ourselves to say. While that may not be 'commercial', it is healthy.

I believe that we need to go through the stage of self-expression before arriving at a place where we can tailor at least some of our music (art, writing, etc) to the market - assuming that's our goal. At that point we are emotionally attached to what we are creating, and we're really not in the place where we can listen to feedback, as just making the effort to say what we've said could be - as it was for me - a huge leap forward in saying something about myself that is real.

Assuming we want to move forward and attempt to make our artistry 'marketable', then begins the struggle. We desire validation of our efforts, and want to be 'good' but dislike negative feedback. A lot.

If we are willing to listen to good critique - I define this as feedback given by knowledgeable and encouraging people who are further down the path, who take the time to try to help us to move towards success - and apply it to what we are doing, if we can get to the place where we are emotionally detached from our creative product and able to reform or revise our ideas so they 'work' more effectively... we may begin to have some commercial success.

I write things just for me. And I write things for the market. Sometimes they are the same thing. I will say, there are songs I write that have no commercial application, and I don't expect they ever will have a big market. Even my most commercial tracks, however, are still expressing me. They aren't a 'sell out'. They are evidence that it is possible to be creative and meet the needs of the industry at the same time.

When I was a child, I wasn't able to express myself fully. No one gave me the tools. I didn't feel safe being 'myself'... except when I was playing my guitar and writing my songs. Music helped me survive.

So it's no wonder now that I continue to explore the arts as a way of speaking what is deep inside me. Writing for the commerical market doesn't negate me. It's a challenge I can rise to... the challenge of speaking in 'their' voice, while expressing 'me'. ~

Tonedeaf? Doubt it.

The truth is that almost everyone who has been labelled as "tonedeaf" isn't. They CAN hear pitches, hear melodies, but feel they cannot sing tones or phrases with sufficient accuracy to feel they are 'okay'.

In every case, when working with a student who calls themselves "tonedeaf", I have found that they can indeed sing on key.

Often, someone with a 'tin ear' was told at some point in their early life that they were tonedeaf, usually in some public way, and asked not to sing, or just mouth the words, or sit out the activity. Despite a desire to join in the music, this experience leads to a life-long avoidance of singing.

Sometimes, someone who is shy and soft-spoken will be, in effect, unconsciously hiding their voice, as I did, constantly being asked to speak up, stammering from nervousness in social situations, hating how awkward I felt... no wonder I couldn't really sing the way I dreamed.

Additionally, we all learn how to talk, but very few of us learn to speak well, leading to diction habits that constrict the throat and tire the voice, pushing resonance into odd places and creating unattractive overtones.

In my practice, I have found that everyone who desires to sing CAN sing, if they are willing to patiently do the work, understand they will need to allow 'bad singing' on the road to good, are supported by a knowledge of good diction, effective breathing, and awareness of the thought processes that effect us while we sing.

But nothing is overnight. If you wish to run a 10-mile marathon next Fall, you start working today by jogging light and short distances to grow your abilities. And one thing that runners know is that there are often times when you 'hit a wall'. After steadily growing the distance that can be run, you reach a point where you can go no further. But if you patiently keep running that distance, one day, suddenly, surprisingly, you can go further.

Voice is like that. In training, your voice is essentially 'going to the gym' and working out. It can only do so much. You hit walls. You struggle with doubt. But with continued, good instruction and committed practice, the voice does blossom. The skill level increases. Because of that, confidence is born.

And suddenly, like one of my students - a retired math teacher who had never been able to sing on key - you find yourself singing a beautiful love song, hitting all the right notes... and sounding like you always could. ~

Daily, small steps

Marrying creativity & inspiration with writing for the commercial market, I found I had, generally speaking, two paths... 1) I would write lyrics & songs for self-expression, fun, experience, an album, and 2) I would write instrumentals to pitch to film/tv opportunities. In either case keeping myself primed and 'in the flow' meant doing something everyday with music, writing, or art.

I have some things I used do to flex my 'writer's' muscle, and I have just begun to do them again... here are a few...

-write at least part of a lyric everyday... good or bad, expressing feelings, visions and story

-read... news, blogs, book, lyrics, etc, how people talk & what they're talking about

-practice & play: an instrument, sing, play with VI sounds (what synth sounds like what), record ideas

-ask for feedback & be willing to listen (be emotionally detatched from my work)

-give feedback - a little bit of 'paying it forward' feels good

-do tutorials or watch YouTube videos on things like mixing, using Cubase (etc), TAXImusic interviews on the business, read good books or blogs on songwriting, the TAXI forum and other writing forums, etc

-if short of inspiration, do songwriting exercises

-if short of inspiration & looking for a fun way to push self to write, do songwriting challenges like '50 songs in 90 days' and 'FAWM' and even (novel) 'NaNoWriMo' or 'Script Frenzy'

Most importantly, set aside a time for composing/songwriting and keep that date with myself.

What kind of stuff do you do to get better at what you do?