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Avoiding Comparisons, Staying True To Yourself

posted Jan 30, 2015, 4:44 PM by Scott Cooley   [ updated Jan 30, 2015, 4:44 PM ]

To borrow an opening phrase from Jim Anchower, it's been a while since I rapped at ya.

Well, it's been a quiet year so far in Lake Cooleygone, my home base here in the middle of the state of Michigan, where the lyrics are strong, the guitar playing good, and all the melodies are above average.

I've been barely present as a songwriter in 2015, yet still think I'm better than I really am...probably.

It's the rough part of winter when you're getting tired of the cold, even though you like to ski.  Like always, you question why you continue to pursue a hobby you're possibly not so good at, and the answer is always that you're better than you think, knowing you can convince yourself of just about anything without too much effort.

It depends what you compare it to, and it depends what your tastes are.  Like anything, you tend to enjoy pursuits in which you have some sort of talent or skill.  You don't write songs and record them because you think you can do it for a living.  Although when you think of such a thing becoming a reality, you then think to yourself that you better get better in a hurry.

We think we're better than we really are here, but there's nothing wrong with that.  You have to like the brand of music I release, and when you do, you don't have to skip for very long, if at all, to find the patience to listen to a song all the way through.

Depending on your mood, you might listen to them all in one listen, but that's unlikely since there are nearly 100 songs to choose from, and you don't have that much uninterrupted time all at once.

You might feel compelled to learn more about me, and this is the place.  I know when I listen to music, it often gets me interested enough to look up various background info about the artist afterward, or even during listening to it.

You can do that here.  I use wikipedia a lot for this purpose, and although I'm not on there yet, Scottipedia is your closest thing. 

It's a new in-between releases year for me, and I've been typing up lyrics to my back catalog of songs.  Also in my free time, I'm recording some previously-written, yet unreleased songs.  I'm also waiting for the muse to show up and enable me to write more new ones.  But I can't help thinking those what if's, like what would I do if they really did want me to write for them?  Then what?  Could I pull it off?  Would I even want to try?  I would try, for sure.

Imagine if some famous artist or artist rep or movie producer or publishing company calls you, says they love your songs, and say they'll pay you to write more.  Then what?  You'd feel like you needed to step up your game, for sure, I think.  Then you'd wonder if you actually could.  How can you get that much better in a short period of time?

As you wonder about these things, it might occur to you to quickly study the best songs of the day and try to emulate them.  Then of course you'd wonder if that was a mistake.

Sticking to what works for you while stretching a little is what to shoot for...that would be my final conclusion if faced with such a challenge. 

I don't know if it's just me or what, but it seems there must be others like me out there in the world that believe they aren't a great fit with current trends and circumstances.

Reality checks reveal that 1) when you don't sing well, there's no chance of you becoming a real solo artist yourself, 2) when you don't play an instrument well, there's no chance of you becoming a session musician or band member.

Continuing this rule out options task, you think being just kind of good in many aspects of music makes for an above-average overall do-it-yourself package, but that won't ever pay any bills for you, so you zero in on what you might be best at, where you might best fit in the music world.

Then you're on to narrowing it down to the fact that out of all of the music-related hats you've tried on, the songwriting part is your thing.  Easy enough to start drawing a conclusion or two right?  Your only chance at earning money in the music business would be as a songwriter.

Then you think the thing to do is to move to Nashville and start networking.  Before you do, you look up on the internet for people who have done that.  Your online research reveals many people similar to you who moved there from somewhere else and got a day job while trying to "achieve cuts" on the side... what you're thinking about doing again as you have from time to time for a couple decades now.

Then you find these other songwriters' songspace pages and see that despite them being seemingly much further along than you doing what you might aspire to - writing songs and getting professional demos made of them with pros playing the instruments and singing, and presumably pitching them to artists.  You read enough about these people to know that despite having a seemingly impressive career doing something else, they yearn to be pro songwriters.

So then you figure they've gone about it the right way, moving to Nashville and all, and so you listen to their songs.  I've done this, and I was really disappointed to hear that according to my tastes, they are cookie-cutter modern country demos obviously targeting one of those guys on CMT who have cowboy hats on and sing about trucks, beer, and girls. 

Not that there's anything wrong with those three things, but it's the kind of music that makes me cringe.  If I moved down there, it would really be going against my grain to do that.  Stating such opinions would be considered blasphemous to anyone in Nashville.  It's just not the kind of music I like at all.

Many of these people probably couldn't be more well-connected and well positioned to be professional songwriters.  I just keep thinking if that's the goal, I don't want to reach it.  They must've spent a lot of money on all those demos.  What it comes down to is "what to shoot for".  Be careful what you wish for.  Stay true to yourself.

They are probably great people with great intentions, and may be better than I think, and may think they are better than they really are, just like me.  These things you can't dwell on, but I often do when thinking of writing about my frustrations with this craft.

I am starting to conclude that you are happier without constant comparison to others, and not shooting for what's currently popular on the radio, and that maybe paying for the Nashville demos will get you that sound that makes me cringe, where everything is perfectly recorded and produced in a slick way with a studio vocalist who has a southern accent.

It's not my style.  What is my style?  I still can't nail it down, and maybe haven't found it yet.  I've got to keep sticking with what works for me, while stretching myself out of my comfort zone without trying to imitate anyone else.

Well, that's the news from Lake Cooley, where the songwriters all have a real and pervasive human tendency to overestimate their achievements and capabilities in relation to other songwriters.