This post is one of my ongoing "SONGWRITING SUGGESTIONS" That I am offering up for people attempting to get into the songwriting/performing area of music. This can be the new kids and high school, college kids, on up to the grizzled old veterans who have been around for a long time and may have forgotten or never practiced a few things they should be aware of. Or the people who are trying to help those people along. Read if you like. Print if you want. But be prepared for the TRUTH.
I have spent an average of FOUR NIGHTS A WEEK, FIVE HOURS A NIGHT, for TWENTY EIGHT YEARS, in Nashville, Tn. On writers nights, open mics, showcases, and pretty much everything you can be involved in that has to do with songwriting and performing. I have done it myself for even longer and if you have never seen me, you can be told by people who HAVE seen me, that I DO KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT IN THAT DEPARTMENT. I do my gig pretty well.
There has been a phenomenon over the past 5-10 years I have seen with increasing frequency on open mics, writers nights, most of the newer people coming to town, (or around the country and Canada, I've been THERE TOO). It is that far too many of people trying to do this seem to have LOST ANY CONCEPT OF TIME in their songs. Their songs seem to go on and on and on and on. The chord patterns are incredibly redundant (BORING), their story lines dragall over the place with no end in sight, (look, if you need four, five and six verses to say what you are trying to say, YOU ARE SAYING TOO MUCH!) They play over imaginary guitar solos, with the same droning chord patterns that have ALREADY gotten boring, STOP ALREADY!!!!
We are in a tight, fast attention span world. The Internet, constant television, media, throws millions of things at us constantly. And our brains struggle to keep up. All the more so when you have millions and millions of songwriters and artists and BILLIONS of songs. About 1 BILLION songs a month go up on the Internet. So it is incumbent on people to make sure their songs are well written, tight and not overly long. People have around a thirty second attention span.
But judging by so many newer and AMATEUR writers coming on the scene, particularly in the writer's nights and open mics, getting and keeping attention comes at a premium. Most songs and writers become "GLOW SONGS" (where the audience is totally bored, and pick up their cell phones to text, play games, check emails. You see the "glow" in their faces across a room.
When it comes to an average open mic or writer's night, there are 25-40 people playing two to three songs a night. That is over 100 songs. When you factor in set changes, people up and down, set up stories, tunings, mic checks, people coming up late, getting down late, cutting into other people's times, NOT TO MENTION LONG POINTLESS STORIES AND FIVE-SEVEN MINUTE SONGS. You have writer's nights that stop at two in the morning. Now you see the importance of being tight and concise.
So here are some tips:
#1. Be in TUNE and get ON AND OFF STAGE.
Know when you are up. Plug your instrument in, check your volume and mic and PLAY YOUR SONGS. No one needs to know your life story. Who you are, where you're from is just fine. You have about five minutes for everything.Past that, you are on other people's time. And THEY'LL BE ON YOURS.
#2. TIME YOUR SONGS. If you go much past 3:30, you are wasting your and other people's time. They get bored, start talking, or go to the bathroom if you are past that. This also should INCLUDE your stories or set up. You have about FIVE MINUTES TOTAL per song.
#3. SKIP long intros, outros, turn arounds or INVISIBLE GUITAR SOLOS !
If you are a great guitar player, play away. If you are not, skip all the parts you are hearing in your head. WE can't hear it. It just becomes noise with the same boring chords over and over and over again.
#4. GET THERE EARLY AND STICK AROUND.
Nothing is more aggravating to hosts, and other artists than someone that rushes in, plays their stuff and then leaves. Listen to other people, meet other people. SUPPORT OTHER PEOPLE. If you are not interested in doing that, you are not going to last very long.
YOUR ABILITY TO SUCCEED IS DIRECTLY INCUMBENT ON YOUR ABILITY TO MAKE OTHER PEOPLE LOOK GOOD! Co-writers, hosts, venues, publishers, song-pluggers, record labels, etc. If you don't make them look good, you don't look good. So try NOT TO SUCK!
Marc-Alan Barnette is a Nashville based, singer songwriter and teacher, mentor and consultant to writers and artists in the music industry. He has had songs recorded by SHELBY LYNNE, DAVID BALL, JOHN BERRY, and FRANKIE BALLARD. He host's Musical songwriter tours of Nashville for writers and artists. www.marcalanbarnette.com or MBarne4908@aol.com