Good singing is about story-telling. It’s pretty easy to hear when a singer is struggling with a tune. The voice doesn’t quite convince the listener. Perhaps the timing is slightly off. Most importantly, it doesn’t sound authentic. There is no sense of a story being told.
There’s this thing that happens once you know a song really well. Once you have played and played and played the song, the technical stuff moves out the way and you can focus on telling the story – imbuing the song with emotional labour and making a connection with the listener. This applies to much more than music, of course.
The thing that is interesting is that this authenticity (or lack of it) doesn’t really reflect technique, ability or skill. Even great technical singers can make a song sound empty. Instead, it’s about how well you know the song from every different angle. How convinced you are as the singer that the story needs to be told. By classical opera standards, Bob Dylan has a technically terrible voice but he is utterly compelling.
Rambling post – but I am convinced that the old adage that ‘practice makes perfect’ means that practice opens up a singer to perfectly tell a story the way they want to in order to connect to the audience.
Today was a first. I laid down a drum track using the iPad, and sent it overseas to my dad in Kenya for him to overlay guitar and vocals.
I know musicians have been doing this for ages, but Covid19 is forcing us to use the tools at our disposal and pushing us out of our comfort zones. For me that means sticking to a blogging commitment and producing music with family overseas.
When I was a boy, my mother used to sing in a choir. She would go to evening practices and perform classical pieces such as Handel’s ‘Messiah’. At the time it was not so obvious what the appeal was. I could see how the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones had an effect, but the slower and more formal music seemed all too stuffy, dull and boring. My friend and I were once dragged to a concert which we filmed, adding a tagline to the video which read “Party Time” sarcastically. We were bored boys.
Nowadays I am just beginning to understand the appeal of classical music. It can be magnificient. Uplifting. Lush.
One thing it requires is patience. If you can turn on a piece of classical music and just sit still and listen, before you know it you are loving the feelings, emotions, harmonies. Like a painting laid out infront of you it becomes the only thing that you have in your head. Sometimes it takes away the rest of the world. These moments are just lovely and unique to the genre for me.
I have just found Spotify’s Classical section and highly recommend the following playlist:
I just spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out who is the number 1 streaming artist on Spotify. (FYI it’s Justin Bieber). Spotify doesn’t make it very easy to find this out – I ended up getting the figure from Wikipedia. This search led me to the below chart showing how the music industry is making money again through streaming. (link)
What these figures point to is a very complex formula for ever declaring an album as “Number 1”. Gone are the straightforward days of measuring LPs sold. It is a weighted calculation, subject to bias and change over time.
Spotify itself is not making much money. For now the Company is beholden to the record companies (link) for their back catalogues (and to a lesser extent, their A&R and recording infrastructure). But one day perhaps it will break free from this like Netflix has from Hollywood.
The garden waste piles up each week in the corner of the property. Each time the gardener cuts the grass, sweeps up the leaves, or cuts down a branch he puts the waste into bags, and these bags pile up until a truck is organized to cart it off for composting. As the owner of the property this system can stress me out. Watching the relentless growing piles of waste sometimes feels like one of those awkward “white lie” situations – you know the one – you’ve told a little lie or made a transgression which is never confessed. The lie gets bigger and bigger, worse and worse until there is inevitably a release. Either you and your lie are found out, or you tell the truth. The pickup truck taking the waste away feels like eventually telling the truth.
Great music is just like my home’s waste management system. When a song is well written, a tension builds for the listener. The verse builds up to the chorus. The verse places bags of musical notes and dead ends in the corner of the listener’s head. Repeated phrases and hooks. A story in need of some resolution. Eventually the tension is too great and a switch to the chorus is like a clearing out of all the accumulated rubbish. The verse is the lie and the chorus is the truth.
This is most obvious for me in blues music. Think of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”. The verse is simple and repetitive to the point of ridicule. The harmonica’s five notes over and over moaning and groaning that Something huge is coming. Trust me he’s coming. Gypsy woman told my momma. Muddy is coming. Just now……Wait for it. It’s almost unbearable until Muddy grants us sweet relief with “But you know I’m here!” The chorus plays and all the rubbish in our mind is cleared away. Then the cycle starts again with verse 2. What a song.
The pixies as a band passed me by. I was a little too young and a little too stuck in east Africa for their first few albums to make any impact on my life. However, the beauty of music streaming services now is that I can dig into all the rich history.
I sometimes wonder why as a society we make all this new music when there is so much to discover in the back catalogues. Maybe they should put a moratorium on new releases until everyone has caught up with listening to everything ever released to date?
I have recently signed up to both Roon and Tidal. So many websites and commentators are raving about it.
Linking your Tidal account to Roon gives you endless volumes of high fidelity music and MQA format recordings in a beautiful package.
It is convenient, sounds great, and the Roon software is staggering – it needs to be experienced to be understood but to me one of the key things that Roon does well is give you suggestions and notes to read while you listen to a track – this combination is key. The reading element brings back the old LP / CD cover notes vibe to streaming music. A wonderful thing and I am sold.
Now to optimise the Roon Core / DAC / MQA combinations! Can’t wait.