Progress, with all of its innovation and flaws is still a good thing. But with it, comes a natural resistance, resistance to the new. Especially when you listen to music. I was one of those fortunate enough to have grown up during a musical revolution. I was one of those people always talking about the musical legends that carved rock and roll and the artists from my youth – and I still do — until I started songwriting with the under 21 crowd.
Half of my clientele is under 21. And the truth is, they keep me on my toes. While I expose them to stuff they’ve never heard and teach them the tricks only experience knows, they expose me to stuff I haven’t heard. And the truth is, why keep talking about legends to the point that they can’t relate – and sad to say, don’t have to. Music is getting good again. One of my students, who is an awesome 14 year old songwriter, guitar player dude, is obsessed with the Beatles, and it’s a good thing for him cause he’s into it. But most kids like what they listen to. So while it’s important to expose them to what came before, it is also important to meet them where they are and relate. And the bonus for me is that it brought me down out of my tower and got me listening to some really happening stuff. Because as long as music lives, kids will always be reinventing it – and that’s not only cool — it’s important.
So Are You Listening? What do you listen to and what do you hear when you listen? Most people when they listen to music (who are not musicians), listen either to the words or even more, they fall into the trance of the music and the emotion and barely distinguish the instruments. While that’s a good thing for a casual listener, it’s death to an artist (unless you want to get signed by a major label and have your songs chosen for you). But whether you write lyrics or melody first – or write to beats – being aware of current trends is elementary to being on top of what’s happening and not falling into the abyss of indulgence.
So what I mean by Are You Listening? is not just about scouting out new music (see below), but also listening to the instrumentation, the chord changes, the vocal style – what the heck is making the sound? Do you know?
I often find that vocalists (and I was right there with you until I started producing) tend to be a bit ignorant with this stuff. For those of you that aren’t – hooray!
So I pulled together my top tips for how to be a better listener, a better songwriter, and a better artist.
Here are My Top Tips for How To Listen to Music Like a Pro:
1. What kind of vocal style is the singer using?
Is it bluesy or soulful? Is it straight ahead rock-ish or jazzy? Is it deep and rich, brassy or breathy? Do they scoop into notes? Do they riff or sing straight ahead? Do they sing with vibrato or use it sparingly? How do they pronounce their r’s or ee’s? Are they slightly ahead of the beat or behind? Do they have an accent? Notice what works and what vocal styles defines genres.
2. Can you find the key of the song?
Practice going to the guitar or piano and trying to find the chords. Sometimes if you hum the tonic or the main chord, you can find the single note and then find the chord. Notice the chord progression being used. Chord progressions depict genres.
3. Is the music guitar or piano driven?
Is it acoustic or electric? Is the guitar tuned down to D or C? Do they use an open tuning? Is the music synth dominated or do they use a Wurlitzer or a Rhodes?
4. What is the bass doing?
Is it pumping out eighth notes or does it have a cool melody of its own?
5. What are the drums doing?
Is there a shuffle underneath? Is the snare on the 3 or the 2 & 4? What is the snare sound they are using? What is the kick doing?
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