HOW WILL YOU LEAVE YOUR MARK
Music is as diverse as it is complex. There are countless genres and those genres are made up of countless subgenres. Any art form that encompasses the works of Bach, Jim Croce, Chopin, Public Enemy, Bartok, Slayer, Carl Orff and Katy Perry is no joke. Yet, despite the countless variation, western music usually consists of 7 notes; 12 if you’re feeling frog-y; more if you’re a daredevil and you throw in some quarter tones…
I believe that ‘Composer’s Block’ is due in large part to the dynamics outlined above. As an artist, you want to leave your mark on the art form, but that is easier said than done when so much has come before you and you only have so many variables to play with. How can you hope to be more metal than Metallica’s Master of Puppets? Or be more socially and politically conscious than Public Enemy? Or be more ground breaking or iconic than Led Zeppelin or the Beatles?
PRODUCT OF THE TIMES
Music, like all art forms, is a product of its era. The era you live in establishes the boundaries that you as an artist want to push. A late classical/early romantic era version of Tipper Gore would have pushed to have Parental Advisory stickers placed on Beethoven’s music, an action that would seem preposterous today. Likewise, highly controversial acts like 2 Live Crew would barely register on the ‘outrage-ometer’ if they came out today.
THE WHEEL IN THE SKY...
If we look at history on the macroscale, we can see a pattern play out over and over. The precision of the Baroque gives way to the playful virtuosity of the Classical, which gives way to the passion of the Romantic, which in turn gives way to the angst of Expressionism and the surreal textures of Impressionism. Squeaky clean Do-Wop is supplanted by the truth and hairiness of folk and freedom rock, which transitions to Disco, Glam, then Grunge and Alternative and so the cycle continues. Artists look at what has become the norm, in their era and chosen genre, and then find a way to push the boundaries of convention or discard them altogether.
THE PLAY IS THE THING
I believe this is half the battle. The other half has to do with the definition of music itself: using sound to tell a story. The qualities of a good story and a good composition are very similar (if not identical): engaging characters (melodies/patterns), immersive settings (harmony/counterpoint), great plots (structure), and some unexpected twists. The opposite is also true. We will go more into specifics in future posts.
The purpose of this series is illuminate some of the concepts of composing and song writing that go beyond genre and music theory. Hopefully you can use this information to defeat ‘writers block’ and/or get out of any musical rut you may be stuck in.