I'm just average, common too
One of the tasks I've taken on lately has been to make sure my lyrics are available via Spotify by entering them in and synching them with the music. It’s a bit like looking at old photos. It’s you, but from another time. And there are memories and feelings associated with it all.
This activity is in part preparation for my next release — I have a new single coming out Friday (December 10th) for an album I'm putting out in April — so I’m going through the motions of different activities that CDBaby (my music distributor) recommends you do as a way to promote your music, for what good it may do.
It’s a bit surreal embarking on this while watching all the hullabaloo about Taylor’s Swift and her release of her re-recordings of decade old songs, something that when it comes down to it, is only happening because of a rights dispute. Given the devotion of her fanbase and the lack of touring opportunities because of the pandemic (thus reducing any opportunity costs that might come from revisiting the catalogue) it makes perfect sense that she’s doing it.
The focus on her 10 minute epic rendition of “All Too Well” and her fan’s sheer obsessiveness about finding clues as to who what song is about has been a bit scary. Not that it's unusual for people to become very invested in the lives and relationships of their favorite celebrities. With the advent of Peter Jackson's release of the documentary "Get Back," a lot of people are revisiting the role of Yoko Ono in the break up of the Beatles. Still, it's a little overwhelming how seriously and personally some corners of the Internet take it all.
I appreciated John Elliot’s release of his answer to all this obsessiveness with All Too Well (Jake’s Version), meant to give voice to the other side of one of these relationships. Elliot, as a faux Jake Gyllenhaal, quips that the scarf that is a point of contention and supposedly still in Gyllenhaal’s possession according to Swift had actually accidentally fallen behind a couch and has been there for ten years. However, I wouldn’t take too seriously any critique that Swift is still obsessed with failed and brief relationships as the revisiting of these songs is ultimately for commercial purposes.
Aside from the fact lots of artists write about their relationships, it’s a mistake to assume that any songwriter’s feelings about what is written in a song is as trapped in amber as the lyrics might lead you to believe. Sure, as performer you might tap into those old feelings to give a rendition more emotive power — but that’s not the same thing as not having moved on. You create something that reflects a moment, the truth of what you felt then. But putting it out into the world as a song is an act of letting that moment go as you share it.
I also think it’s a mistake to read too much of an artist’s personal life into any one song. Dylan certainly demurred when people attributed his seminal “Blood on the Tracks” as being about his divorce — insisting instead it was inspired by a book of short stories by Chekhov. Whether there’s any truth to that (Dylan’s been known to distort things), the sort of close reading critics and fans are apt to engage in detracts from the universality a song is supposed to have. I don’t write a song with the intention that only I can sing it because it’s only relevant to my personal experience. Sure, the personal is the universal and all that — and I believe a song should be truthful and honest to be meaningful. But that’s in service of the goal of making it relatable — therefore performable, and more importantly, internalizable by others. If you need to know a songwriter’s full bio for their work to be meaningful, what’s the point?
I have no illusion that there’s any possibility of me reaching Swiftian levels of buzz — nor is that my desire. But it would be nice to know someone cared and it wasn’t so much shouting into the void. Gary Hobish, who mastered my new album, has said that he found it “very honest” and that he thought it would resonate with people for that reason — and because it was different. I hope that’s the case, because it feels like madness to try and rise above the current level of noise out there. And it gets quite dispiriting and depressing, submitting to different blogs and playlists and getting the sort of feedback that you get — not to mention the mechanics of promoting through various means, which are apt to thwart your efforts for purely technical reasons.
One of the theories I’ve heard about why we even have music was one I heard posited by Pat Pattinson. The story goes that in order to chase away lions on the Savannas of Africa, it took a co-ordinated group effort to make a great deal of noise. In order to be most effective, our ancestors all had to be on the same page. The result of this are common structures such as the chorus of songs that allow everyone to join in because they have repetition and therefore familiarity. But I suppose another aspect of that was deciding which song would be sung, and for that a certain level of charisma and force of personality was necessary so one singer’s songs could dominate over the others.
Thoughts about the social hierarchies in primates and the whole rational for why we care about fame or give some individuals more importance than others all come to mind as I contemplate this choice to release new music in December of 2021. With new variants still cropping up, the whole notion of playing out to promote it seems a bit foreign still, if not perhaps futile. I could have sat on it, but for how long? Might as well put it out there. At same time running a DIY promo campaign can certainly take the wind out of your sails. It's very easy to start feeling like "why bother?"
This much I can say, the band on the album sounds great, whatever flaws there might be in my own performance. And it was rewarding that musicians of the caliber who are playing on this record enjoyed my songs. Not that that experience came cheap. We’ll see if it’s worth it in the end.
In the meantime, pre-saves are still available for Spotify Users until the track goes live, Thursday evening at 9:01 PM Pacific time.
The extended musings of a songwriter.