by Clay Mills
May 30, 2016
During mentoring sessions, I am asked often how a writer can make his songs more universal. It’s easy to become frustrated when a deeply personal song (that moves YOU) fails to move your audience. My answer is to become a more universal musician/writer and stop focusing on the fix that will make your latest song speak to others.
The Beatles wrote songs that touched more people around the world than any other band in history. But did you know, at one time, that the Beatles were, perhaps, the greatest cover-band on the planet? They played countless hours in a club in Hamburg, Germany, before they ever got a record deal or wrote Yesterday and Come Together. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were obsessed with the latest Rock music coming across the pond from America. They learned Little Richard vocal licks, Carl Perkin’s guitar chords, and emulated the latest overseas songwriting. Students of style, they explored everything from Classical melodies to traditional Irish drinking songs. Nothing went unnoticed!
I smile when folks bring up past groups, like the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and talk about how they were true original artists who did their own unique thing. They certainly did become very original, but they ALWAYS kept their ears open to other popular artists, even after they started writing their own hits. When Bob Dylan hit the scene and charts, John Lennon responded with the Dylanesque “Norwegian Wood.” When The Beach Boys dominated American album sales, Paul McCartney produced “Back In The USSR.” He became motivated to start multi-tracking their songs (like the Beach Boys were), creating a similar vocal sound and keeping up with the kind of success their American counterparts were enjoying.
Music does not operate in a vacuum. If you absorb the many styles of music around you, then your own writing will become more universal to others. How could it not? As you learn and appreciate what others are doing, you begin to speak a common musical language. Blending Classical, Jazz, Rock, and Pop together shaped the Beatles’s truly universal sound. If you sit down to write today with the wish that your music will become more versatile, consider this: start listening to as much music as humanly possible. Old stuff. New stuff. Everything. Spend your time on what excites you. Learn the latest songs that come out and begin to speak the universal language of the world-MUSIC.
~Write On! Clay Mills
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