It occurs to me that when it comes to songs, good in the reviewer’s sense and good in the sense of mattering to someone are two different things. A critic is rightfully concerned with originality; a listener wants a friend. You can write the cheesiest most cliché-ridden love song in the world, and a cancer patient might have it on repeat as he goes through chemo. You can make an inscrutable new sound and be ignored by all but a few hipsters at the bleeding edge, who disdain anything anyone else has heard of.
These are the poles, of course: most critics are music fans and most music fans are critics, in varying degrees, and most songwriters are both. We all rejoice when something connects with us on a deep level, and shrug (or rant) when it doesn’t. But it does beg the question of what exactly I’m trying to do here. How do I know when I’ve made something good? When a lot of people like it, or when the “right kind” of people like it? And what makes them the “right kind?”
I know, I know: you’ve made something good when you like it. But let’s face it, that’s not the whole answer. Manuscripts have editors, plays have developmental readings, records have producers, A&R reps, rough mixes. There are points all along the way when you ask “Is this working?” and listen to what comes back. There are navigational tools other than your own compass. But which ones are reliable? More importantly, where are you trying to go, anyway?
This is all a roundabout way of saying that I’m still stuck, down here in my notebooks. These fragments are good for something but I don’t know what. I do have a growing sense that whatever it is, I’m not capable of it yet. So it’s time to become a student again: get up every morning and practice my instruments, pick up some new ones, sing a lot of other people’s songs, write a steady stream of lyrics and hold them up for scrutiny. This year’s nomadic existence hasn’t lent itself to that kind of discipline, so much. I need to live somewhere again.
That's me in the middle of the Venn Diagram. http://viennateng.com/