Greets friends. I am riding the train across Germany on a gorgeous August morning. Now I’m just passing Bonn – Beethoven’s hometown.
This past week I taught a small workshop with 6 attendees. A few of the students were semi-pro players. Over dinner one night, a very interesting discussion arose with the students.
They were very passionate and thoughtful listeners and lovers of guitar music. Not to mention they were all very smart guys; some were doctors and scientists as their full time jobs.
“Don’t forget about being a true artist” one of them told me. “Some musicians compose completely their own material.” Issued as a soft warning after attending my concert which had many many cover songs. Another told me “Maybe, don’t start your concert so strong, but start quietly and build up.”
This post is neither to defend or attack anyone’s position or ideas…I found the discussions very thought provoking. It’s always good to revisit past approaches and see if they still apply.
This churned up a lot of thoughts for me, as a composer, performer, entertainer and as a musician who wants to entertain and therefore get booked, play concerts and live off my guitar work.
All professional musicians to some degree need to do something to survive, whether it’s music related work or not. Also, most of us musicians are envisioning an ideal audience whom we want to please with our music – whether they are our families, teachers, fans , critics or whomever. The want of survival and approval…here are the 2 big human issues, intertwined with music, once again.
I am not saying that just “working” is the most important thing….however once my tummy growls and my rent needs to be paid, the “idealism” of art starts looking a little pale! Mozart, Bach and Michelangelo all worked as artfully as they could, within the confines of doing a good job for their bosses.
Chances are that if you do something that a lot of people don’t like, your art could become a “hobby” and your tummy will get filled from income form other work that serves people.
I am not making a judgement call….just stating the fact. Our tummies growl, every day. Whether we provide music or not, we must still provide value in some way to someone.
My “art” is to play with the best groove, touch and sound that I can, and to do it with confidence and give pleasure to a listener. It also gives me pleasure to find “counterpoint” (more than one part) on the guitar in ways that help bring across tunes one would not normally think are possible on a single guitar.
The “what” of my music leans toward cover songs, and it has helped bridge a gap between me and an audience that may not have heard of me before. The “how” leans towards doing it as best as I can.
And…if I can play guitar for an hour and delight an audience, that’s my art – the crafting of that entire one hour experience. This includes what I say, what I wear and how I make people feel. It ain’t just pickin’! (at least for me…)
- If a cover tune makes it easier to communicate, is it still art?
- Is entertaining with showmanship art?
- Should we require that an audience have the patience to listen to hushed, whispery introspective tones?
- Should we do music that is easy for them to tap their toes?
- Who should work harder – the performer or the audience?
- Will they listen intently to something they’ve never heard? Should they?
- Or will they want to sing along to a familiar tune?
- If an artist discovers a solution that works to entertain and repeats it for other audiences is it less valid?
- Who are you playing music for?
My answer is – there is no answer, there is more than one way to do it.
What do you think? Comment below, please.
Jon Allor says
Good perspective and article, there is more than one way! Hope to be able to remember it.
khadri Smith says
Play what you like…the musicians that follow you are looking to find an easy way to play like you….there is no such animal…everyone’s voice is unique …a friend of mine who has made million in the business told me that you have to be the flavor of the month…the people catch up to you…some artist have it twisted….Play what you play…if people catch on great..if not great…but if its about your tummy…then play what they want to hear…but do it in an innovative and original way…that allows a level of integrity…the art is not in the tune it’s in the way it’s played , voiced, and rhythmic character…there are a lot of artist who are phenomenal and innovative and they starve… but they can get great paying gigs doing pop tunes… Do it because you love it….in the end it really all about survival…. you play to survive…..its genetic…
..Brooklyn in the house ADAM… How are your doing…
Wolfgang Marschner says
As you know I was listening to your concert in Dresden. I found your performance very effective; it worked for the rather demanding audience that already heard to other artists that evening. For me this approach to communicate with the audience is the key: It is important to give your listeners an experience they can not have at home, listening to a CD or an mp3. We had it, thank you.
Also: For me as a performing guitarist the living feedback of the listeners is most important. Otherwise I could play for my own or in front of microphones only.
It is not important, if one can judge a performance as “art”, and it is not important, if the tunes one plays are self composed pieces. The flow of vibes and inspiration, the joy about sound and groove is important. It is important, that the “picture of the world” (or part of it) a tune paints, that this picture comes to life in ones playing!
And often it is more demanding to play songs that are not within the spectrum of personal preferences, and playing songs from other composers helps us to develop our technique and understanding of music. So I am impressed by your fingerstyle arrangements of Micheal Jackson and Stevie Wonder pieces.
In the past, working as a composer of film music I often had to work in styles I was not common with. But each and every time it became fun and interesting after a while. Today – preferring Jazz, Blues and Funk – I also play in a band that performs old hits only, love songs, I-IV-V-stuff and so on. I admit, I would never listen to such records, much of it is really embarrassing stuff, originally produced with an approach that is obviously commercially. But playing these tunes often is (technically) more demanding than I thought, and – most important – it is real fun and very heartwarming to see how the people enjoy hearing the songs they know from their youth. So its worth doing it and trying to do it the best way I can.
Art is both: Doing the right things, and doing them right. And it is not necessarily egocentric self-realization. Mozart’s works often were ordered pieces, contract work. Bach wrote lot of his masterpieces just to fulfill his contract to provide new tunes for weekly, quarterly or annual liturgy events. H. v. Karajan and G. Gould without doubt were great artists, but never performed pieces of their own.
Summed up: Your statement above covers my opinion very well. Thank you!
Wolfgang from Dresden
thanks again for another good article. I can’t help smile. I’ve heard a few suggestions. It used to be annoying, now I have fun with it. like… “you know, that’s the most requested song I don’t play.” Why don’t you play it?.. “Cuz I don’ want to.” This requires a smile to be effective.
I haven’t quite gone to the extent of rattling the tip jar and saying.. What was the name of that song? It is annoying when someone requests 5 songs, then walks out without parting with a nickel. “Don’t forget to plug the juke box on my break” It ain’t easy making a living off a tip jar. A great lesson in humility. so I share my thoughts with you , not them 🙂
keep ’em coming.
Thanks for the comment 🙂 glad you have been there ! AR
Yossie Teitz says
If a cover tune makes it easier to communicate, is it still art?
The art is in what you bring to the song. I believe everyone will agree that an exact replica of a recording is an admirable technical feat but not necessarily an artistic one.
The original song is the springboard to your art, the song is just the beginning. It provides a familiar framework that allows you to work within it or around it. You can emphasize parts that have been more restrained or, better yet, surprise your audience who have been lulled into familiar complacency.
The best is that you take the song and make it your own. The Simon and Garfunkel covers that are most memorable to me are Yes’ version of “America” and Aretha Franklin’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Both are tours de force where the song is scaffolding to the performers’ personality and style. The same could be said about versions of “I Got Rhythm”: Thelonious Monk’s version reflects his personality, Sonny Stitt’s reflects his personality.
Is entertaining with showmanship art?
Only when the showmanship is at a very high level. But showmanship in itself is important – your goal is for your audience to enjoy themselves and come away with a deeper understanding so they can say years later, I remember when I saw Adam and he …
Should we require that an audience have the patience to listen to hushed, whispery introspective tones?
Children at a museum are required to be hushed but it won’t make them listen. You can’t require anything of an audience, You need to build the dynamic into your show so they’ll want to go there and the hushed tones better have excellent content as well.
Think back to good teachers who would read a story after recess. My third grade teacher was especially good at this. By the time the story is over, she had taken an audience that was impatient, rambunctious and restless and got them to listen raptly to the hushed, whispery introspective tone of her voice.
But it especially worked because of her skill and her ability to connect and because Charlotte’s Web or the Little House on the Prarie series is such good content for introspection.
Should we do music that is easy for them to tap their toes?
Why stop at tapping their toes. Make them want to dance. Look at some videos of Sam and Dave concerts: the audience is well mannered and sitting, simmering is more like it. They want to get out of their seats! They want to dance! Don’t you want to dance when you hear “I Want You Back”?
Who should work harder – the performer or the audience?
Of course the performer – but it shouldn’t look like he’s working, just having a good time!
Will they listen intently to something they’ve never heard? Should they?
Depends how much. Everyone will listen to *some* new stuff especially you’ve established your presence and the material blows them away. Jazz fans will actively look for new stuff but that’s not very common.
Or will they want to sing along to a familiar tune?
You can build your show to be participatory or be an observation. You want your audience to be involved but you also want them to listen – otherwise, you have a sing-along and you will be remiss cause you didn’t bring the marshmallows. Making them bounce in their seats is one way to involve them – getting them to sing is another but it’s a different show. It’s best to have parts in the song that are participatory and parts that are observation.
If an artist discovers a solution that works to entertain and repeats it for other audiences is it less valid?
It’s only less valid when the entertainer becomes bored and disconnected or plays the exact same thing each time. Jeff Beck repeats licks across multiple concerts but he also adds new ones or brings old ones back. But he’s always involved and doesn’t coast.
On the other hand we have Sam and Dave again – they had dance moves they repeated in different concerts and sang the same licks, but Sam Moore put so much of himself into every phrase he sung and every step he took that I could listen and watch again and again … and I’d be bouncing in my seat.
Who are you playing music for?
Everyone. The best is that you play it for yourself and people like what you bring to the table so they listen.
You are very wise, friend
I don’t see any issue about playing covers, especially for instrumental music – it’s a practice that goes back to the “golden era” of jazz, when “standards” were staple fare, and musicians were expected to display creativity in interpreting familiar melodies.
Of course, if you can write tunes of a comparably high quality to the classics, they belong in there as well – and may find more sympathetic ears when mixed with more well known tunes.
Nice post. Thanks for the thought provoking ideas.
Paul Stubbings says
The age old originals vs covers discussion. After studying jazz for 4 years I just wasn’t getting the work with all the over the top 20 minute solos and self indulgence and playing with bands proved to be too unreliable so I went solo and learnt how to sing. I have no shame, I’ll play Abba, 500 miles, the gambler.. anything people want to hear. I did take some heat for it, but I was getting booked more than ever, I take very short solos now and just rip through the hits. I still write and play my instrumental stuff, just not at gigs. What’s good for the art isn’t always good for the bank account. I now make a living out of it but am looking at moving states to continue study in music so will have to start from the ground up again…
Paul – my experience is similar. I bet when you move you’ll be up & running way more quickly than you think… – AR
Ideal audience: Appreciative! …Survival and Approval…interesting topic! You mentioned that even the Greatest artists had to “create for an audience” Mozart had his Divertimentos for example. There IS no one way. That’s the beauty of art! Right? In performance art and music everybody has there own rating system. Some value technique, some emotion, some pyrotechniques and grandeur… I try to avoid approval seeking when I perform but when I do get it from the audience I absolutely love it! It’s kinda weird! Like I’m doing what I love anyway. It shouldn’t matter but it does… Also these comments you receive about your concerts are just opinions and to be taken with a grain of salt….I remember on your super freak vid someone posted, “Your beat boxing needs to be more deep” or something to that effect! What are they comparing it to? The Fat Boys? It is what it is, isn’t it? – Dave
Yes yes and yes!
khadri Smith says
I see Adam play and think hes amazing Adam sees a guy with no Arms play guitar and think hes amazing etc…you see where i am going with this…each person is unique…it’s not rocket science… the guy with no arms has been like that his whole life and doesn’t see anything special in what he does ….he just plays. The outsiders looking in adds an element of awe to what that person does….but the performer doesn’t think he is doing anything special…a Magician is not making real rabbits pop out of a hat…from thin air … ….he works on the science of misdirection…and how the mind works..we know it’s not real….but the art of how its done is what make it amazing..
Play your instrument…and enjoy.. life .and maybe you get 15min of fame.. and if your are really lucky you get to live off the art you love…and make a lot of cool friends..
Anton Emery says
Great blog post and something that has run through my mind more than once. I play instrumental celtic music on solo guitar. There is a small audience that is into it, but I feel that is not grab the average listening who just happens upon my music. Some of it it toe tapping and fast, but I am sure some of it falls into that “hushed introspective tones” category.
I think alot about how to make it more appealing to a wider audience. Tony Mcmanus has made it work. John Doyle has mixed the instrumental stuff with high energy songs, but at the present I don’t sing.
So at the present my rent and belly are fulfilled by the day job.
Anton – thanks. First order of biz – play what you love. Also, I spend so much time on the logistics of my career, I may as well call it a part time job!
If you vary the repertoire enough, change grooves and tempos – that’s what you need to keep a set rockin, no matter what the style.
Just don’t put em to sleep, and you’ll be ok!!!! Or, I’ll be ok….I should say!
Nige Haynes says
I have been playing covers for years and have often come up against arguments from other musicians taking the moral high ground because they write their own songs. I perform around 80 to 100 gigs a year. The people taking the local high ground get maybe as many as four gigs a year,
Years ago I had an employee who’s partner was a very talented animal artist. The local gallery said they could sell their work for around £1000 per painting but they would need to paint the animals into a landscape. The artist refused saying they didn’t want to compromise their art. The result was that they struggled because they couldn’t find buyers for the paintings.
I did an open mic night for fun recently. Before I performed I heard others on stage saying learning other people’s songs is a tedious exercise and they only play original work. We played and had everyone dinging and dancing. After that they all played covers!
Nige thanks for the reality dose!
My apologies for the late reply and thanks for commenting.
I’ve read a few comments here about what people think about this subject. I dont make money with my music so my opinion probably doesnt matter as much as other people.
I was asked by my family to play guitar at my cousins wedding. I told everyone Im just a beginner so they shouldnt expect much. Ive been playing for about 4 years now and guitar is hard for me. I have played the piano in the 80’s though but havent played for over a decade so I have performed infront of audiences before.
At the wedding I played two covers backing my cousins who sang them. Everyone was so blown away by it that they came up and congratulated me afterwards. I was shocked actually about how they all really liked it. When I played I only thought about how the song made me feel when I used to listen to them during the sad times in my life. I played them with those thoughts in mind. Maybe I communicated that to them because apparently they were moved.
My point is all the opinions by musicians about covers vs originals, technical nuances, sounding like the recording, not sounding like the recording etc…keep skipping the point. The universe of music is vast and you can do so many things with it …but it all comes out of a human being and ends in a human being…and if the listener can understand and feel what you are trying to say in your music…that is a truely special thing. You will touch that other human being in a much more complex and deep way than all the talk about the above points (ie covers vs originals etc). This communication between human beings will be much more complex than any of that. So I cant listen to people who pretend to talk about more complex things like doing covers vs originals becuase that topic is actually FAR less complicated than the musician trying to communicate his life to anyone who will listen.
I took math in university, one of the hardest subjects you can study and I paid my dues when it comes to doing complex things. So Im sorry, but when so called intellectuals start arguing about the merits of getting away from doing covers to writing your own music, to me these people arent contributing anything to the complexity in the music I try to play everyday. Maybe I’ll write really crappy originals but play amaizing covers. Some covers get lots of hits on YouTube because it really touches people.
I suck in music anyways. Im being honest. Its hard and I have to put in a lot of effort to practice as I am not a natural at it. So Im kind of limited. If I kept listening to other peoples opinions I would suck even more. I played in my room for years and this wedding was the FIRST place I ever played and was shocked about the reaction. And everyone was shocked that I never played anywhere before. My family didnt even know I played guitar. So yeah, I completly do not agree with that guy who told you that the only way you can be a true ‘artist’ is by writing your own songs. Thats baloney. Just because nobody understands what he is talking about doesnt mean he is an artist.
khadri Smith says
Dude,.. first off you don’t suck….you wont get better thinking you suck……what you need is friends who are into what your are into…..just play…and push your limitations….what is the worst thing that could happen…….,,,, you get better… There is something about performing in front of an audience that cements acquired guitar/music knowledge in your brain forever… Similar to taking a test…you always remember the questions you got wrong….for many year… there is a science behind it…but I cant remember what the psychologist call it…Secondly when i first started playing i worried about making mistakes…now that i have been playing 40+ years.. I laugh when I make a mistake…and look at the other musicians because if you can play “no one cares more than you; get over it” I once saw Carlos Santana play a song for about 8 bars in the wrong key …until the bass player whispered in his ear…that he was in the wrong key… and they just laughed…. i said wow…look at that…but 5 seconds later … they were on…
John Adams says
I love you perspective (and your playing!). As a musician, I know I have been faced with the dilemma – Play what I like versus Play what THEY like. To me, this comes down to the subtle difference between art and entertainment.
Art is what we do for ourselves – that is not to say that others can’t appreciate and enjoy our art (hopefully they do), but, art is our soul, it’s what motivates us, drives us and ultimately fulfills us.
Sadly, for many musicians, art doesn’t pay the bills, entertainment does. Entertainment is about the audience and creating a great experience for them. Knowing your audience helps define what your “show” must be, and it should always be audience focused. If it isn’t, you will likely not find yourself invited back to a that particular venue.
The goal, then becomes how to introduce the audience to your art and hopefully gain their approval and recognition while still providing an excellent entertainment experience for the audience member. A difficult task sometimes, but, no one ever said it was easy. I sometimes think that artists forget that we are in a business and we compete for the entertainment dollars that people spend. If we’re aren’t providing value, people will choose to spend elsewhere.
Sorry, this became a bit of a rant….didn’t mean to go there!
Thanks for all you do! Keep on groovin’!
Thank you for the thoughtful “rant!” AR
Good post, Adam. Appreciate your thoughts.
I play solo and for vocal accompaniment at my church. In all cases, the songs are “covers”, but with tweaks to add some of my “thoughts” on how the music should sound – as I can pick it. For solos, I’ve learned to strive to preserve the melody the best I can, for church congregation “recognizability” and message as they connect with the song.
I’m certainly not the best guitarist, but the joy for me is the continued growth in musical ability and providing some pleasure for a few listeners.
Jim Greeninger says
I can make an audience come to their feet any time I want with a fast and flashy piece, however, I sell more CDs when I play a slow piece with great passion. I have 14 CDs and I choose to sell as many as possible. Every one goes away happy and I don’t need to be concerned with opinions.
I just watched a Sammy Davis, Jr. video on youtube:
It makes a strong case for the art of “entertaining with showmanship” (as does a Stones, or Springsteen concert too, by the way.).
In jazz terms a ‘standard’ is a vehicle to be interpreted in the performer’s own way. That is what makes it interesting. In popular music a ‘cover’ is an attempt to play a piece of music in the same way as on the recording. This shows two very different approaches to music. I take exception to the use of the word ‘cover’. In my opinion it shows a lack of understanding of what music is about.
I’ve seen so many acoustic guitarists playing their own well-written and nice songs, yet the audience simply could not go with it. As I see, covers are not *a* way to easily connect yourself to the audience, but *the* way, when you don’t have your name and your sound yet in everybody’s ears.
It’s sometimes hard to ‘tune up’ your audience, especially when the evening was mismanaged (e.g. you’re put on stage after a hard rock band). You can play catchy beats, but what really gets those heads up is familiar stuff I think. Although it’s a valid trick to ‘steal’ some licks into your playing from greats, it may not reach everybody.
So in my opinion the extent of playing covers is very much dependent on the audience. (Also it’s an interesting thing to look at the faces when you ‘tune up’, play a few things, just short lines and see how receptive, how curious they are then.) You won’t know it until you start! 🙂
And finally: covers are indeed very much art!!! (As long as it’s re*thinking*, not re*producing*.)
Thanks for commenting Attila!
Excellent points Attila. You remind me that almost any worthy musical career starts with covers. The Beatles first albums were half covers of carefully culled classics. They show they’ve paid their dues, and appreciate that they stand on the shoulders of Giants. Any performer I can think of who started out doing only original material, never made it to the next stage, because his audience couldn’t change fast enough, or find an anchor place to start.
certainly a controversial topic. Brave man. Now for my two bits! I’m a High school music teacher and covers is what I use to get the kids in! Keyboard, Ukulele and Guitar I, V, vi, IV. The kids love it, they’re all engaged, rockin’ and singin’ up a storm. I told them if you think you suck, keep trying and in time you’ll suck less. They laugh and keep going. Of course, I play them some classical guitar and they end up liking that too, and ask questions. It’s all about the music aint it? I’m too old and poor to be proud as well. Like your posts. Cheers!
Kids are great, they understand that achievement is a journey.
George Cole says
Hi Adam, excellent stuff here! You are quite the philosopher! This comes back to something I learned a while ago from a friend and teacher who described “Art” this way…A=arrange, R=record, T=transcribe. For some reason this has always stuck with me. And you perform this beautifully!
Thank you George!
mark speakman says
I think you are totally correct in this column. I played a gig for 40 adults a month ago and after 3 tunes I was asked to play ” something we know”…..I knew then I had to adjust when I do the same gig tomorrow. At the end of that gig I took song requests ….Elvis, Sinatra’s Blue Moon etc – not what I would necessarily choose . So it will be a mix – Christmas classics, my own faves and their requests ; hopefully all will go home with a full soul and spirit !
Thank you Mark! Amen 🙂
Hi Adam, David P. here.
First, this intensity of analysis of covers versus personal compositions just makes me laugh. Just think before Rock’n’Roll or even just since the Beatles. For hundreds of years professional composers wrote the music, and professional performers played or sang it. Even rock of the 50’s Golden Era the singers were the performers and the songs came from the ‘hip’ version of tin pan alley. The musicians were pure musicians and played in the studio for everybody. Elvis only wrote songs when he was bored, but he could sell out the house singing almost anything. Frank Sinatra new his gig, he hired the greatest composers and the greatest musicians money could buy, and they helped him learn how to sing their songs, of work with the band. Billie Holiday … well you get the idea.
The Beatles kind of ruined it for everyone because they were both genius writers and genius performers. Next thing you know, everyone had to be a “singer/songwriter” which in many cases meant they were masters of none. Their compositions had a point of view, but they weren’t crafted, and their musicianship was only enough to convey their idea to real musicians. They had to hire musicians to get across their ideas, which could only be explained to the band approximately (which suited them just fine, because they knew how real composition and artistry work). One of the most famous and beloved acts was the Blues Brothers Band. The songs all came from the Stax/Volt/Atlantic song factory, and the band is a collection of the very best studio musicians, and Ackroyd/Belushi were clowns. The musicians knew that without those clowns as front-men, there was no show. Without the songs, still no show. It’s a joint effort, like making a movie. Who in the world says you have to write your own material? Be Eric Clapton, Les Paul, Django Reinhart, Lenny Breau, and don’t try to be John, Paul, George or even Ringo. All 4 of them knew that on their own, they were just a guy who used to be a Beatle. Everyone of them figured out they had to put together a complete band to do anything useful. Present what you do, do it superbly (which you already do) and let the audience do their part, to discover the genius of the adaptation or performance. As you said you don’t sing (you should), so by definition, you’re not playing covers, you’re playing your own interpretations for solo guitar, and frankly, some of them take my breath away. And all great arrangers/performers write the occasional piece of their own, because arranging is quasi-composing to begin with, and sometimes the tune finds it way into your own creativity. It’s always been that way. Just Enjoy it!
Of course there’s nothing wrong with meeting your audience half-way. Interacting with them on-stage or in workshops is great, but you’ve gotta make it a 2-way street. As much as they tell you what they want to hear, you need to have them make the effort to understand what you have to offer. Germans in particular are a difficult challenge for we North Americans. I know you’ve spent a lot of time there, and I lived and worked at an Engineering job there for 3 years. A lot of Germans want to be like Americans, especially in Music, but they rarely succeed at it, because they can’t stop being Germans. Germans like being Germans, and that’s great, but you don’t have to become them, cause you can’t do that either. You are what you are, and it’s fabulous. Challenge others to widen their scope and figure you out. btw I don’t mean to pick on Germans. It’s the same for French, Italians, Scandinavians, Japanese, Indians, Koreans, and any national group. It’s hard, but it’s just amazing when we learn to work together in a common cause. Your cause is your music, and the audience needs to understand and accept that, while you understand and accept their cause.
Man, just be Adam. Adam is a great guy to be. But add a little discussion and conversation to draw the audience in and meet them half-way.
As I get older, I’m less and less concerned about my stuff, and I’m just being the best person I can be, and contribute my bit to the common good. The Catholics have saying, “God will provide” Meaning that when you are in need (as opposed to in Want), somehow what you need will come along. The only prerequisite is that you’re a good person, and that you’re connected to his flock 6-7 billion of us. Sometimes you’re the one that provides for someone else. It’s not hard. I have very little stuff, and don’t anticipate getting any more, but I don’t NEED anything except friends. When something happens and I NEED something, it’ll be there. Don’t know how, just know. Always has been.
Love your thoughtful and complete comments. Thank you so much on behalf of me & the other readers here!
I am learning a lot from your articles. As to what you are doing is art or not, who cares. Keep on doing what you are doing since you love it. Along the way if you are making a decent living doing what you love. You are the king. That is what I think.
Thanks for your letters.
Thank you Sam! AR
I love getting these free lessons from you Adam. What makes me connect to you is your ability to remain so approachable- even over the internet. Let me explain what I mean:
Everything in the article you posted here is spoken from the mind and heart of a true artist. You already understand that you are your own worst critic, and your work ethic clearly shows in what you produce. While I’ve not seen you live yet, I have watched all of your videos and many multiple multiple times! I feel that I could shake your hand through my YouTube screen. You come across as genuine and human. You understand the fine line between making a living doing what you love while being mindful that the “commercialism” can begin to taint the art you create. This is true in any creative endeavor living in a capitalist society, and as an art major- I can fully relate.
You are also taking the time to post your thoughts (and taking away time from your guitar). I know this, to your choosing, part of what you “do” and you want this to be part of the package, but many choose not to. I find it very generous of you and I am grateful for it! Covers are great man- some songs are just worth repeating over and over- of course the secret is adding your own dash of spices. People love the familiar with just a hint of the exotic.
It is EASY for a doctor to be ‘an artist’ as he doesn’t realistically face the prospect of being put on an oatmeal and bologna diet against his will.
In addition, I’m sure that you have found that any given formula can be both a hit and a flop; what went over exceptionally well on Thursday, does not get the same reaction on Friday. It’s a crap shoot, as all audiences are not created equal.
If one’s soul aches to make a deep impact and spiritual connection that forever transforms the life of the listener, then being an Entertainer will feel shallow and meaningless. At the same time, if simply having fun with an audience isn’t good enough for someone, then that person might have some deeper issues.
I expect that we have all seen a mediocre talent delight an audience. Meanwhile, I have heard some very talented ‘artists’ that left me fighting to stay awake. Similarly, it has occurred to me (which doesn’t make it true) that one possible reason that jazz is often performed at a subdued volume is because people don’t really want to listen to it; no more than they get on an elevator to hear music. It can be too obscure for any but the most die-hard Jazz aficionado (all 12 of them). Meanwhile, the masses will appear transfixed when Kanye plays a one-finger piano solo.
Though everybody can appreciate a flashy riff, people want something they can tap their foot to and something that they can hum.
Ultimately, as you have inferred Adam, music is a service that people are paying for. Satisfying a room full of diverse individuals IS an art. Putting something on vinyl that will satisfy a solitary soul in his / her car, is also an art. Having the money to eat a good meal, well.., that’s a joy.
Denis Hooper says
There was a seminar in Sydney I attended some years back on what makes us happiest. it was called the Pursuit of Happiness and was attended by representatives of all the major faith groups as well as humanists, atheists, agnostics and more besides.
After three days of presentations and discussions the one thing everyone agreed on is that we are happiest when we are giving to others.
Music is a gift and what a pleasure it it to hear a well-honed musician play and make others happy.
Music sparks memories in us, both happy and sad. A well known piece of music evokes memories deep inside of us all.
As long as the musician gives to the audience, then there is a win-win situation which is two way traffic.
The earth has music for those who listen…
Harvey Scodel says
What to say? As a musician, I usually react badly to too much showmanship. I usually don’t like a lot of patter, or a lot of jokes that have clearly been rehearsed. I like the jokes to be spontaneous and to emerge from the particular facts of the setting. I don’t want to hear Tom Waits muttering some long story about the time he got drunk with X between songs, he already does that in the songs themselves. It’s hard to say what I do like. I don’t usually have a problem when the performer or bandleader says virtually nothing and just plays. I don’t want to hear a *long* story about what occasioned a particular song (here I am speaking as a singer/songwriter). I might want to hear a *short* story about what occasioned a song, how it fits into the set, or into one’s entire repertoire, what makes it different, special, or perhaps typical.
But how much showmanship is too much? You, Adam, might have some interesting stories about Dizzy Gillespie on that score, stories that you got from Mike Longo. I never saw Dizzy live, but I know that he had quite a reputation as a showman. I did see Louis Armstrong with his Dixieland band (Trummy Young on trombone) in 1961 in Paris, when I was eleven years old, and there wasn’t much showmanship per se, they just played. Of course, Louis Armstrong sweated so profusely and wiped his brow so often that not much other showmanship was required. And there was also the fact that I’m sure he did not speak much French, and in 1961 not many French people spoke English.
To be honest, I don’t think that solo steel-string instrumental guitar lends itself too well to original material. How many people have made a living using that formula since 1950? John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Ry Cooder (but probably only sort of), Alex de Grassi and some other Windham Hill types (Will Ackermann?) and who else? Tommy Emmanuel is the counter-example, but he plays mostly covers…If Jorma Kaukanen tried to do concerts of original material, would he succeed? About 25 years ago, I heard a recording of a Dutch solo steel-string guitarist who was playing original material, someone lent it to me, it had an appreciative blurb from Larry Coryell, but I don’t remember the guy’s name and have not heard about him since. He played really well, but nothing about it stuck with me.
Al Franken uses a fragment of a Leo Kottke tune as his intro/outro music for his podcast. It happens to be a very straightforward, folky tune played at a fast tempo. I like the music *in this setting,* as an intro/outro to a podcast. I would not pay to hear a concert of this kind of music, and if I heard this kind of tune played more than three times in an evening, I would probably leave. And I don’t listen to John Fahey, Leo Kottke, or Ry Cooder, but I do listen to Adam Rafferty. I’ve heard de Grassi a few times live and think of him as being special.
I should say that I do not follow the world of solo steel-string guitar playing at all closely, so perhaps there are a lot of people who now make a living (by which I mean at least $80,000 net annually from concerts and recording/merch sales) playing primarily original material, and I just don’t know who they are and have not heard their music.
Coming to this article quite late, obviously, but Adam just sent it to me.