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Monday, July 18, 2011

Do You Have the Music in You?

Throughout my teen years I had 2 best friends - Trevin and Ben.  Of course we had a lot in common including similar book interests and an appreciation for anything that went *BOOM*!

One area we differed in was our appreciation of music.  While we had similar tastes, the reason we liked certain songs varied. 

For Ben, music was all about the LYRICS.  (This is the same man who tells me "There's power in words whether we like it or not."  I may steal that concept for a future blog post.)

Trevin, on the other hand, got into the MUSIC.  For him, the song didn't even need lyrics.  Trevin grew up harmonizing to the Beatles in the car with his family.  It came as no surprise when he married an accomplished musician.

Both Ben and Trevin are successful in their left-brained careers.  One works in insurance claims, the other in computer security.  But they taught me some of the most important right-brained lessons I've ever learned.

Trevin taught me how fun harmonizing can be and I owe my love of singing to him.  Fifteen years later, Ben convinced me that I could write.  Without his example, I never would have finished 4 novels.

So back to the question: Is it the music or the lyrics that makes you love a song.  It's obviously a matter of opinion.  If we all had the same tastes, there wouldn't be hundreds of different genres of music.

I think it goes without saying that there is a minimum level of awesomeness required in the music itself.  There have been enough unlistenable renditions of Imagine and Amazing Grace to prove that point.  After all, lyrics without music is just poetry, and last time I checked, poetry wasn't a multi-billion dollar industry.

So allowing for a minimum standard in the music, which do you hear when your favorite songs come on?

Personally, I don't have a short answer, and I imagine most of us don't.  As a writer, I have profound respect for artists who cram entire stories or volumes of emotion into a few verses.  My current favorites: Blue October and Mumford and Sons. 

If I had to choose one or the other I'd say I'm a LYRICS person.  But if a song has music that makes even me feel like dancing, it could be awesome in any language.


Truman Jensen said...

I'm a lyrics person. while I enjoy lots of music and can appreciate songs that sound cool, if the lyrics don't resonate with me I won't enjoy the song as much. I tend to internalize music alot try and find deeper meanings (at least deeper for me)

Of course some music for exercising or dancing needs to have a good sound before being lyrically profound.

Jimmy Lee said...

I would agree and say its impossible to just be one or the other. A mix of both is important. But i too am a lyrics guy. No matter how great the music to a song is, if the lyrics are boring, lame, cliche or just stupid, the whole song is stupid (ie Kesha). I think the music part is all a matter of preference. No matter how amazing the lyrics for a country song may be, i cringe when listening to most country music. So although i consiser lyrics most important, every good song has a mix of both, and after that, its all a matter of preference.

Ps, im a big mumford and sons fan too.

Trevin said...

Nice posting, Dan. Thanks for the kind words. When my wife writes music, she ALWAYS writes lyrics first and then comes up with music that best represents the lyrics. She never starts with a melody. She also pays a lot more attention to the meanings of lyrics than I do. It doesn't necessarily mean that she is a lyrics person…I think it's just more of a challenge for her to write those lyrics than it is to come up with music, so she does the lyrics first.

I do appreciate lyrics, and I think they are an important component of music, but only one part (along with rhythm, beat, melody, and the overall mix of sound). After all, music can be music without lyrics, but lyrics without melody and rhythm is definitely not music. That said, I am absolutely an audiophile. My ears can absolutely tell the difference between 160 kbps (ewwww) and 320 kbps constant bitrate of an mp3 file. I want to hear every sound that the artist intended to be there, and nothing they didn't. I'm not obsessive about it, although I've been known to take a detour on my way home to buy a specific set of headphones because the ones I'm using are not reaching bass notes like I know they can be played. As I listen to a song, my mind focuses on all of the sound blended, as well as each of the sounds independently. Sometimes my favorite part of a song will be some obscure sound bit that even my amazingly musical wife doesn't notice or care about, but I think is brilliant. To me, sound reaches places that words simply cannot. And while I do enjoy lyrics, I think my enjoyment of lyrics is just as much the sound of those lyrics as it is the meaning. Sometimes there is probably a better word the artist can use, but they choose the word that blends best with the music.

I have a lot of international music (Spanish, Indie, German, and others), where I have no idea what the artist is saying and it doesn't really matter so much. I usually look the lyrics up to find out what they mean, but it's usually to satisfy my curiosity…it sometimes enhances the quality of the music to me, but not usually. I recently signed up for a Spotify membership and have been having fun findings hundreds of covers of songs I enjoy. Although the lyrics of the covers are no different than the original, I enjoy listening to how each artist musically interprets a specific song and puts their own style on it. A song can take on an entirely new meaning even while keeping lyrics constant.

I'm not saying one way is right or wrong…that's different for everybody. But, I just think that music is so much deeper than the words chosen and spoken.

Emily said...

I am a music person. You can probably tell that because 75% of the music I listen to is instrumental. I think this also has to do with the fact that I am not much of a singer but I love to play the piano and other instruments. Don't get me wrong, there is power in lyrics and words.

Daniel Coleman said...

Great comments! It's VERY interesting to hear everyone's take on it.

Tru - I would've guessed lyrics for you.

Jimmy - A few George Strait songs come to mind. (On a side note, I believe country singers are more talented singers than other popular genres)

Trevin - Thanks for weighing in. I had no idea how Margo went about writing songs. And that German beer-drinking song proves that the music can often carry a song.

Emily - I never would have guessed lyrics for you. Not just because you're a writer, but because you are so good at word-crafting in short fiction.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to say both are pretty important, but I kind of think lyrics arn't the most important part of the music industry. There are some pretty famous artists who make music with little to no lyrics at all... and they're big hits! Music can still be music without lyrics. For me personaly, I actually listen to the lyrics but if the song doesn't have a catchy beat, then I loose interest fast. I just won't enjoy the song as much if it doesn't sound good.