So, Ty posted an interesting question on his Facebook account the other day that got a lot of very good responses. He asked: Could your music career go farther if you cleaned up your lyrics? What do you think?
The responses ran the gamut but, in the end, most folks agreed that our lyrics do have an effect on how far our music gets when it comes to getting gigs or a recording contract. You see, sometimes the language we use in our lyrics reflects on us as an artist. As Larry Ray pointed out in the comments on Ty’s post, a lot of the folks we are sending our music to have kids, dislike foul language or, for some other reason, just prefer not to have their business associated with certain ideas or words.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to eliminate every swear word from your lyrics but when you’re writing a new song, ask yourself, “Is this word adding any value to my song or am I just giving the listener a reason to turn it off if their mother walked in the room?” You see, we all have that little thing called a conscience. Most of us wouldn’t dream of cussing in front of our Mom. Why? There’s a lot of reasons, including Respect and a dislike of the taste of soap. ( Voice of experience, kids. It tastes NASTY! )
While labels and venue owners sometimes seem to be a little short in the area of conscience, we have to respect that they are people too, just like you and me. If your song is a 10 minute string of obscenities or the lyrics are sending messages of hate and violence, do you really expect it to get all the way through the screening process? It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you send this type of demo out and the person listening has a conscience, they probably aren’t going to offer you a big deal.
I know what you’re saying now… “But wait, Mike. Guys like Eminem and DMX made their fortunes off of lyrics like this.” That’s true. Sometimes, a certain word is the only one that will convey the thought. In those cases, go for it but, if it’s just there to shock the listener, you can bet a lot of them are going to be shocked right into turning it off. Even in some genre’s of music, certain messages or language are more acceptable. For an example of this, listen to rap versus country music. Even Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr. recognized this discrepancy when they sang the lyric, “In country music, you just can’t use the F word.”
So what can we do to insure we are getting heard without compromising our artistic license? Well, as Reno Smiff pointed out, sending two versions of our songs might be the key. We call it the Music Biz because it is a business, like it or not. When you are at work, you use a different kind of language than when you are at home. If we want to succeed in the music business, we have to act more business like. As Reno Smiff pointed out, he sends a clean version out for reviewers. That’s a good idea for all of us. Give your listeners a choice and you may find you get a lot more response. After all, nobody wants to explain why they produced an album with those kind of lyrics to Mama.
So, what do you think? Are your lyrics helping you or hurting you? Are you writing music that is making it past the gatekeepers or are your demo’s getting rejected before the listener even gets to hear how talented you are? As always, comments are appreciated.
By the way, if you aren’t following Ty on Facebook, you are missing a lot of great information. Add him now by visiting http://www.facebook.com/MusicBizCenter and add him as a friend.