I've been lucky enough to have a few conversations recently with someone who makes their living in the music industry but who isn't an artist or songwriter.
This may not seen like a big deal to a non-musician, but it's actually quite rare to be able to have repeated conversations like this, if you're not an artist or writer that is of interest to the money-making end of the industry.
It's been a learning curve and, at time, a source of frustration, as well as a fascinating look at how the other half of this industry operates.
Here's a few take aways I'm still processing:
Our ears are not doing the same thing when we listen to music
While it's not news to anyone that, in the music business, "industry' people are looking for things that can make money. That's how they make a living. And artists and songwriters like making money too. You'd think we'd all be on the same page.
Alas, that's not the case. And the biggest thing I've begun to see clearly is that when I, as an artist or writer, listen to a song, I'm listening for the art of it. I'm listening for the skill in the lyrics and the beauty of the imagery and the power of the hook. In short, I want to be emotionally moved, and I want to feel the craft involved in creating this work.
When my "industry" friend listens to music, he isn't focused on it solely. He is letting it all wash over him, feeling into its potential to be commercially viable, whether as a single, or as a sync for TV or film. That incredibly well crafted third line of the second verse, that has a double meaning and sets up a powerful internal rhyme that creates motion in the listeners ear, which pulls us willingly into the pre-chorus and sets us up for the 1 chord in the chorus.....nope. Nothing. He's listening for the money.
And that's exactly what he should be doing....much as I don't want to admit it.
That's his job. That's why he's good at it. That's what he needs to be able to do, to help the songs and writers that he can help.
But MAN it's frustrating to me.
Industry don't necessarily care about the power of delivery
This may be contextual only, but it was really, REALLY hard for me to get my head around when I encountered it. We were watching a band play a showcase to a room full of music business people - a tough gig for any band, to be sure.
While the band certainly had talent and strong songs, I was not moved by their performance. When my "industry" friend asked what I thought, I said I wished the band had been a bit more powerful as performers. Again, I wanted to be moved, to be arrested by the emotive power of the delivery of the songs.
He, on the other hand, assured me that was not what the room of music business people were interested in. They wanted to hear that the songs were strong and that the band could deliver them. That's it. No one wanted more and the band shouldn't be trying to deliver more.
While I still hold to my view that if the next Adele walked out on that stage and blew us away with an incredibly powerful and heart-wrenching delivery of a classic Adele-style ballad, the room full of industry would have shut up and listened harder. But he insisted that this band did exactly what they should have done.
Again, this frustrates me SO much.
Music for fun versus music for meaning
It's becoming very apparent as my friend and I continue to have discussions about music, that we approach music from different angles.
He looks to music for enjoyment, fun, entertainment and occasionally (but only occasionally) deeper, sad emotion.
I, on the other hand, look to music as an expression of truth, an outlet to connect with other people over shared emotional experiences. This lends itself to deeper exploration of lyrics, quieter rooms with focused attention and seeking to share meaning with an audience as you deliver your truth in a song.
Of course, music can be both of these things, and each has its place and time. But it's very clear that, as the artist, I want something very different from music than he does, as a purveyor and consumer.
The take-home message from these experiences
While it would be easy to simply write it all off as "each to his own" and accept we like different things in music, the therapist and life coach in me is driven to understand how he sees things. The artist and songwriter in me is driven to understand what the industry are looking for. And the person who would like not to have to have a day job is driven to try and find that sweet spot that pleases both camps.
And, of course, there are many examples of music that pleases both camps.
Anything that appeals to me for its meaning and depth, its skill and craft, and is making a decent amount of money, would tick that box. And many of my favourite artists would fall into that category - Patty Griffin, Glen Hansaard, U2, just to rattle off three.
But as a songwriter, I know that songs have to appeal to the audience, they can't just be navel-gazing truth tellers. So learning to listen with my friend's ears - trying to grasp what he's hearing - as we listen to and discuss music together, might actually change the way I write.
He may read this, so I don't want to make any promises. But I'm smart enough to shut up and listen (some of the time) when he disagrees with me on the quality of something we're hearing.
Over to you - what do you listen for most in music? What appeals to you? Do you fall more into the "Music as entertainment" category or "Music for meaning" category? Or something else? Would love to hear your views.