My family loves to watch American Idol as well as The Voice. These competitive singing shows are fun and introduce a new audience to a lot of great songs, old and new. The shows are both well produced and fun and get you involved with each contestant’s story so that you care whether or not they make the cut.
One thing that stands out for me is the subject of song choice.
So many of the judges comments on these shows go something like, “That was the perfect song for you.” But who’s helping these fledging artists make these choices?
Last night’s American Idol had a lot of interesting re-workings of old songs in such unusual ways. There was a slow, introspective almost morose version of “You’re the One That I Want” – the song from Grease. There was a female singer doing a version of an Adam Sandler song! That is probably the first cover he ever got. So interesting! Talk about “making it yours.”
A&R is not Accounts and Receivables
In the early days of the recording industry, there were specialists at the record companies. They called them “guys with ears.” These Artists & Repertoire or A&R men (they were always men) were the specialists in matching the singer with the songs. This art of song selection is the true magic behind some of the greatest music stars. The most famous of these A&R men are guys like John Hammond who discovered Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday to name a few. Other legendary music executives could be considered “guys with ears” like Clive Davis, who discovered Whitney Houston and ran several record labels, or Ahmet Ertegun who founded Atlantic Records. Clive was a lawyer, so how he came to be a guy with ears was just pure passion, innate talent and personal interest.
Nowadays, most artists are expected to write their own music or have a very specific view of the kind of material they are looking for. Everyone needs to know what is their “own music.”
So how does this relate to teaching music?
Find the perfect song for the student and you are golden. You no longer have to TRY to motivate them. The student is so self-motivated – it’s what they want to do.
To do this, you need to get to know your student. What makes them excited, not just musically, but in life? What are their interests, passions, causes, fears? What do they care about? Who do they love? Who loves them?
The material you select together will be putting words/ideas/feelings in their mouths and mind. It becomes a part of them, their reality. The choices you help them make become a part of what makes them unique.
When you find that next song, don’t just play it like everyone else. Experiment to find what is their own way. Change it up. Make it faster, slower! Do it with a reggae lilt. Do it in a bossa nova style. Change the key. Make it a minor key. Most of all, make it their own. Play it like it they wrote it! Find their voice.
The “song” can be more than a song
It’s the same in every subject, whether it’s soccer, physics, macramé or Chinese lessons. Having a mentor to guide one on a personal path can be the difference between passion and drudgery.
Find the song, and the next, and the next, and the life path will be clear. At every stage, a different “music” is required to guide, lift and release into the exact place of purpose, whether it’s on the stage of American Idol, or any other field of endeavor. Every lesson is a lesson in life.
“I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” – Rainier Maria Rilke