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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
reggie miles How songs catch on (6) Folklore: What makes a song catch on? 10 Mar 11

It's always been something of a wonder to me, how it is that some combinations of words and music can reach inside those listening, catch their ear/hearts/minds/souls and strike a harmonious chord within. From my perspective, as a songwriter of Folk/Blues songs, it all seems rather mysterious and almost magical. I have no training in the art form or knowledge about the formulaic devices that seem to permeate and dominate so many songs that stream their way out of radio stations, over the airwaves and into the speakers of my car's stereo system. It seems as though, at its core, it truly is a kind of magic.

Money is a big factor that enters into the equation of fame and what we hear being presented over the airwaves and therefore what we choose to listen to. If you have enough money to invest, you can create success. Though, longstanding success in the industry doesn't seem to be the norm these days, given the never ending search for the next big thing, the next brightest star on the horizon. There doesn't seem to be enough money to maintain dominance in the ever changing face of the marketplace of music but money does seem to have an affect on musical tastes and what we collectively perceive as palatable choices.

There are techniques, ways of splicing together melodies with certain chord shapes, changes, passing chords and turn arounds and such, that can produce music that's pleasing to the ear. I hear them being applied in certain songs. I'm not consciously aware that I've employed any of those conventions within anything that I've written or composed. I am without any formal education in the how-to aspects of using such devices. Nor do I even have any specific knowledge or understanding of what they are, exactly, but I can recognize them being used in some songs.

I play by ear and while this has served me well over the years, I also know that it has its limits. Though, I can also say the same for the study of music. For instance, I have musical friends who are truly stifled by their attachment to the art of being able to read music. So much so, that they can't figure out what to do, musically, beyond the notes on the page. Not knowing how to read music, the challenge I have is what to do 'with' all of them hen's scratchins. Hmmm, it might make good wallpaper. ;o)

I know that many are in awe of those that can shred their various instruments. That particular term is a byproduct of R&R but the beginnings of this fascination, with those that can play lots of notes quickly and precisely, extends much farther into the past. Many idolize these hyperactive players as musical gods.

Alternately, tempo-wise, I've heard about some using bass rhythms, in certain contemporary music, that attempt to mimic the beating of our hearts. Including this concept in compositions has, supposedly, been key to the response they've received from so many listeners.

The only shredding I'm able to do is made possible via one of the settings on my blender. ;o) It works great for my homemade salsa but doesn't manage to get me any closer to musical godhood or nearer the cover of The Rolling Stone. Given, that I play solo and acoustically, I have no capability to successfully manipulate anything so primal as the beating of a heart with a bass line in any of my compositions...not yet anyway.

As an acoustic performer, the list of tools at my disposal in this musical pursuit are few, when compared to the average electric ensemble these days. My recordings and live presentations are primitive by comparison. That's why I posed this thread. Because even with all of my limitations and relative lack, I've had some fairly serious and significant musical success in producing songs that have caught people's attention.

I've had new listeners hear one of my songs for the first time and then come up to me, to tell me that they can't get my song out of their heads. (I took that as a compliment. ;o)) I've been candidly told, by another new listener, how my song reached inside and grabbed him. I've had total strangers write to tell me how much they appreciated the message in one of my songs and how they listen to it everyday. I've uploaded my songs at various sites online, in competition with hundreds and thousands of every other kind of band and artist, and found that even in this, my songs have managed to climb to the top of the charts.

Presently, I have one song, "That Stuff You Got", posted in both the Acoustic Blues chart and also in the Blues chart at a site called, SoundClick. I just uploaded the song to the site within the last couple of weeks. Within the last couple of days, I've been amazed to watch it rise in the rankings there, to where it presently stands at #10 out of 1,059 Acoustic Blues songs and #73 out of 44,678 Blues songs.

So, I know that I must be doing something right. However, I'm still baffled at how this is possible. My abilities as a guitarist aren't being lauded on the covers of music magazines or being touted about inside the same. Again, I believe that these outlets are mostly reserved for those with lots of $$$ to spend for advertising.

I have my own style, that was influenced into being by the combination of my love for older rootsy playing styles. I enjoy playing and have found a unique niche.   

My vocal efforts aren't being trotted out during major awards ceremonies, but I believe that these kinds of events are tied exclusively to the industry's efforts at big time promotion. The closest that I've received to a vocal review is to be referred to as medium grit gravel. I don't mind that rather humorous comparison. Yet, my songs still continue to gain favor and attention.

So, I wonder, is it knowable, or just plain luck? Is this thing, that I've managed to happen upon, in this concoction of words and music that seems to be taking root in listeners, a fluke? Is there some secret that I've blindly and unknowingly uncovered? If so, what is it? What makes a song take root in the soul of another? Is it just the message? Or is it a combination of both music and message. Is it all of the above, or is it something else?

Maybe, it's has to do with the spirit of our presentation, in the feeling or emotion that we invest in our performance? If that's it, then I'm not sure it is something that we really can know. I don't think that there is a how-to manual on how to bring your spirit into focus, except via practice. They do say that prectice makes perfect. Maybe that's just what this whole musical journey, that we're on, is all about. What do you think?

Now that I think about it, I don't know if this is really a fair question to ask. Some might feel that revealing this sort of knowledge is like giving away trade secrets. So, for those of you who don't mind sharing, I'd be thrilled to read your explanations and musings of what makes a song catch on.

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