Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Memorization discovery, covers, and the "yeah, but I'm really bad though" excuse that never works

Songwriter/Recording Artist Only 

If you're like me, you like to write songs and record them, but you don't like to perform live in front of audiences. 

With Released Albums Online 

Also, if you're like me, even though you know the quality of your songs and recordings don't measure up to the best popular songs by the best popular artists, you release them to online music places anyway. Although you want them to get discovered and played and liked, you don't want to be famous. 

Secret Musicianship Revealed

Additionally, if you're like me, you try to keep this whole hobby aspect of your life a secret from certain groups of family and friends, but they end up finding out about it anyway. 

Roped In 

This inevitably causes the problem of the people who find out wanting you to play live in front of them! Despite your standard response of "yeah, but I'm really bad though," it does not deter them. If you intentionally and conveniently don't bring your guitar and white-lie that you forgot it, they find one for you to play from a closet somewhere. Inescapable. 

(I should interject here to point out that quite often, said friend groups do not consist of any other musicians at all, so such a tough crowd has a consumer-only knowledge of music and is unsympathetic to the plight I'm describing herein.) 

Don't Know Your Own Songs? How Can That Be? 

This then inevitably causes more problems. If you know you'll get suckered into playing, you can bring your lyric/chord documents and a music stand, but they give you a hard time for being this songwriter with released music who doesn't even know his own songs. They can't fathom it. 

Disbelief That Famous Artists Require Practice Too 

You explain you only play a song a couple times when you write and record it, then never play it again, and they're even more dumbfounded. You might even go so far as to tell them that even the Rolling Stones rehearse for weeks before a tour to re-learn their own songs despite playing them for 50 years, and they won't believe you. Tell them famous artists use teleprompters, and you'll surely get the same disbelief response. 

Don't Know Covers Either? 

"What good are you?" they surely mumble to themselves when they learn you can't play covers of their favorite popular songs from memory either. You might bring some lyric/chord documents you printed off the internet for this purpose (which are usually wrong), and give it your best shot with them propped up on a music stand or on your right knee. 

Covers Are Important 

Said audiences have only heard about your music, but they definitely don't know any of it. Yes, they may have clicked play and streamed a couple of your songs, but like everyone, their attention spans are very short. They like what they like and don't have patience to give new music a try. 

Some might go so far as to ask what your best songs are, and you never know the answer, but you rattle off a few titles anyway, and maybe they listen to half of one of them - if at all - and form their opinion based on that small amount of information. 

Because of this situation, your live set in front of them needs to include some popular covers they've heard before, because they are going to get bored quickly with several of your originals in a row that they've never heard. 

Better To Memorize 

I learned something about myself recently. Recording video of myself playing songs I'm reading from paper in front of me is way worse than recording video of myself playing songs from memory. Live performance is just better and more natural and more appealing if you memorize the songs instead of reading them from a music stand or a computer screen. 

Having been through all of the above scenarios, and invited again recently to an annual get-together where I'm expected to play, I decided two things in advance: 
-Better play some of their favorite covers 
-Better play them from memory 

When I was young and first learning guitar, of course I knew a bunch of covers songs all the way through, along with parts of many other cover songs. Now, after quickly realizing I liked making up my own songs way more than learning covers, I've only made up my own songs ever since, and that was starting back in the early 90s. 

I sort of knew this already, but the video confirmed how noticeable the difference is when you memorize. 

Practice Makes Perfect, and It Doesn't Take As Much As You Think 

Another thing I learned about myself was that I don't have to practice as much as I thought to pull off a few cover songs. I decided for this gig I'd do three covers, and the day before, I practiced each of them three times on my lunch break. They were songs I was familiar with, but didn't know all the words for, and definitely not the chords. I thought I'd do this with the last-minute deadline pressure of the day before, being the procrastinator I am. 

In Conclusion 

Amazingly, to myself and probably the audience, I nailed all three! I think knowing I'd be performing them live the next day made me really focus intensely, and with only one hour of practice, it turned out to be enough to pull off three songs. I'm fairly old, but surprised myself that I was able to do this, possibly even more easily than when I first learned and played covers 30 years ago. 

The polite applause from a mostly drunk crowd felt more enthusiastic and genuine than in the past when I did not play from memory. It all went according to plan, and the plan was a good one - if you're going to play live, include covers, and memorize them.  Lessons learned. 

Dwindling Excuses 

Now, if I could only apply this newfound knowledge to memorizing more of my own, best songs, I'll be getting somewhere. All along, in the back of my mind on this songwriting journey, I've thought I'd wait to have a "best of" setlist before learning any of my own songs. After 11 albums of releasing whatever I had written and recorded at the time without a lot of weeding out, I can honestly say there are 1-3 songs from each that would be worthy. 

Someday, I could coceivably be a person who could avoid the stunned reaction of people not understanding why someone who is known to be a songwriter doesn't know how to play his own songs. So, I have the list, and the knowledge of what to do, and the now-confirmed ability to memorize, so maybe my future will include performing a whole live set of my originals! 

Of course, as I've learned, it still wouldn't be a bad idea to sprinkle in a few popular songs by other artists, but I'm getting closer to the dream of being a real artist who could play a bunch of his own originals in front of people, from memory. Onward and upward! (Don't you hate it when bosses say that? I do, but I'm saying it anyway)