Sunday, February 11, 2024

Knowing Thy Self: Acoustic Garage Rock and Describing the Scott Cooley Signature Sound

Presumably, as a reader of this blog, you have an interest in me and my music, and…you don’t mind long reads.  Here’s another long-form post in which I attempt to describe my music, both so you’ll have a better understanding, and for me to use for future marketing purposes, should I ever choose to do such a thing.  

Aside from writing and recording better songs, it’s the one thing I could be doing to reach a wider audience.  Marketing.  How would you market me?  How would you describe my music?  Who would you compare me to?  Seriously, I'd like to know.  Are you a good summarizer or synthesizer of words?  The intimidating sea of text that follows (sorry no graphics) should serve as starter content.  Until someone volunteers to help, I'm on my own.


I have no idea what kind of music I make.  I need someone else to explain it to me because I’m clueless.  Every time I’ve tried to explain it, it doesn’t sound very interesting at all.  Unfortunately, I don’t do myself any favors, and the more I try, the worse it sounds.  As a music fan, if I heard another artist described to me the way I describe myself, I would not want to check it out.  


Since I like making music, and since I’d like it if more people listened to it, it’s helpful to be able to tell potential listeners something more than “I don’t know what I sound like.”  Most people don’t believe you if you say that.   They think “how can you write songs and record them and not be able to say what type of music it is?”  I really, honestly don’t know though.


You can describe your music in excruciating detail, but if no one reads that detail, it won’t amount to much unless it’s used for marketing, advertising, promotion, publicity, etc.  I don’t pay for any of those, but maybe covering it here will win me a few more listeners.  I don’t play public shows, so I’m never out to sell tickets or pack bars to get cover charge cash.  I only release albums and hope to attract fans, without actually doing anything to try to attract them.  Describing who and what you sound like is must-have information to get started with if you’re ever going to attempt such a thing.  


Like most creative people, I like the creative part, not the salesmanship part.  I don’t like to talk about myself much (other than in this blog, obviously, which is all about me and my creative hobby of writing and recording songs).  I’ve attempted descriptions elsewhere, such as on these other pages of my website (that hardly anyone know about, let alone visit):, and  I guess it might be worth a try here on the blog too, so here goes…


First of all, I realize hardly anyone has the time or patience for reading this kind of information, so the TooLongDidn’tRead (TLDR) summary attempt is these three words:  acoustic garage rock. 

I will explain how I arrived at that.  There’s a lot more to my signature sound than that, of course, so if you’d like to hear about it, read on.


One of the first questions people have upon learning you have music available to listen to is “who do you sound like?”  So, I’ll get that out of the way first.  Few people have ever volunteered this type of information to me.  All of us artists think we’re unique and don’t really want to sound like other artists necessarily.  In this era of web music streaming, the algorithms automagically compare artists with others.  I suspect machines vs. humans come up with these “you may also like…” suggestions that they “learn” somehow.  As an artist, I’m sometimes flattered, sometimes surprised, sometimes confused by these.  Some I sort of agree with, most I’ve never even heard of.  Mostly I suspect they just lump a bunch of the unknown amateurs using aggregator distribution services together.


Disclaimer:  I don’t claim I sound like anything like any of these famous artists!  Here’s a list of who some of the major web music streaming services have compared me to over the years (that I’ve actually heard of before):

Adrienne Lenker, Alex Chilton, Alex G, America, Beck, Ben Harper, Billy Bragg, Black Keys, Bob Dylan, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Bruce Springsteen, Conor Oberst, CSN, Dan Hall, Daniel Johnston, Dave Rawlings, Elliott Smith, Gogol Bordello, Gordon Lightfoot, Great Lake Swimmers, Head And The Heart, J.J. Cale, Jack Johnson, Jack White, James Taylor, Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, Jimmy Buffett, Joel Mabus, John Denver, John Hiatt, John Mellencamp, Jonathan Richman, Justin Townes Earle, Kacey Musgraves, Lana Del Rey, Lord Huron, Mac DeMarco, Mary Lou Lord, Mumford and Sons, My Morning Jacket, Neil Young, Nick Drake, Old Crow Medicine Show, Paul Simon, Pedro the Lion, R. Stevie Moore, Robyn Hitchcock, Ryan Adams, Samantha Crain, Shane Macgowan, Steve Earle, Steve Forbert, Sublime, Tenacious D, The Felice Brothers, The Lumineers, The Mountain Goats, The Pogues, They Might Be Giants, Tim Hardin, Tom Waits, Ty Segall, Vic Chestnutt, Violent Femmes, Ween, Weezer, Wilco, Will Oldham, and Zac Brown.  


Most make no sense at all, not even close, I know.


The next most likely question to be asked is “what do you sound like?,” and the expected answer needs to include genres and/or styles (micro’s & subs, hyphenates therein) that people might be familiar with, such as:  contemporary folk, DIY, folk-blues, heartland-rock, indie-folk, indie-rock, jangle pop, lo-fi, outsider, roots-rock, singer-songwriter, slowcore, and/or soft rock to name but a few.  There are hundreds of these, thousands probably.


My music has also frequently been labelled as Americana, and I worry that people who hear that label will be misled and get the wrong impression.  It does have some elements of roots music, it is American, it does include some aspects of rock, country, folk, blues, and soul.  It does use acoustic instruments.  I don’t have a southern twang accent, I’m not from the South, don’t use a banjo or fiddle, and I don’t consider my music to be “alt country” which sometimes gets used interchangeably with Americana.


If you ever tell people you write, record and release songs, inevitably the next question is “what kind of music is it?” and then it’s always surprising to them that you struggle to explain it.  If you say you mainly use an acoustic guitar, they immediately think “folk,” so maybe you clarify that it’s more like the “singer-songwriter” stuff from the 70s that came after folk, which is getting warmer, but then they’ll say something like “oh, you mean like James Taylor?” to which you reply “I wish,” or “similar but nowhere close to being that good.”  You might say it’s way less sophisticated and polished than James.  Now they really can’t wait to check it out.  Yeah, right.  As if.


More people than you might think can somewhat relate if they’ve ever played a little guitar themselves, or at least hung around people who had one in their house and picked it up and strummed a cover from time to time.  Even more who’ve been to an open mic night – the non-poetry, non-comedy kind that is.  You can tell them to imagine if those amateur open mic’ers they’ve seen before at the bar or coffee place put out their own album of songs they’d written.


A better way to explain the sound might be this:  

If you’ve ever enjoyed aggressively strumming 3-chord songs like “Louie Louie” or “Wild Thing” on an acoustic guitar, that’s a beginning.  If you then have another acoustic guitar playing some lead guitar accompaniment, that’s getting closer.  Write your own songs like those, add some bass and drums, and you’re on your way.  Record those yourself, distribute them online, and you’re an acoustic garage rock artist like me.  Especially if you never took lessons and are self-taught in all of the above.


In these ways, I’m an “everyman” artist, but in others, I’m unique in that I’m influenced by the genre of music known as garage rock, yet don’t use an electric guitar or a fuzzbox.  Unlike the punk rock that came after garage, I enjoy having instrumental breaks with guitar solos, think love/relationship subject matter should be allowed, don’t get too political, don’t use effects, and don’t play super-fast.


So, what is my definitive style then, and who am I as an artist?


If you’ve heard some of my music, you can tell that I use an acoustic guitar as the primary instrument.  I get categorized and classified as a folk artist because of this, but you’ll hear a lot of different styles.  Some tags you may find associated with me as an artist are singer-songwriter, blues, garage rock, Americana, and roots rock too.  You can look up definitions of various genres and see I’m not an easy fit.


As a music fan myself, you’d be surprised to know I was raised on the classic rock and hard rock of the 70s and 80s.  Although I love listening to that type of music, I realize the music I myself produce does not really sound like that at all.  Like a lot of people, as I got older, I expanded my musical tastes.  Sometimes the music you enjoy yourself is far from what you sound like when you express yourself through music, and that is the case with me.


So, judging me from just a couple of songs won’t give you an idea of the variety in my catalog. My music has an old-time quality to it, and it’s by accident.  Diving deeper, you’ll hear subtle hints of blues, rhythm & blues, bluegrass, zydeco, cajun, calypso, Hawaiian, mento, sea shanty, soft rock, Motown, soul, funk, norteno, reggae, and traditional jazz to name a few.  A lot of ballads and love/relationship songs.  I don’t really pay attention to what types of songs they will be when writing and recording them.


Look up the difference between genres of music and styles of music, and you'll find a whole lot of confusing results.  Definitions and opinions overlap, including the fact that they are somewhat interchangeable.  The former is more of a broad category, the latter is a more specific expression...maybe.  


As vague or ambiguous as they may be, they are necessary in describing music and explaining what a musical artist sounds like.  Without getting too technical and academic about traditions, conventions, forms, elements, rules, techniques, characteristics, etc., you throw out a few descriptive words and similar artists, and a lot of people will get enough of an understanding of an artist.  A lot of artists stay in a particular lane for their whole careers, while others have more variety.  


I probably have variety, but at the same time, I probably have a signature sound.  How to describe it is always a challenge, but people always want to know, and artists have to self-describe to some degree when releasing.  


Popular?  My music at a very broad level is "popular" as opposed to art or religious, for example (although no one would argue it has achieved much popularity, and some might put me in the equally broad "folk" category).  


Rock?  Drilling down from there, "rock" comes to mind first as opposed to other kinds of popular music like country, electronic, funk, hip hop, soul, jazz, punk, metal, reggae, etc. (although it doesn't use the primary instrument of rock - the electric guitar).  


Acoustic?  Filtering further, answering the question of what kind of rock leads me to add the word "acoustic" (although it uses bass & drums which is less common in acoustic music).  


Garage?  Going even deeper, I would also add the word "garage" to indicate a few things - guitar solos, love/relationship subject matter, the lack of formal training and technical skill.  


At that same level, I might also throw in "singer-songwriter" (even though I'm more of a songwriter than a singer), and then to clarify even further, I would also say "do-it-yourself" (DIY), and "independent" or more simply "indie" (although I'm not signed to an independent label).  Another unique thing I would think about adding is "non-performing" (although I can and sometimes do play shows in front of audiences, I'm primarily just a recording artist).  


I also like to throw in "self-taught" (although this arguably goes without saying), and also “lo-fi” in terms of intentionally going for a low-fidelity analog production quality.  Revisiting the top broad category, if I'm more popular than folk, it's more like rock-folk (rock played on acoustic guitar with bass and drums) than folk-rock (folk played on electric guitar with bass and drums), and further, that I'm more like contemporary folk or indie folk than traditional folk in that I do originals vs. old covers (although I have released a couple traditional/public domain songs I’ve “arranged”).  


Narrowing it down, I’m left with: Rock/acoustic/garage/singer-songwriter/DIY/indie/lo-fi


There, after all that, how would I sum it up yet still keep it short?  Acoustic Garage Rock.


I’ve self-applied “acoustic garage rock” to describe my music, which no one else has done that I’m aware of.  It may not make much sense to you, but sometimes there’s a man whose music fits right in there for his time and place.  Talking about myself here.  In sharp contrast to the manufactured mainstream major-label popular music of the day that is all about digitized electronic perfection and dance videos, there are a surprising amount of indie, amateur acoustic hackers who cannot sing well who self-release original music for web streaming, a lot of them older white males like me.  


The antithesis of the pro vocalists in pro studios with pro producers, engineers, and session musicians using virtual instruments, quantization and autotune recording songs written by multiple pro songwriters, one guy doing it all alone in a homegrown style, and none of it very well, with no dancing, is to some people a welcome change from what is marketed on TV and radio for the masses by major labels.  


From my humble home “studio” near Flint, Michigan I write and record music in a most-certainly lazy and sloppy way primarily using an acoustic guitar, and it may be just the thing for the early 2020s.  None of it is musically complex in any way, and like the garage rock musicians of the past, I’ve had no formal training at all.


Unlike folk, I don’t do a lot of complex finger-picking, and don’t have super serious subject matter, but I do include drums.  Folkies of the late 60s likely despised fun, catchy pop/rock songs by fake TV show bands like Sugar Sugar by the Archies or I’m A Believer by The Monkees, but bubblegum pop is alright with me.  Although these were once considered disposable, they have stood the test of time and are now arguably borderline classics compared with the majority of major label crap that is popular today, which I consider way more disposable.


The ”garage” word makes the least sense, but I can elaborate.  My music, while not recorded in an actual garage, has a lot in common with the following aspects of the garage rock style that started in the 60s and lives on through today:


·      rehearsing and recording in garages:  no

·      bands from late 60s trying to copy the Beatles:  no, but I love the Beatles and have been inspired by them

·      Fuzzbox pedals:  no, I’m all-acoustic

·      psychedelic rock aspect:  yes, music is somewhat experimental, some lyrics about expanded consciousness

·      surf rock music aspect:  yes, the instrumental Shred Betty would qualify, others with lyrics like Wake Of A Great Lakes Freighter might be close

·      aggressive:  acoustic guitar played aggressively on many songs for sure

·      passionate amateurs with raw energy:  yep, passion and definite rawness present throughout the catalog

·      technical instrumental prowess not necessary:  true in my case

·      no formal training necessary:  true for me also

·      evolution to punk rock "proto":  some might be folk-punk

·      simple, repetitive:  yes to both

·      unsophisticated lyrics and delivery:  lyrics have some occasional sophistication, but the delivery is always un

·      do-it-yourself:  absolutely I do it all myself

·      back to basics approach:  yes, but I would call mine a never-left-the-basics approach

·      middle class from the suburbs:  my upbringing qualifies, and my adult life is in the same suburb, although I’m in a lower class now

·      traumas of high school life:  yes, a few are covered here and there

·      lying girls:  yes, I’ve covered this subject matter as well

·      bar chords / power chords:  yes, these are rough on the left thumb on acoustic, but I do it anyway

·      organ:  started to incorporate the organ sound more recently on a few songs

·      regional scene in Michigan:  Flint has always had a punk scene, and it’s the origin of Grand Funk Railroad, arguably a garage rock band

·      primitive and rough:  check, and check

·      minimalist style:  another check


My home state of Michigan has a great history of garage rock bands, such as:

·      ? and the Mysterians

·      Grand Funk Railroad

·      The Stooges

·      MC5

·      Tommy James & the Shondells

·      Suzi Quatro & The Pleasure Seekers

·      The Luv’d Ones

·      Death

·      The Unrelated Segments

·      The Romantics

·      Alice Cooper

·      The Amboy Dukes

·      Dirtbombs

·      Detroit Cobras

·      Von Bondies

·      Electric Six

·      The Gories

·      White Stripes


I’ve heard and liked songs by all of them, whether from the 1960s to the various revivals to the present.


So, to sum up what my style of music is, and why the hybrid genre “acoustic garage rock” might apply, here are some short, quick, easily-readable lists for you.


The acoustic part:


Like acoustic:

·      Acoustic guitar is primary instrument, central to the signature sound

·      Other instruments used:

o   Acoustic bass

o   Ukulele

o   Mandolin

o   Accordion

o   Harmonica

o   Marimba

o   Congas, bongos, djembe, tambourine, shaker

·      Minimal use of electronic digital effects, uncluttered by technology or overproduction

·      “contemporary acoustic” in opposition to “folk”

·      Acoustic rock, unplugged rock, singer-songwriter, soft rock vs. other types of acoustic music such as bluegrass

·      Use of microphones and real instruments vs. virtual instruments


Not like acoustic:

·      Atypically frequent use of rhythm section

·      Not a lot of folk-style finger-picking

·      Not a lot of ultra-serious subject matter in lyrics



The garage rock part:


Like garage rock:

·      Most songs are “rock” forms as opposed to country, folk, blues, jazz, r&b/soul, or pop

·      The independent, do-it-yourself, homegrown thing

·      The “don’t have to be technically proficient,” self-taught/no-formal-training thing

·      Occasional psychedelic lyrics, themes and subject matter

·      Room made for guitar solos during instrumental breaks

·      Subject matter about lying girls, common youth concerns, rebellion

·      Love & relationship songs are allowed

·      Has bass & drums, occasional organ

·      Imperfect production


Not like garage rock:

·      Not actually played or recorded in a garage

·      No use of electric guitars

·      No use of fuzz pedals, distortion or amplifiers

·      Not as fast – average tempo not as high

·      Although I have aggression/rebellion in attitude, it doesn’t come out that way in the lyrics or the delivery.  It’s more tame and mellow.


So, I might have more in common with the garage rockers than the typical artists you associate with being “acoustic”.  I’m influenced by them you could say.  Just as I’ve been influenced by the Americana people.  I’m a fan of Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, Gillian Welch, CCR, etc., and I can safely say I also identify with “heartland rock” artists like Bob Seger, Tom Petty, and Mellencamp.  I’ve got a strange hybrid going on.  Instead of playing folk on electric instruments like the Byrds did, I’m more about playing rock on folk instruments.  More rock-folk than folk-rock I guess.


When you’re signed to a record label, they have whole departments who focus on how to market you.  In some cases, they advise you about what style and genre they think is best for you, and probably encourage you to stick with it and stay in that lane.  Following trends with profit in mind.  For the indie/DIY solo artist like me, you’re left to fend for yourself.  As you can tell, it takes me a long time to describe my music to people.  I wish it was easy.  


I wish I could say something like “John Denver meets Jimmy Buffett at a bar where the Violent Femmes are playing, and they all jam together,” but that doesn’t come close enough.  


That’s what “THEY” advise though.  They, the experts who market music, want your music to fit neatly into a niche, with an easy, short description.  Have too much genre variety, and it becomes a head scratcher for them.


One of the Theys (Ariel Hyatt) offered up a free series of 12 questions aimed at helping you come up with a good description of your music.  I answered them and posted them to the top of my FAQ page you can check out here:  I honestly answered them all to the best of my ability, yet still found it overwhelming to summarize my answers at the end, but here those are:




To be honest, I've never known.  So many genres, so little time, but I'll try...


I'll start high-level:


·      Art music - NO  Not classical or formal, not serious, however, a few songs that have elements of jazz and avant-garde rock.


·      Popular music - YES*  My music is arguably not very popular (yet), but it's been released commercially.


·      Religious - NO A couple songs that briefly include spiritual and/or religious subject matter.


·      Traditional/Folk - YES* I've released a couple trad covers, and a few original songs that sound like real folk.


Conclusion?:  Majority of my songs definitely falling within the popULAR category, but it's nothing like Madonna, Michael Jackson, or Taylor Swift, or whomever you typically think of as "pop," and definitely not 60s folk revival type of folk, something more of a modern rock-folk hybrid maybe.


Expanding the Popular subs:


·      Country - YES*  A handful may qualify as older-style country or Americana.


·      Electronic - NO  I've used an electric guitar and electric piano a couple times, and a few songs are faster and danceable.


·      Funk - NO  Wish I could say yes, and despite having some funky beats and bass lines and emphasis on the 1, I have to say no here.


·      Hip hop - NO  Although I did do one rap song, Cooley's Rap, and rapped a little in a break section of another.


·      Jazz - NO  I may have some elements of vocal jazz standards and some jazz chord progressions here and there, but no.


·      Latin - NO  I have a couple that come close to Tejano or Norteno, and others that use latin percussion.


·      Pop - YES*  Publicly accessible, available for sale, however, nothing close to what's currently popular.


·      Punk - NO*  Proto-punk/garage rock elements and the DIY thing, but without the electric guitar distortion and speed.


·      Reggae - YES*  Some pre-reggae elements of Calypso, Mento, maybe even Ska, occasional 1-drop chinking & emphasis on the 3.


·      Rock - YES  More than anything, my style is unplugged rock, soft rock, indie rock, defintely roots rock, maybe even folk rock.


·      Metal - NO  Definitely far from this one, although there are frequent instrumental breaks with guitar solos.


·      Soul/R&B - NO  Although influenced by Motown, there's no horns or vocal harmonies.


·      Polka - YES*  Arguably, I've released several songs featuring accordion that may qualify.


·      How to summarize the sub-genres?  Don't know.  I might say "acoustic rock with elements of pop, Americana, reggae and polka," but who is going to buy that?


Getting more specific, some other more micro-genres I might fit in with could be:


·      Singer-songwriter:  not much of a singer, but definitely a songwriter, play acoustic guitar, am a solo artist


·      slowcore:  my songs are pretty slow and often sad, and there's a minimalist style in terms of instrumentation


·      Indie folk:  I started in the 90s indie rock scene and was influenced by acoustic folk while adding a rhythm section


·      Lo-fi:  Low fidelity production quality, imperfections intentionally left in


·      Folk-blues:  I've done a few fingerstyle acoustic blues ballads, pre-war style, but I add bass & percussion


·      Bedroom pop:  home studio, DIY aesthetic, introspective, emotional


·      Contemporary folk:  acoustic guitar, in English, some "world" elements, 3rd revival, probably not so much


·      Heartland rock:  I've been a blue-collar worker, from a rust belt area, and I've been influenced by Seger, Petty, Mellencamp, etc.


·      Roots rock:  not progressive, yet occasionally psychedelic, rock with folk/blues/country elements


·      DIY: I really do everything myself, so yeah


·      Indie rock:  not signed, do it all myself, influenced by 80s underground college rock like REM


·      Soft rock:  heavily influenced by the singer-songwriters of the 70s


·      Outsider:





Honestly, I haven't asked for this type of information from anyone, and it's rarely been voluntarily relayed to me by anyone.  Due to the occasional tropical rock style and sailing subject matter, Jimmy Buffett.  Due to the acoustic soft rock and skiing subject matter, John Denver.  Due to the songwriting style, both Elliott Smith and Jeff Tweedy.  Due to the variety of styles, Neil Young.  Due to being all-acoustic yet still rock with a nasal Midwest vocal, Violent Femmes.  Another would be Jonathan Richman, because of acoustic guitar and novelty songs.  I asked my wife just now and she said Rick Astley, but that can't be right.






Hmmm...the question is "what" and not "who".


·      The hard rock of the late 70s/early 80s from local radio and buying records.


·      Envy of solo acoustic performers playing popular covers in college and at apres-ski bars in my early 20s.


·      The popularity of the MTV Unplugged show in the early 90s.


·      Outdoor activities in lakes, mountains, and forests (sailing, skiing, hiking), appreciation of the beauty of nature.


·      Most of the songs on the "greatest songs of all time" lists.


·      Poetry, fiction.  Jim Harrison, Twain, Hemingway, Thompson, Leonard, King.


·      The painting shows of Bob Ross.


·      Past and current relationships.


·      The ski bum lifestyle and associated slacker mentality.






This question doesn't have the (BE HONEST) part, but I'll do it anyway:  I've never had such a moment.  I mean, from the moment I heard music I liked, a part of me probably thought it would be cool to be able to make music like that.  Since I was a kid I thought it would be cool to be a rock star.  I'm a bad singer and mediocre guitar player, so I never thought I could play for a living at all.  You're assuming those crafting a bio already either play for a living, or want to, but I'm not one of them.  I'm a non-performing solo artist/songwriter.  I would love to write songs for a living, but haven't attempted to learn how to go about such a thing.  This question does not really apply to home recording people like me who do not play live in public.






Happy, fulfilled, content, satisfied, lost in their thoughts, excited, pleased, delighted....and like they are making a mental note to remember to return for more in the future, curious to dive deeper into the back catalog.  Good, or better.






I don't really play music, I just write songs and record them.  I'm playing them only to record them.  This question assumes people play music often and would not really apply to someone like me who does not perform in front of audiences.  Many of my released songs I only played through once or twice when writing/recording and that's it.  I only like the creative process.






It's literally the best album I've ever created, and hopefully will live long enough to complete and release it in 2024.  It's also special because it's a collection of songs that I don't think I'd ever be embarrassed to have anyone hear, regardless of what age they are.  A high concentration of high-quality songwriting according to my own weeding-out process with more potential universal appeal than usual.






·      Learning that with only 3 chords, I could play a ton of songs I liked.


·      The first few times playing in front of audiences and getting applause and compliments.


·      Getting a Tascam portastudio and making my first multi-track recordings.


·      The first few times people bought my CDs on Amazon and downloads on iTunes.






Spotify defined it for me, which is that from 2024 on, I need at least 1,000 streams/year for each of my 144 released songs (and any future songs I release) to make any royalties.  A tall order without any press/publicity/promotion/advertising/marketing, etc.  I will especially define myself successful if I can accomplish this by word-of-mouth recommendation alone.






That's what this exercise is trying to accomplish.  I need to summarize and synthesize all this into a couple paragraphs next I guess, which is intimidating and daunting at this point.






I love the process, and I can't help doing it.  I've had long droughts of not having any ideas for songs, then magically, they show up again.  This has been happening to me for 30+ years now.  After I write them, I record a quick take on my phone, then I listen back after I have a stockpile of first takes and decide which are worthy enough to record digital multi-track versions of, then I listen back to those, choose the best of them, and release them as albums.  I love everything about that process.  There is no "career" to speak of though.






It starts with those who know me, then they make recommendations.  People with the patience to learn to appreciate home-recorded, DIY acoustic rock from someone who writes pretty good songs despite not being a great singer.  People who appreciate songs that reflect the experience of being a Michigander who enjoy recreation of the area.  People who like acoustic music, but not the kind where the artists take it way too seriously, as with the folk finger-picking, hokey, beret-wearing, baby boomer house concert crowd.  People who like subject matter about love and relationships and an artist who doesn't stick to only one style of music.  People who do not demand sonic perfection in their music, and who not only have a tolerance for, but actually really appreciate a few happy accidents left in.  People who appreciate recordings that employ real instruments recorded with microphones and without a lot of electronic effects or digital manipulation.  People who like fun music with an amateur quality that has a certain amount of sophistication and maturity, but not too much.  Friends, family, their friends and family, people who like to support local artists.  People who know me, acquaintainces on Facebook, etc. initially listen because of that, then some of them like it, some don't.  The ones who like it may not get past the ones with the most streams, but those who do, dive deeper into the catalog and maybe like more.  Then some of them recommend me to other people they know.  So, it's people from Michigan, people from the Great Lakes region of the Midwest, but also some from Colorado because I lived in Vail for several years.  People with interests in sailing and skiing for sure.  People who are members of Generation X (close to my age).




So, there you go.  My most recent A’s to the expert-suggested Q’s, since added to my FAQs, none of which have been actually asked frequently.  The more I try, and the more starter content I have to work with, the harder it is to boil it all down to a paragraph.  I'm likely a marketer's nightmare.  The variety is the biggest issue.


I’m glad I have some variety, yet, also know I must certainly have a signature sound.  My midwestern accent is a factor, my limited baritone vocal range is a factor, my ever-present acoustic guitar strumming, my frequent use of acoustic guitar solos, my frequent use of understated bass and drums, my sparse minimalist arrangements, my use of real instruments and microphones, my avoidance of virtual instruments/quantization/auto-tune/digital effects processing, my lo-fi production.  


I’m an artist who doesn’t like labels and classifications and categories and style and sub-genres, but I understand they are somewhat necessary for people to have a starting point for comparison.  I like writing songs and recording them the way I want to, but I don’t like having to market them.  Such is the dilemma for most of us, I suspect.  If I was advising me, what would I tell me to do more of or less of?


Finding My Way:  Studying my own personal favorites list may reveal best style choices


Genre, style, instrumentation, structure, meter, feel, subject matter.  What if I took notes on those for each of my favorite songs I’ve written – the ones I personally think are my best – and see if there’s anything in common?


What if I then did the same thing for the ones other people think are my best?


Then for sure I’d be on my way to figuring out what works for me and maybe what doesn’t.


Now that playlists are a big deal, it’s made me think along those lines.  I could create some that would neatly group together some of my styles:

·      Lots of love songs by Scott Cooley

·      Scott Cooley’s songs about skiing (note: already a popular playlist on Pandora radio)

·      The Scott Cooley songs featuring marimba

·      The funny/novelty songs of Scott Cooley

·      The more serious and sad songs of Scott Cooley

·      The Scott Cooley songs featuring Scott’s wife Lenore playing accordion

·      Scott Cooley’s bluesy songs

·      The Scott Cooley songs that have harmonica in them

·      The faster-tempo rockers of Scott Cooley

·      The Scott Cooley songs with ukulele

·      The Scott Cooley songs with a tropical feel

·      Scott Cooley’s songs about sailing


Then I could wait and see which got the most plays.  This would help me narrow my focus on what type of song works best for me.  Actually, just typing that list helps me describe my various styles.  Problem is, arguably, those are not how the albums are grouped.


For a lot of bands, solo artists, and musical acts, you know what to expect.  They fit into a category and don’t change much.  AC/DC comes to mind.


For those whose styles may vary, they typically contain the changed style to an entire album.  Neil Young comes to mind.  He does a rockabilly album, a blues album with horns, a country album, here’s my harmonizing with CSN, here’s me playing distorted electric guitar with Crazy Horse, etc.  Personally, I wouldn’t ever want to be labeled a country or folk artist, but I dabble in those areas occasionally.


Each of my album’s songs have some sort of quality that makes them loosely fit an overall unifying theme or concept.  I wouldn’t call any of them true concept albums, but the songs on each are similar enough to allow for an album description that somewhat summarizes the group of songs.


That said, I offer a variety of different types of songs on each album.  If you were attempting to write about one of my albums, you might be annoyed by the variety, because it makes it more challenging to find things in common.  Reviewers, if I had any, might list this as a negative aspect.  


How can he go from reggae to classic country to folk punk to blues all in the same album?  Artists just don’t do that.  They wait ‘till they have a whole album’s worth of songs in the same style, then release them together.  Way easier for reviewers and genre-lovers and pigeonholers.


Not me though.  As I’ve pointed out on this blog before, I release the best songs available at the time on my albums.  Yes, they might have a bit of a collective theme.  Cherchez La Femme has more love/relationship songs on it than my other albums.  Sense Of Belonging has more folkish or folksy songs on it than my other albums.  Lakeside Landing and Missing The Boat might be Buffettesque.  Drive Time Companion has both country and rap on the same album!  They’re all over the place though in terms of types of songs, and I intentionally choose the track order to provide some variety to hold attention.


You can listen back to a favorite artist’s catalog and make your own playlists.  You have your opinions.  Certain artists try styles you don’t think they should do anymore, but they do anyway.  For example, when Bob Dylan did a lot of those “talking blues” songs early in his career, I wasn’t so much a fan of those.  When he does the 15-minute long, verse after verse epics, they get a little challenging to enjoy all the way through more than once.  If I were his producer, I might advise him to lay off on writing more of those types.


So, if I had a producer, or record company A&R person, interested in what works best for me, what’s popular, what sells, interested in popularity only, what would they advise me?


·      Key:  One simple thing my best have in common is choosing a key that is best for my vocal range.  When I looked back at some of my best songs and figured out the keys they were in, most were in A or G.  So, there’s good advice for my future songwriting self.


·      Tempo:  Another thing I’ve noticed is that my best are at least mid-tempo.  I never play super fast, mainly because I play an acoustic guitar and well, I’m just not capable of playing punk or bluegrass speeds on it.  The ultra-slow ones don’t seem to work that well.  Many are around 120 BPM, so bordering on up-tempo.  I always write them slower, but when recording try to maximize the speed to the point where syllable-cramming occurs, then back it off.


·      Genre:  This is a dreaded thing to contemplate, but quite a few of my best might be on the border of being considered country songs.  I sort of cringe, because I don’t consider myself a country artist at all, and wouldn’t want others to think of me that way, but it has just worked out that way that some that are closer to being country-ish are among my best.


·      Subject Matter:  This factor is all over the place, no rhyme nor reason to it that I can detect.  I guess it doesn’t matter.  Of my best, there are story songs, relationship songs, novelty songs, sad songs, reflection songs.  Probably there’s something about each that sort of tugs at the emotions in some way or another.


·      Instrumentation:  Surprisingly, there’s no clear winner here either.  You might think the ones with bongos and hand percussion would win out over the more standard snare drum sound, the ones with marimba or slide guitar or harmonica are always better, the ones where I added piano trump the ones without, or the accordion ones clearly standing out as the best.  Not the case.  The ones where I do a simple acoustic solo are most prevalent in my best-of list.


·      Style?:  It’s hard to differentiate style from genre.  A quick check of my best says this – there’s a tropical one with marimba, a country one, a folk one with harmonica, another country one, a love song with marimba, an old-timey one, a skiing one, a piano ballad, a fingerpicking folk one, another country one, and one that is latin-tinged.  Nothing bluesy I just noticed – note to self:  perhaps lay off writing any more blues songs.  I love writing blues ballads, but they never make my best-of lists.


Am I learning anything here?  Mid-to-up-tempo country songs with acoustic guitar that are emotional in some way.  Oh no!  Shoot, that’s not who I want to be at all, but that seems to be what works.  Nashville is calling.  Many if not all, border what might be rock or folk as well – even though it’s hard to call all-acoustic music rock, and it’s hard to call uptempo love songs folk.


Maybe it would’ve been better if I waited ‘till I had a bunch of really similar songs and then released them together in an album.  The Scott Cooley blues album, the Scott Cooley country album, the Scott Cooley folk album, the Scott Cooley rock album.


This is all confirmation I’m hard to nail down, hard to define, hard to describe, hard to write about.  Summarizing and concluding a long blog post about the difficulty in summarizing what kind of music I make is almost as daunting, and the best I can do is reiterate the three words:  acoustic garage rock.


If you have heard of me, but haven’t listened to my music yet, haven’t heard much of a description of what kind of music it is, and are in the process of making up your mind whether to try it out or not, this post has been for you.  Obviously, I am in need of assistance.  Happy listening, or not.  Tell your friends.  Drop me a line to let me know what or who you think my music sounds like, or don’t.  If so, thanks in advance.

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