The energy built into a particular work comes from its spontaneity, form, development, and the artist‘s primal love for the act of creation. The composer/writer/sculptor/painter brings personal panache, style, experience and fundamental sense of experimentation to bear. The average observer isn’t conscious of the elements you used to produce your work. Most observers, however, are able to recognise whether or not your work ‘speaks.’ It is because of that the composer must apprehend his or her own rationale behind the art. It is perfectly alright to create works of singular brilliance, that potentially no one else can relate to. However, if you have an audience in mind, you must be able to provide familiar links while including your challenging content.
The goal remains; how does one create new material that easily relates to the general public? One way to easily accomplish this is to write in a current popular form and style. Similarity to contemporary, successful works can provide an inroad. The listener already enjoys a particular style. If the new artist can emulate or incorporate something of that style the audience may readily receive new works. The caveat to this is the risk one takes in sounding too much like other works. If the singer-songwriter writes pieces using the same sort of chord changes, vocals, and rhythms as other songs that have attained some success there is a slim chance that the work will bear some successful traits. But, some originality can be lost. The pop artist engaging this method would have to rely on tapping into a trend or groove that has been cut for them. How well the new artist can enter a pre-existing groove remains problematic. Tapping into a popular style may prove a good entry point. However, at some point, there has to be a leap forward toward innovation. The artist who is rooted in a familiar form and style has ‘relatability.’ New works must also try not to seem too fully engaged in merely imitating the work of others. Identify the specific elements that you use differently. Without over-using them see how well those elements may integrate into another (popular or familiar) style. Cross-over and blending your unique sound(s) can make your music reach out farther.
Often, the songwriter’s best avenue for innovation is a thoughtful treatment of the lyrics, story, and choice of subject matter. For the composer (with no vocals/language to rely on) tapping into previously known forms and styles may provide a sound link between innovative sounds, new melodies, or unique chordal shifts and the audience. If there is sufficient commonality between old works and the composer’s new work there will be a great chance of inspiring an audience to consider and accept the new work. Without a sense of discovery, restatement of prior works will not engage the average listener. All of science and society has built upon previous discoveries. Old knowledge is adapted into modern usage and application. It is (without any copyright infringement or direct imitation) natural to utilise a past platform and adapt that to one’s own mode of expression. This process can only go wrong if the imitation comes too close to plagiarism. What we do by interweaving known sounds and forms with innovative one’s is to accommodate the listener. I do this to a certain degree in my own works. I integrate the pop-song form into a classically styled work. My work titled ‘East Anglian Rhapsody’ does this, quite evidently. This process makes the attempt to hear new works feel ‘safe.’ It does not mean that a composer has to adapt innovative sounds and orchestrations on a grand scale. Such commonalities may be established in quaint and, or, overt ways. Points of reference can lay in the simplicity of a melody, the over-all structure of the piece, familiar chord progressions, and or familiar instrument pairings in the arrangement.
Some artists seek to work within a particular style and paradigm…while others refuse to be constrained by any such rule-system. Concepts (as I would name them) of dedication, invocation, reflection, mirroring, variegation, removal, in-fill, overlay, selective removal, mimicry, and or divergence may be present in any measure throughout the process. The artist may choose singular and individualistic ratios of any one of the concepts I’ve presented. I intentionally do not define these for the reader. I believe that, in examining the possibilities each of these concepts may hold for you personally and intellectually, you must define them (thus utilise or refute them) for yourself.
The list above represents metaphorical branches on a tree. They are yours to grow, shape, trim, or cut away. By working out personal definitions of these or any other elements you might have conceived yourself, you are beginning to better understand some of the functional links at play between you and an audience. This exercise is an effective way to gain conscious recognition of parts and functions within your art work. Understand those and you gain control of the subsequent form(s). It is analogous to taking time identifying component parts of a tree, roots, trunk, branches, growth nodes, leaves, flower buds, etc. You don’t have to know all of the parts of the tree (biologically) to climb it. But, knowledge of the many components of a tree is required if you seek to prune it in a healthy manner.
My tree-surgeon’s metaphor may not work for some. I use it to imagine that my own eccentric taste might not be shared by others. People generally prefer symmetry, the golden ratio, and structured sounds they can relate to. If my pieces were solely constructed to please myself, they might not relate to anyone beyond myself. It is in being able to integrate my artistic efforts with those around me that lends a quality of ‘relatability’ to the work. If I work to shape a phrase of music that challenges the tonality, I try to deliver it in a palatable manner. Otherwise, my wild imagination might guide me toward a musical passage I thought was fun yet others might find distastefully styled. Granted, some artists don’t worry about being possessed of a highly idiosyncratic style. Past examples are Wagner and Brahms. They were steadfast in their individual creative style or taste for invention. And, generally quite some time later, in the wake of much controversy, they had finally forged an audience with a common taste. But, most of us don’t want to wait until after death to know whether or not our works gained acceptance.
The integration of popular style into one’s works can feel, to the purist, like a ‘sell-out’ to one’s artistic integrity. However, compromise is the hallmark of a robust human being. Like a tree which can bend in the wind, such an integration of invention and discovery combined with familiar form can weather the storm. Writing music that almost sounds as if the listener has already heard it beckons memory of something pleasant. That approach can build a foundation from which the audience participates in the discovery. The boundary between ‘story teller’ and ‘story listener’ becomes blurred. An audience which is drawn in by something familiar willingly partakes of the story teller’s art. Such is the nature of providing an audience with sufficient points of reference.
The integration of some aspects of prior, known works may take several forms of expression…familiar instrument combinations in the orchestration…a vaguely familiar melody with one’s own touch or embellishment…the introduction of a familiar format before departing into one’s own discovery, or any manner of reach into prior musical expression. My goal is not to write the music for you, merely to inspire deeper thought and engagement of the ideas which govern your own work. As I said before, compromise is a hallmark trait of human being. The ability to smoothly and artistically integrate previous work-forms into one’s own inevitable style gives the audience a welcome mat on which to step. Knowledge, whether great or little, of one’s own drive and function behind the music adds conviction to the composer’s efforts. I encourage the reader to become (if you aren’t already) intellectually curious. Find keywords that trigger and guide your work. From there you’ll inject enough authenticity and enthusiasm to encourage a healthy, willing audience for your works.