This Article Originally Published August 1998
by Brett Perkins
For many songwriters, the process of recording demos and pitching is not satisfying enough. We search for the connection to a greater community-and to the power of songand ultimately find ourselves out at showcase nights and songwriter events like the TAXI convention, trading stories and contacts, and many times eventually stepping up to the open mic. For some of us, this inclination to perform, whenever discovered or honored, becomes a way of life. For others, even limited performance is a valuable tool in the search for delivering the ultimate impact with their songs.
Something happens in the connection of writer/artist to the song through repeated performance. I believe that a new song doesn't really come into its own until it's been played out for a few months. When you're in front of an audience, the feedback is immediate and invaluable in seeing which lyrics and melodies generate a response and which fall flat with the listeners. Many of the phrasing problems and awkward melody lines I hear in so many demos could be better worked out through the process of repeated performance, before they are recorded.
Eventually, You've Got To Leave Home:
For those seriously interested in persuing a performance career, eventually you've got to take it on the road.
Sony/Work Group artist Dan Bern told me that it took showcasing in a small hotel room at the 1995 Folk Alliance in Portland, OR to expose him the vastness of the alternative songwriting community that existed beyond the "industry island " of Los Angeles. Similar stories of the beginning road to awareness of alternative venues and audiences abound in the singer/songwriter/folk community.
Every Writer/Artist Has An Audience.
It's simply a matter of finding those individuals. And while the "big dream" might well be a song on the top of the charts, audience building is a methodical process which creates a more stable network of support for a long term career. As artists raised in a corporately dominated system, we would do well to work on changing our mental conditioning from "bigger is better" to "building is better". The result would be less idealization/frustration and more realistic, grass roots and tangible results.
Resources To Exploring This Path.
National and regional songwriter organizations provide regular workshops and performance opportunities for writers, as do the performing rights organizations ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc. A comprehensive listing of these organizations, and related events, is available via the Unisong International Song Contest Resource Pages at www.unisong.com at no charge.
Performing Songwriter Magazine is the preeminent guide to the growing community of songwriters, venues and festivals and also provides excellent, in depth interviews with legends and emerging voices. For subscriptions call: 800-883-7664.
The North American Folk Alliance is a non-profit organization which produces the premiere regional and national events for performing songwriters (don't let the "folk" term limit you.) At these conferences, you can network with venue operators, radio hosts, booking agents, managers, and attend valuable workshops on house concerts and other touring alternatives. Registration and membership information is available by calling 202/835-3655.
In summary, nothing can replace the act of doing the work. There are no short cuts. Ultimately, I've found that the commitment to follow a career as a writer and/or performer must be based on internal values that reach beyond the idealized dreams of fame and fortune. Having a vision for yourself is exciting and important. But a commitment to this life is more than simply a marketing strategy or desire for recognition and wealth. It's a life path choice.