This Article Originally Published November 1997
by Michael Laskow
This is a true story. I answered a call from a potential TAXI member last Friday. It went like this: "I'm gonna make you famous because my band is great. The mother #%*@!$ that signs us is gonna be rich. Last year a guy said he could get us a deal with Warner Brothers, but then my brother quit the band, so we hired another drummer. Then he got busted for breaking and entering so we kicked him out of the band when he started doing his community service. Can you dig it?"
"Uh-huh" I politely responded.
He continued "But man, we're so good. Doesn't anybody know what good music is anymore? Dig itI've been playing guitar since I was twelve. My brother started playing drums when he was nine, but he had to stop for a year when he broke his arm. Then he came back. But dig it man, we've got the goods. Can you dig it?"
"I certainly can," I responded, while rolling my eyes back in my head.
"When we play out, the chicks are all over us. That guy who had the friend at Warner Brothers has this foxy girlfriend who used to come to all our shows with him. She couldn't keep her eyes off me. She wants to have my baby. I think that's why we lost the deal."
"Oh! You were offered a deal?" I queried. "Yeah, well I'm sure we would have had a deal if the guy's friend hadn't gotten fired."
"What was his position at Warner Brothers?" I politely asked.
"I dunno. I think he worked on album covers or something."
"So the guy whose girlfriend wanted to bear your children knew a guy who worked in the art department at Warner Brothers and you were going to get signed by him?" I asked.
"Hey, man, if anybody over there had heard our tape, we would have been signed in a New York minute. Dig?"
"Uh-huh. I can dig it."
My point in recounting this little soap opera is not to make this caller look like an idiot. The point is to show you how important communication skills are in the music business.
How should the call have gone? "Hi, Michael. My name is Gary Rosen and I'm in a four piece Triple-A band from Pompano Beach, Florida. People tell us our music is a little bit like the Gin Blossoms, but with stronger hooks and keyboards. We'd like to get our tape to some A&R people. Can you help us?"
All the information I needed was in that one concise paragraph. It told me the whole story. That may be the true essence of communicationtelling the whole story in the shortest possible form.
Well, almost the true essence. There's one very important part that I left out. Your communication is only valid if the person on the receiving end understands exactly what you mean. I didn't always subscribe to that notion until an irate TAXI member brought it to my attention. Actually, I didn't believe her at first. But when I attended a communication skills seminar and they echoed the same sentiment, I began to pay attention.
It is your responsibility to get your point across, not the listener's responsibility to understand you. I'm probably a little dense. It took me a while to understand that. Maybe the people who were telling me weren't doing a good job!
It's true in many aspects of daily lifeyour spouse, your kids, your boss, and the people who listen to your songs all need you to communicate clearly. If you don't do a good job of communicating your feelings to your spouse, then he or she may never know how you really feel. Is she supposed to figure it out by telepathy? Apparently 52% of the spouses never do, and their marriages end in divorce.
What about your letter writing? Do you tell a story that's sure to make the reader understand exactly what you mean, or are you simply telling the reader what you felt? The two are not the same. A great communicator can cause the reader to feel the same emotion that was felt while the letter was being written.
And this, my patient friends, leads me to my most important point. As a songwriter, it is your responsibility to write lyrics that easily communicate your meaning to your listener. While it may be easy for you to understand exactly what you mean, that may not be the case for a total stranger.
All right already! I know that hundreds of you are thinking, "Sure Michael, I can think of plenty of songs that have been hits, and I don't have a clue what the lyrics mean!" I'm sure there are plenty of examples of that, but you are simply better off having lyrics that people "get."
Don Henley is incredibly proficient at writing lyrics that are easy to understand. His metaphors are eloquentthey sound deeply profound and evoke an emotional response from the listener. And at the same time, they don't look like brain surgery on paper.
How do you get that good? My suggestion is to read. Then read some more. A lot more. Very few, if any people, are born with incredible writing skills. Like most skills, great writing is learned, then perfected by repetition.
When I started TAXI, I needed to write the text for our first brochure. I wasn't good enough to do it myself, so I hired a writer. He wasn't so hot either.
I set out to learn all I could about copywriting, and lo and behold, I've gotten better every year. I needed to learn how to tell people what they needed to know about TAXI, not what I wanted them to know.
Improving your communication/writing skills is an ongoing process that has no real end. You will, however, keep reaching higher levels of competency. And every time you reach a new level, you will improve the results you get in your life. You will also be a step ahead of your competition in every arenahome, work, and of course, your songwriting.