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Selling a song

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by Harry Styron, Feb 14, 2018.

  1. Harry Styron

    Harry Styron Tele-Holic

    Aug 2, 2011
    Branson, Mo
    One of my frustrations with performing is my seeming lack of the skill to make a song my own, whether a cover or original. I start out in the character of the song’s narrator, but break character and lose my audience along the way.

    I just can’t maintain the attitude all the way through. It doesn’t matter whether the song is supposed to be clever, passionate, macho, or ironic.

    The greatest singers and pickers seem absolutely sincere 100% of the time. How do they do it?

    How do you do it?

  2. Norton72

    Norton72 Tele-Afflicted

    Jan 14, 2011
    Burton, Texas
    Maybe you're like me and can't sing a song that you don't feel. There have been songs that I've had to sing that embarrass me. I will usually try to get someone else in the band to sing lead on those songs. That works out best for me -- I like to harmonize on any song, because then I'm not the one "selling" it.

  3. tery

    tery Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Sep 21, 2012
    Be natural , be you ... some may like it ... some will not ... that's OK .

  4. Tele1966

    Tele1966 Friend of Leo's

    Jul 30, 2014
    OP, what is your goal when you perform? Is it for for you or the audience? I'm not saying I know what's going on, but my perspective is primarily giving joy. It's not about me.

  5. Harry Styron

    Harry Styron Tele-Holic

    Aug 2, 2011
    Branson, Mo
    My goal is to communicate with my audience by singing and playing the song as well as I can. I usually choose songs that tell short and either funny or sad stories, not rhythmic songs that primarily get people dancing.

    If I'm not the lead singer, I don't have the problem. I can play with all the conviction that I need.

  6. teletimetx

    teletimetx Poster Extraordinaire Gold Supporter

    Jul 25, 2011
    Houston, TX
    Harry, I think your goal generally is a genuine, honorable approach.

    There is a line of thinking that says (if you're a right handed player): the left hand makes people want to sing along and the right hand makes people want to dance.

    My perspective comes from gigging on a regular basis for the last 15 years. Can I sell a song all the way through? Yep - but every song, every time? nope. Maybe sometimes my attention wanders, I don't know.

    I play typically in a band, so that makes it somewhat easier. Where I do solo gigs, it may depend on the room.

    One thing that helps is passing along not only the prosody of the song, but the sense that you're enjoying what you're doing. There's one woman performer here in Houston I see fairly regularly, and she does that so well, the audience is hers. She's just full-time fun, even when songs take a more serious bent, she's putting on a show, but very natural-like. I do wish I had more of her skill in that regard. I guess that would be a recommendation to find a similar performer and see if there are at least some of those skills you can make your own.

    I would also highly recommend adding at least one or two songs with some sort of tight/syncopated rhythm that will make people want to dance. At some point, you do have to win the crowd over, if only for brief moments (but hopefully, for the night) and getting people to feel like dancing can be a very effective tool. Even if you have to play a cover tune or two. My two cents.

    cheers, Harry!

    - Bill
    Harry Styron likes this.

  7. 1955

    1955 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 10, 2010
    Certain uncertainty
    It's easier and more effective in my opinion to play to the strengths of your personality, rather than wearing the persona of the song.

    An associated state that believes the sentiment of the song's lyrics can be powerful and engage an audience, but my personality (for example) has a humorous element that cannot sincerely maintain that seriousness convincingly.

    I try to make eye contact with the audience and react to what is happening during the performance, and that allows a certain freedom from strict adherence to the spirit of the song.

    The exception is if someone requests a number, then I need to contextualize the reading because of its importance to the audience member, so I'm more careful to be respectful regarding intent. You have to gain the trust first, and then you have more wiggle room.

    I try to find out what the audience wants and then do it if possible.

    Every audience has a vibe and their history is important to them. If they are happy to just keep it light, I keep it light.

    If the mood is more serious, then I try to put my mind in the same place as the lyric writer and then gradually integrate my personality with feelers for where the audiences thresholds are.

    Some audiences want a more dramatic approach, some want to dance, but there is usually a couple folks in the audience that can shift the mood and I try to play off them, if it is to everyone's advantage.

    I'm not sure people want sincerity above all else, they seem to want a conversation that includes elements of surprise, familiarity, and some entertainment.

    They want to feel appreciated and forget their worries.
    Harry Styron likes this.

  8. TheGoodTexan

    TheGoodTexan Doctor of Teleocity

    Apr 28, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    I've always been intrigued by Brad Paisley's song Alcohol... as he is taking the position of an inanimate object, and he sells it perfectly.

  9. Harry Styron

    Harry Styron Tele-Holic

    Aug 2, 2011
    Branson, Mo
    I think your question goes to the heart of the issue, at least for me. While I want to be seen as a fine performer, my desire to touch the heartstrings of other by performing is not very intense. I would be more effective if I cared more about the audience.

    My wife, however, has even less desire to affect others. Yet, she is a compelling performer, though she is often reluctant and never effusive. Sometimes we sing at open mikes or jams, and her voice (the beauty of her voice and her phrasing) will in a few seconds stop the chatter and clinking glasses. Does she inhabit the song? It's hard for me to say, even though we've been together for over 40 years.

  10. Harry Styron

    Harry Styron Tele-Holic

    Aug 2, 2011
    Branson, Mo
    1955, your many posts about preparation for performing and your respect for yourself and the audience are some of the most insightful things I've ever read on the topic. I would love to be in your audience.

    From the comments here, I believe that I need to more wisely choose songs that I believe in, with enough musical variety that the audience will remain open to me. I also need to not care too much if the audience is often distracted, as long as I've done my best.
    1955 likes this.

  11. Harry Styron

    Harry Styron Tele-Holic

    Aug 2, 2011
    Branson, Mo
    You're correct that Paisley's rendition of Alcohol is an unusually poignant performance piece, partly from the novelty of the inanimate narrator point-of-view.

    Country music has a love-hate relationship with alcohol, and Paisley's sincerity, based on his own non-drinking status, makes his renditions of Alcohol and Whiskey Lullaby more penetrating, while much of country music celebrates beer and whiskey.
    1955 likes this.

  12. rand z

    rand z Friend of Leo's

    Feb 19, 2004
    trumansburg, ny
    I've been playing guitar, acoustic and electric, and singing... for over 40 year's.

    When I started, I sang a lot of song's that I shouldn't have been singing. I know that now from listening to old recording's.

    These daze, I can hear a song and kinda tell whether I can "spin" it vocally, i.e., make it my own. (There are certain style's/types of music's/genre's that are more conducive for me to do that, than other's. Plus, I have to be really attracted to the song. I have to "feel" something special when I initially hear it.)

    But, I don't really know if that can happen till I sit down with an ACOUSTIC guitar and let my instinct's take over.

    First, I'll try it in different key's. Each key has a different feel and you have to address it appropriately... vocally. Also , is it within my vocal range? (I'm not early Robert Plant.)

    Sometimes, I just can't get the right feel in any key. It really doesn't fit my style or vocal range... but, I'll usually know it quickly and drop the song.

    Other times it feels good and I start adding my own vocal inflection's, and style, to see how it works.

    If it starts taking off and sounding decent, maybe even good... and SINCERE...
    then, I'll keep it. I'll practice it a lot for a few week's, play it live a few times, and then make a decision as to whether it stays in my set list or goes.

    Roughly, it's about 60% stay... 40% go.

    So, all art aside, for me... it's a definate process.

    Audience response and acceptance depends greatly on where I'm performing.

    I'm not a comedianne or an acrobat. Nor am I 20 year's old. Sometimes I'm in the wrong place.

    I try to keep that from happening. I find that the song's go over a lot better when I'm in the RIGHT place.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018

  13. Octorfunk

    Octorfunk Tele-Meister

    Jan 20, 2014
    +1 to what others have said.

    I would add that song selection is important. If it's not a song you can connect with enough to sell it to the audience, drop it from your setlist. Everyone can tell when you're faking, so might as well not even try.

    Honestly, so much music these days is so lyrically lame and immature, my setlist of songs I know I can connect with and sell to an audience would be pretty short. There's just a lot of dumb stuff out there.

    And let's get real honest; many of the songs we hear have been written by a professional songwriter, purchased by a label/artist, then recorded by someone who has next to no connection to the song anyway. So if the recording I'm trying to connect with is being sung by someone who's not even connected to it, good luck.

    I have near-zero desire to sing anything I've heard on the radio the last several years, being married and with 3 kids I just don't connect with the themes of pop-music anymore. I'm not into casual sex, I don't chase tail, I don't get drunk, and I don't go to clubs to rub against strangers. I know that's over-simplified, but that's pretty much what I hear when I turn on the radio.

    When I switch to a "rock" or "alternative" station, I just don't have the anger and cynicism inside me that I hear so much of. I couldn't honestly perform hardly any of that stuff.

    So I guess I'm not much help haha, but that's my $0.02.
    Harry Styron likes this.

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