image credit: Bweav
This photo is the back of my business card.
'Serve the Song' is a term/mantra/philosophy I constantly stress to my students. Whether it's guitar, voice, songwriting or any musical endeavor. 'Serve the Song!'
This means that if what you are doing (or about to do) does not make the song better, then don't do it!!!
It seems so simple, but I think we all need to be reminded of this now & then.
That guitar riff you're about to play. That vocal run that will showcase your incredible range. That 3rd verse that appeared to you in a dream. Sure, these may all be fantastic! They may be just what the song needs to take it to that 'next level.'
Or maybe not.
If you really believe in it & you feel it will make the song better, then go for it! Greatness is achieved by taking risks & putting yourself out there. However, if after you think about your reasons & you think about what it will do for the song, you realize that maybe it really won't 'Serve the Song,' then don't do it.
Move on to the next idea that you've got brewing up in that beautiful brain of yours.
image credit: Dakari Lorenzo Martin
See the photo above? That's me, during a show, mid-song, not playing. At that moment, I had nothing to add to the music that would make it better, so I didn't play. Restraint can be such a wonderful thing!
Miles Davis said, 'It's not the notes you play. It's the notes you don't play.' I fully believe that. I see so many players who feel the need to show the world how many notes they can fit into every solo. I see so many songwriters who need to show that they know ALL the chords.
Nobody is impressed. Just stop it!
I try to apply 'Serve the Song' to every aspect of my music career.
- Live show: Will what I'm about to play/sing make the song better?
- Writing songs: Will this chord change make the song better? Will this lyric make the song better? Will this bridge make the song better?
- Producing songs: Will this edit/effect/extra guitar track make the song better?
You can see where I am going with this & it makes so much sense that it is all too easy to overlook. Don't worry, I'm here for you. I will never let that happen!
As an example of the production aspect, I present the following tune:
This is a tune I wrote in tribute to the great Terry Dalton. Terry was an incredible local musician/songwriter/person. When he passed away, I thought about what he meant to the scene, what he meant to music & what he meant to me. "We Can't Thank You Enough" is the result.
This tune, as with most of my songs, began as a simple guitar/vocal demo. Over the years, I've added many tracks to the recording. I've layered harmonies. I've added several guitar tracks. I've tried synth pads, piano, & even some light drum tracks, but in the end, none of those made the recording better. None of them 'Served the Song.' Anything I tried to add only detracted from the raw emotion & sentiment of that original guitar/vocal demo.
So I took it all away.
I've never released this tune commercially, but to this day, it is one of my favorite songs I've written.
'Serve the Song'
Music is my specialty. It has been for a long time & it is certainly what I'm most comfortable writing about, but the 'Serve the Song' philosophy can really apply to every aspect of your life.
Again, it's so simple that it can easily be overlooked.
Any time you are about to do anything, ask yourself, "Will this make the situation better?"
Of course, I am fully aware that this is completely impossible! How many decisions do you make throughout your day? If I had to guess, that number is probably in the hundreds, if not thousands. If you were to pause that many times to question yourself, you probably would never get anything done & possibly drive yourself insane!
I am simply suggesting that you keep the mantra somewhere in the back of your mind. Whether it is a parenting decision, or a financial decision, or an interaction with a neighbor or coworker. Ask yourself, "Is what I'm about to do going to make this situation better? Will it benefit my child, or my neighbor, or my coworker?" If the answer is 'No' then maybe search for an alternative action that may provide a happier outcome for everyone involved.
Hint: there is always an alternative!
Well, there it is. My philosophy on music & my philosophy on life. (Even though you didn't ask for it!)
I'll leave you with a few final questions to always keep in mind. Thanks for listening!
- Will this make the song better?
- Will this make the recording better?
- Will this make the article better?
- Will this make my relationship better?
- Will this make my business better?
- Will this make my child's life better?
- Will this make life better for me & those I love?
- Will this make the world better?
Is the answer, "No." Then please look for another option. It's there somewhere!
'Serve the Song'