Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
When was the last time you went to a concert? We often forget that we’re living in very privileged times: Turn on the stereo, the iPod, and to a certain extent, the radio or TV, and we can immerse ourselves in the style of music of our own choice. If country music’s our thing, we need not listen to anything else if we don’t want to. And quite often, we don’t.
Just a hundred years ago, if you wanted to hear music, you had to go to a public performance. Whether it was the tavern, the concert hall, the church, or any other social gathering-place, that was your only opportunity to hear music being played for you.
So today, things are different. It’s almost impossible now to see someone walking down the street not listening to music on an MP3 player. And they’re listening to the music they want to hear. Imagine if people a couple of hundred years ago would know that in our day and age, we’d all be walking down the street listening to orchestras, bands, choirs… whatever we want, whenever we want. As I say, we live in privileged times.
But there’s a downside to this freedom. I think the best songwriters in the world are the ones who listen to as many different styles of music as possible. And I really believe that live music gives us a perspective that’s not available on most CDs. As a songwriter, you need to be hearing stuff being done live, not processed in a studio. With an iPod stuck in your ears, you’re not very likely to open your mind up to styles other than what you really want to listen to.
Writers of old were routinely being exposed to other music. Composers like Stravinsky and Ravel tried their hand writing ragtime and jazz, because they had been exposed to it in concerts and by seeing in printed form. More recently, modern-day composers are adding hip hop techniques to their orchestral writing.
If you really want your songs to be on the cutting edge, and if you really want to be an “informed” songwriter, commit yourself to attending a live concert at least once a month. This kind of exposure to live concerts will positively affect how you write music. True, concerts these days can be pricey, but even in small towns and cities, you’ll find concerts being presented for free, or with low ticket prices. And getting out and hearing music played live will open your mind in ways that you’ll never get from an iPod.