by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
The art of songwriting is the art of communication. With songs, we can connect in a way that gets right into a person’s soul. Tell someone what you’re feeling, and they’ve got information. Sing to someone what you’re feeling, and they’ve got the emotions, the very heart and soul of your being. Whether it’s world leaders rousing their people, CEOs of companies rousing their workers, or sports teams rousing the players and fans, music is used to connect to people in ways that mere words often can’t manage.
So when a song fails to connect, what you’re really witnessing is the failure of a song to communicate. The most common example of this probably occurs in the pop music world. It doesn’t take long for the generational gap to make its presence known. Young singer/songwriters (teens to mid-20s) have it easiest: Their message is youthful and relevant, their sound is current and contemporary, and their age means they can say “I know what you’re feeling because I’m feeling it too!”
Once you pass that stage of life and get more into the early to mid-30s, your natural message is likely to be more applicable to the young professionals, those with careers on the go, and starting families. And if you’re still in (or trying to be in) the pop music field in your 40s or 50s, you’ve got to hope that your audience loves your songs from 20 or 30 years ago. Your “new message” won’t be that new to young audiences. No 15-year-old is going to relate in any way to a 55-year-old singing about how they got jilted. The generational difference is often just too great.
So is there anything that “older” songwriters can do to bring in new audiences? Yes, there is, and there are many groups that have been around for years that do manage to get youthful audiences. The most important thing you can and must do is to update your sound. You can be forgiven for not knowing what today’s sound is, but no one will listen to your synth-based 80s sound just because you think it’s cool. And once you do know what today’s sound is, even then, you may need help to replicate that in your own songs, and use it to good effect. (Old people with a new sound… be careful, because it doesn’t always work!)
So if you’re trying to communicate with and create a young audience, you must do this: bring young people in to your production process, even perhaps your songwriting process. They can add the freshness you’re looking for. And take advice from people in the field – producers and managers. They tend to know what’s working and what isn’t.
As I said before, it’s just going to fall on deaf ears to be a mid-50s singer, trying to get young people to relate to your emotions. But you have a hope and a chance if your song sounds fresh. Be careful, though: that same 55-year-old trying to present songs with a cutting-edge fresh approach can be a bit like Grandad wearing the latest fashions. Just be careful out there. 😉
Hmm, but can we older songwriters write songs for someone else to perform it? How that applies to this topic?
Yes, it’s quite possible for older songwriters to write songs that work with younger audiences, and it happens frequently with re-takes on songs by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and other great songwriters. In fact, it may be easier for that kind of circumstance rather than the other way: older singers doing music written by young songwriters.