As a songwriter, you no doubt come across musicians that are passionately opinionated with regard to some musical subject, to the point where it gets under your skin and drives you crazy. You know the arguments I’m talking about: Gibson or Fender? Digital or vinyl? And then what would seem like countless other unanswerables: the best lyricist? the best singer? the best songwriter?
Passionate arguments in the world of music are not restricted to the pop genres, of course. As an example, one of my favourite books about orchestral conducting has been Gunther Schuller‘s “The Compleat Conductor.” Schuller (1925-2015) was an American composer, arranger and conductor, and was at home equally in classical and jazz. To say that “The Compleat Conductor” is controversial is an understatement. In it, Schuller slices up some of the world’s greatest conductors, eviscerating many of them for being nothing more than egotistical showmen. He had guts, that man: some of the famous musicians he destroys were still out there working in the late 90s when he wrote the book.
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It seems that in any genre, or indeed any aspect of music you can name, there are people who are strongly opinionated. It’s not enough that they have their favourite way to mix a recording, they feel compelled to think of any opposing view as being total garbage.
But here’s something about opinionated musicians that I’ve noticed, and I wonder if you think the same thing: I’ve never met a really great musician who didn’t hold a strong opinion on what they do, and often express that opinion in over-the-top, obsessive terms.
In fact, I worry about any musician who seems happy to to accept everyone’s view on something without expressing a counterargument. Being polite in public is nice, of course, but there’s nothing like the occasional rant.
On the one hand (to express one of the opinions that seem to be popular these days), I can’t understand people who seem to hate a group like Nickleback to the extent they do. Even Rolling Stone magazine listed them as the second worst band of the 1990s. I can’t even fathom what use it could be to run a poll to determine the worst band in the world. If you don’t like a group, stop listening to them. Whether a band is good or bad just isn’t an issue that raises my blood pressure; I just move on.
But on the other hand, there’s something good about some seemingly unimportant aspect of music raising a musician’s hackles to the point where they get red in the face, stomp around, shake their heads and say bad words.
I think strongly-held opinions, even opinions about (arguably) unimportant issues, are a sign of a healthy mind. We know what we like, and we hate what we don’t like. It’s a sign that it matters to us. You love Rush, and you despise the fact that someone else might say they hate them. Or you think Geddy Lee sounds like he got his hand stuck in a garbage disposal, and you feel your blood pressure rise when someone else says how much they love his singing.
Being an opinionated musician means that you’ve been sorting through things in your mind. It doesn’t mean you’re right, but I’ll never convince you of that. For some of the things that we hold our strongest opinions, there is no universal right or wrong.
But to you, these issues that have no universal right or wrong answer do have a right or wrong answer.. to you.
If you’re opinionated about some aspect of the music you do — even the seemingly unimportant issues of who or what is better or worse, I hope you don’t regret that. Showing respect for dissenting opinions is important, I believe, but showing respect should never mean that you should tame your own views.
Opinions matter in the arts. Opinions equate to courage, and as I’ve said many times, music, whether you’re writing it, performing it, producing it or defending it, is not for the faint of heart.
Written by Gary Ewer
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