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The Ten Rules For Becoming A Singer-Songwriter

List Of The Day

The early 1970s were a great time for men and women who no longer wanted to be part of a band. Or who didn't want to share the money with the guy who only played bass and tried to steal the comfortable bunk on the bus. Singer-songwriters made instant connections with their audiences because they were sincere--unlike all those hard rockers who were so obviously lying all the time.

Sincerity does set you up for accusations of being a bit of a wimp. But it also attracts people who would like nothing more than to take you home and give you a bubble bath. When was the last time that happened to a guy selling life insurance? Probably about the same time a world-famous blogger such as myself found himself mobbed at the local convenience store. (I was mistaken for a member of Jethro Tull. People, I'm not that old. Yet.)

Anyhow, my loyal readers, you know who you are--Dude, D33Ppurple, GeneHallway, grattitude and Yahoo! Music User--you'll see I'm just trying to help everyone survive this new economy with a worthwhile new "skill set" you can take to your next employer and wow them like crazy.

In the end, we'll all either be dead or working for the same telemarketing company. See you there!

Now for the ten rules that make for a wonderful singer-songwriter.

10) Write About Love: This would seem obvious. Everyone loves love. There was even some guy named Leo Buscaglia who wrote entire books and gave seminars on "loving love" but he missed the boat when he didn't record a solo album and died instead. Don't make the same mistake. Write songs about love. Even if you think alien abductors are more interesting.  

9) Write About The Universe: Personally, I still think the world is flat. But other people like it if you pretend everything has more significance than it does. More non-coincidences happen every day than coincidences but guess which get al the attention. I share a birthday with Whitney Houston, and Jerry Garcia died on that day as well. What does that mean? How should I know? I'm an idiot.

8) Sing About Politics: It almost killed Jackson Browne's career and Bruce Cockburn must've lost a few fans along the way. Nicaragua's a cool sounding name and taking food away from hungry people and spending it on military gear surely makes most people really mad. But it hasn't proven to do much for a singer-songwriter's career. So why am I throwing it in here? Because you should always be thinking how your career is going to look as an episode of Behind The Music. Showing that you care about something other than yourself--even if it's a big fat lie--pays off somewhere down the line.

7) Publicize A Substance Abuse Problem: Whether you decide on cocaine, heroin, old fashioned booze or diet pills is up to you. But whatever you decide, make sure everyone knows about it at some point. There's no point in getting caught up in regrettable behavior if you can't benefit from it at some point. It's all about establishing credibility. Cashing trust fund checks may be the reality for many people in this racket, but you can't let it ruin your reputation.

6) Look Pensive: You've heard the saying "Never let them see you sweat"? With singer-songwriters you not only want them to see you sweat, you want them to see you always looking concerned, looking wounded, looking like you're tackling the weight of everyone's existential woes even if you're really thinking about how to spend your income tax rebate or how to screw your neighbor's really hot sister. Play it both hot and cool. Show you're versatile.

5) Be Sensitive: At least appear to be sensitive. Learn to touch people on the elbow when speaking to them and stare into their eyes with "concern." "Understand" their pain. Live your life in these annoying "quotes" that I'm putting around these important "words." Sure, it's annoying and wince-inducing, but it works!

4) Do Not Attempt To "Rock" "Rap" Or Make Any Music That Would Cause People To Move Their Body Parts: You're a singer-songwriter. You can't dance. You are not funky. You do not rock. You can unbutton your shirt a little bit but leave the leather pants at home. If all else fails, you can always go religious and save your soul. But always either stand still, sit down or vaguely sway. Women are allowed to twirl their skirt and flip their hair but that's it. No leg kicks. And absolutely no shouts for wanting "to see some hands." If anything chastise people for making too much noise even if it's just them talking to their broker on their cellphones.

3) Hire A Backup Band And Pay Them Scale!: This is so important and one of the main reasons for being a solo act to begin with. Sure you might want to have a backing band, but don't EVER let them think they're equal or irreplaceable. If you ever start to make real money, fire them and hire even cheaper labor. Don't worry about hurting their feelings. No one in the band likes you in the first place. That's why you're a solo act. Deep down, you're not very likable. But you could one day be rich. Which is better than poor.

2) Hire A "Name" Producer And Then Complain When He Messes With Your Sound: Chances are no one cares about you. But you can always hire someone with a bigger name than you. Indie bands have been hiring Steve Albini to "record" their albums for years in the hopes that it will make them seem cooler than the other thousand bands who've done the same thing. Singer-songwriters can hire Mitchell Froom, who will then teach you the proper way to play your instrument and how music theory actually works. It'll be important information, but it will bruise your ego and bring all your insecurities to the forefront. You really are a loser! So do what all losers do and become highly resentful and lash out at those who have helped you. Dismiss Froom as a "hack" and someone who "just doesn't get it." And then try hiring someone even more famous to make your next album and wonder why they don't call you back.

1) Make Lots Of More Famous Friends "Guest" On Your Album: It's all about networking. Sure, you probably have some talented friends who could sing back-ups on your song but if no one's ever heard of them, who cares? Hobknob with singers more famous than you and ask them to add a harmony or an "ooh" and "ah" somewhere on the album. Ask Emmylou Harris to duet. Hire Greg Leisz to play pedal steel. See if Rob Thomas might have some downtime. Maybe somebody could ask The Boss to stop by when he's in town. So what if it's entirely inappropriate for the music you're making? No one likes your music anyhow. At least now it'll get written about because people other people have heard of are somewhere on it. It's easier than having any real talent. That's for sure.

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