DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WRITING AND MUSIC
Being a failed musician, I can attest to the differences between the two pursuits. In many ways, we, as writers have it a lot easier. On the other hand, we also have it a lot harder. In this article, I’m going to compare the two.
Okay, the physical differences should be pretty obvious. A musician is a performer. They get up on a stage and make music in front of people. They must have some kind of talent, at least a talent that people are willing to listen to and watch. I say that because, especially nowadays, for many people, there’s nothing worse than to go to a concert only to watch a human juke box who just stands on stage and goes through the motions. Some people, as in The Eagles, for instance, get off on this. It’s a well-known fact that Joe Walsh, one of their guitarists was often given flack for moving around, making faces, showing some kind of emotion when they played. Personally, I’ve seen their shows on tape and I’ve found paint drying to be more exciting. That’s just me. Some people prefer that, simple no frills. Their huge following is an example of that. On the other hand, there are bands that go all out and put on a real show like Kiss, Alice Cooper, GWAR and even Cher, with costume changes, props and what have you.
The point of this all is that it not only takes talent, at least to some people, depending on taste, but is very physical. It also takes endless hours of rehearsal, a lot of drudgery and paying dues, plus a lot of failure.
As a writer, I’ll go by the old cliché (I love this) of the male author sitting in his den with pipe and slippers, overloaded bookcase in the background, either writing or typing away. If it’s a woman, she’s in her parlor, doilies on the end tables, a tea service at her beck and call, her pen or typewriter in front of her and a cat in her lap. Of course, these images are out of the 50’s, but hey, why not illustrate a point? We, as writers, don’t get up on a stage, we don’t put on a huge production, stand up on a flatbed trailer in some dusty Podunk in the middle of nowhere, dodge beer bottles in a biker titty bar. We can write anywhere, anytime and do it without an audience. Our performance comes when someone reads what we’ve created after the fact. What we have in common with musicians is the failure and paying our dues part.
For the musician, it’s all about the gigs. For someone to know who you are, to get them to listen to your stuff, you need to get out there and play gigs. Especially in the beginning, beggars can’t be choosers. You take what you can get, from weddings to high school dances to special events to beer joints. Some of these gigs can really suck. You can play from a hundred or more hostiles to two people that think you rock. On the other hand, there are those trying for the quick fix like those TV singing shows. I can’t stand them. I’ll admit it’s a great way to get exposure, but at the same time, a lot of those contestants don’t pay their dues and they don’t really get their chops down. Just having a voice, which is another thing I have issue with, isn’t all there is to music. What’s completely ignored are the actual musicians. There are no shows at all for people that actually play musical instruments. People who spend hours a day, years to decades honing their craft are completely ignored for the quick and dirty vocals. Why? Because that’s what people relate to. Why do people relate to that? One reason, which I get into a bit below is that’s all you get to hear. That’s all you’re allowed to hear.
On the other hand, the writer is all about learning the craft (same as a musician practicing). You have to write write write. Get stuff done, get it out there until something sticks. For most of us, it takes years to decades. The true writer does it because they love it and are compelled to. There are those that try for a quick fix and once in a while lightning strikes, but not often. When it does, often the results are crap. Sure it sticks for a while but then fades quick.
The problem with writers is that most of us love to write, but we don’t like to market. We often get a queasy feeling, are often introverts, and dread having to get out there and be salesmen and women. Unfortunately, marketing is a huge part of getting known and staying known as a writer. Where musicians play gigs to keep in the limelight, a writer has to write new stuff, but they also have to get out there and let people know it’s there. That’s especially true for small publishing houses and self-published authors.
The music industry is just that, a dirty, filthy industry with an extremely stacked deck. There’s nothing nice about it. For far too long, the world of music and musicians has been a quagmire of dirty tricks, and the lowest common denominator. There was a time, back in the day, when rock and roll first started out (and I’m quoting the brilliant Frank Zappa here), that the business was run by Mafia types. They didn’t know squat about music or what people liked. They’d hear some weird new band, give them a chance, like throwing something against the wall to see what stuck (2nd use of the cliché). Because of that, a fair amount of adventurous new music actually made it out there initially. This is stuff that if they tried to release it today, would never be heard of. Then a funny thing happened. The hippies that worked for these Mafia guys were making suggestions about some of the music, and the Mafioso’s started relying on them to make decisions about the bands. The “hipsters” were the guys that “knew” what the kids wanted.
Unfortunately, these “hipsters” were the worst thing that could’ve happened to music. As a result, today, these “hipsters” took over are now the corporate suits in New York that tell you what you lie to hear, whether you do or not. As I alluded to above, what about instrumental music? What about music that makes you think? What about music that’s off the beaten path? Maybe one reason so many people can relate to singers so much today is because that’s been the only choice they’ve had for so long, they don’t know anything else! Of course, there have always been bards and wandering minstrels, telling stories through song. However, there have also been musicians and orchestras, small bands as well. What about classical music? It’s instrumental, opera notwithstanding. When you talk about rock, very few instrumentals ever get anywhere because radio will not play them, first off. Second, there’s no singer in an instrumental people can relate to because all they hear are singers. It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by the corporate suits.
What does this mean?
It means that the suits control what music gets out there. They decide what you’re going to hear, and what’s going to “make it,” despite what you might think. There’s so much new and exciting music that never makes it, that’s never heard by anyone because the suits will never let it get played on the radio, will never let it get distributed to the major retailers. These great bands, some really weird, some just not “in” have to rely on concerts and word of mouth to get out there.
It’s disastrous to music and has been since the 70’s.
How does this relate to the writer?
Ahem, what do you think agents and publishers do? They filter. They look for what sells, they look for the easiest and quickest sale.
They look for the lowest common denominator.
Folks, there are hundreds to thousands of fantastic stories, some well written and others in need of tremendous loving care, that could and should be told, but they never will because they don’t meet the lowest common denominator.
There are plenty of books out there meeting that criteria.
Music has a much longer duration in the marketplace than books, in the short term. Maybe the long term.
Radio & media.
What do you think they play on the radio, be it over the air or Sirius XM? They don’t just play the top forty. How about movies and TV?
On the other hand, what happens after the initial burst of sales with your book? It lingers if it’s a seller for a couple of years at best, longer if it’s a classic. Then it either ends up in a library or a used bookstore. Just by the numbers alone, it gets a lot less exposure. Then at best, it gets buried on the shelf amongst the latest best sellers.
Another thing. With music, that song gets played over and over and over again. If the band didn’t get screwed by their management, they get a royalty every time it’s played. Your book? After the initial burst, sales trickle down for most. If it goes to the used bookstore, you get nothing. Some authors who are perpetual sellers, they continue to do okay with royalties but most of us won’t be so lucky.
Is any of this going to stop us from doing what we love?