Have you ever met a singer with such a compelling voice, that people would say about them “I could listen to them sing the phone book“? (For those of you born after 1990, a phone book was a large paperback listing of phone numbers for everyone in the city. NOT compelling song material.)
I have met such singers. Singers with voices so rich, so full of magic that, when they start singing, I just can’t keep my jaw from dropping a little. These singers are capable of breathing life into every song they touch, making hit records before you and I even get out of bed in the morning.
And I will argue that, if they are also songwriters, they are cursed because of their voice.
How can I say that? How can a magical voice be a curse for a songwriter? Here’s my reasoning: a voice which touches your listeners’ ears all on its own, can even shine through a bad song.
Okay, this still sounds pretty good. So how are they cursed?
A compelling song will reach into a listener’s experience and touch something inside, activating an emotional response. A compelling song will leave a listener affected. A compelling song might even compel a listener to reach into their wallet and make a purchase. And it can achieve all this, even when performed by an average singer. But no singer can truly reach an audience when encumbered with a poorly-written song.
A young singer/songwriter friend once said to me, “You teach too much about the lyrics. I can play the shit out of my guitar, and I have a great voice, so I don’t need great lyrics in my songs.” And he was correct on two of the three things he said in that sentence. Yes, his guitar chops were great, and his voice was fantastic. What he was missing, was the fact that he could not even see how much his songs were falling short of reaching an audience, because he received great applause from his audience. They wanted to hear him sing. What they didn’t want, it turns out, was to hear him say something to them through his songs. They did not leave his show humming his songs, they did not remember the lyrics to any of his songs, and they did not buy his shiny CD’s.
Look, on the other hand, at an artist like Bob Dylan. Arguably, he has one of the least magical voices in recorded music. And yet, he has reached millions of listeners over multiple generations because his songs say something to those music lovers. Bob Dylan’s voice never stood in the way of him knowing whether or not a song was reaching his audience. And Bob Dylan’s songs have been recorded by singers whose magical voices have elevated his compelling songs into works of true art.
I’d bet that you could easily come up with a list of legendary songwriters who were not gifted with a magical singing voice. See if you can come up with a list of legendary singers who also wrote legendary songs.
As a songwriter, if you are cursed with a magical singing voice, do everything in your power to write songs whose power matches that of your voice, and then you can rest assured that your curse has been lifted, at least for now. Then do it again with your next song.
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