Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Whither the Listener?

Over on the LDS Musicians yahoogroup we’ve been having this discussion as to how important the audience is or should be to the musician. Should they target their writing to a particular audience, or should they create independent of who’s listening?

I’ve talked and written about this one a few times, like here and here, but I thought I’d share here, the post I made to the group:

Writing for the Audience v Writing for Yourself

This has been a really interesting discussion. Like I do on so many other issues, I find myself sitting on the fence on this one as well.

John Newman and I used to have this discussion, based on the old question: “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

At first, my argument was to the effect that it doesn’t matter if there’s anyone there to hear it. As it falls, it still creates waves. It’s simple science, and there’s no discussion nor philosophy involved.

But John countered that those waves are nothing but changes in air pressure, until it gets picked up by an ear and re-interpreted as sound. He said that it doesn’t become “sound” until it is heard.

The philosophical implication there is that without a hearer, there is no sound, only pressure waves. That means that it has to be a communication. It’s not just an outpouring of noise. The D&C kinda talks about this, too. In section 50, starting at verse 17, He talks about how the preacher and the listener both need to be in tune with the spirit for the communication to happen.

Now, there is some value in writing songs that are very personal. They help us sort out things in our minds. They are truly self-expressive. Sometimes, I write songs like this and I know that nobody else is ever gonna “get it”, and I’m fine with that. I’ve written some songs that are so personal that I’m not sure I’ll ever share them. Sometimes, I do, and it surprises me how many other people can find meaning in it. “Toy Soldiers” is a good example of this. I’m constantly amazed how many other people find themselves in what was originally a very personal song.

Other times I write songs that are intended to go out to particular groups. “He’s Out There” is a good example of that.

Most of the time, I write what hits me. While I’m writing or editing, I try to be clear enough that my audience can understand it, because I think it’s important to communicate. I AM thinking of my audience, but I’m usually not driven by it. Does that make sense?

Perhaps the real question that we should be asking is: “If a singer sings in the woods and there’s no one there to hear him, does he make a difference?”

Mark Hansen

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