Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to sing at a really big a cappella event in North Alabama. There were singers, singing groups, songwriters, and artists from all over the country there, and the whole thing was a ton of fun for me, primarily because I got to spend a weekend with a whole bunch of creative people.
As I was standing at my merchandise table, visiting with a group of folks who had just come to the event looking for new music to listen to, we were approached by a young man that I recognized as being a part of a group that had performed earlier in the day. I couldn’t recall the name of the group (there had been a LOT of performers!), but I did remember that they were very good. They had a real tight, rich sound that made them sound like a larger group than they really were, and most of their music was very upbeat and original.
Anyway, he introduced himself as the primary songwriter for his group. He told me that although he’s been singing all his life, he’s only been writing songs for a little over a year. Because he was still a novice at songwriting (which was hard to believe, because his songs were really good!), he had been going around and asking every songwriter he could find what their best piece of songwriting advice might be.
So… what advice did I give my new friend? Glad you asked.
I told him that, above all else, he should make sure that his songs are relevant to his audience.
This is the case no matter what you’re involved with, whether its art, business, family, ministry, or whatever else, you have to be relevant and meet people where they are. You can’t wait for them to come to you and your way of thinking. You have to take something to them that means something to them. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.
Of course, in order to be relevant to your audience, you actually have to know who your audience is. I believe that not knowing your audience is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a songwriter, and I’ve seen it happen many, MANY times. I can’t tell you how many of my Christian artist friends have told me how they want to spread the gospel through their music and share it with people who don’t know Christ, and yet they continue to write songs that only Christians would understand. Then they go places where only Christians go (churches) to sing them. Does this make sense?
It doesn’t make sense to me.
If a Christian artist’s target audience is non-Christian, shouldn’t he or she be writing honest songs that meet the needs of non-Christians in a language that non-Christians can understand? People who listen to your music, view your paintings or photographs, read your poetry or stories, or watch your films want to experience something that relates to THEM and what THEY are going through. They’re not interested in what you think or what you know; they want to know that you are just like them.
For a true artist, once relevance is reached, the rest should be easy.