All the people at this party
They’ve got a lot of style
They’ve got stamps of many countries
They’ve got passport smiles
Some are friendly
Some are cutting
Some are watching it from the wings
Some are standing in the center
Giving to get something
– Joni Mitchell
I’ve said numerous times that blogging has largely replaced songwriting as an outlet for my need to write, share and reach. The more I think about it, blogging is very similar to songwriting.
Here are three reasons why.
1) They Both Need Good Hooks
Blog posts and songs both need good hooks to be successful. In songwriting, the hook is the part of the song that sticks in the listener’s mind. The part that is the most memorable. It’s also often the first part of the song that is written. Hooks can be, but are not necessarily, the title of the song. In my song Your Turn to Fall, the hook is the line “Your face is familiar, but I can’t recall your name girl,” which was inspired by a button my sister gave me. It was also the first part of the song I wrote. Similarly, the rhyming couplets “sober” and “over” and “drank” and “thank” from the chorus of Bloodshot Eyes were the beginnings of that song.
Hooks in blog posts are even more important than in songs. With hundreds of people writing about the same stuff, there needs to be something about the post to catch the attention of the prospective reader and linker. In traditional journalism, the tag at the end of the article serves as the big send off. But a good tag at the end of a boring blog post will never get read. Thus, I believe that in almost every case the hook in a blog post needs to be the title. When readers are skimming their feeds in a news reader, something has to grab their attention and cause them to slow down and read the post. For me, and I suspect others, the second best way to get me to read a post is to have a catchy title (the best, of course, being to ping me with a link).
When I wrote my Fear and Loathing post the other night, I almost called it “All My Friends are Going to Be Strangers,” after the Larry McMurtry book (a line I also used in Your Turn to Fall). But as I thought about it (and counted to 10, given that I was seriously irritated at the time), I decided that more people would know of and relate to the Fear and Loathing title, which is obviously also a literary reference. Plus, I thought the former title was too personal to me, and I wanted to make points that had application beyond me and my blog. I wanted a title that was reasonably descriptive and likely to make people a little curious as to its content.
The post that really got things moving on this blog was my post from January 1, 2006 called Why It’s Impossible to Build a New Blog in 2006. The title put me squarely in the middle of the gatekeeper debate, and not everyone agreed with me, so a lot of good discussion ensued.
2) Every One of Them Can Be Improved Upon, But Should You?
One of the hardest things about songwriting is trying to figure out when a song is finished. That’s because, as every writer knows, every song in the world can be improved with a rewrite. I have literally hundreds of songs lying around in boxes and on tapes that are not, in my mind, ready to be heard. Heck, when I browse my Err Bear Music page I can’t find one song that I couldn’t make better with a tweak here or there. I know writers whose songs are like the Winchester House- they keep writing them forever. And never record or release them. But at some point, if you want to get your material out there, you have to let it go. Even if part of you believes it would become a number 1 hit with one more rewrite.
Blog posts are the same way. When I read old posts of mine, I’m often amazed that I could write such drivel. I see obvious and powerful points that I failed to make. There’s not one post on my blog or any other that the writer couldn’t make better with an edit. There are also posts made without all the facts and/or in the heat of the moment that you wish you could withdraw. But there are no mulligans in the blogosphere- RSS and Google make sure of that. So once it’s out there, new versions are just that.
On the other hand, much of the stuff we write about has a relatively short half-life. So if we want to be part of the conversation, we need to get it out there. My neighbors could hear me pounding on the keyboard the other night after I saw Louis Gray’s post. All of this means that bloggers, like traditional journalists, are often under a deadline of sorts. The beauty of blogging, however, is that it is sort of a hybrid between email and article writing. It’s conversational nature is more forgiving. Like email, the standards for typos and grammar are relaxed a little in the interest of immediacy.
So just because a song or a blog post could be improved with a few more rewrites doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for publication. It’s a balance, but one that does not demand perfection.
3) Talent Does Not Ensure Success
I grew up listening to country music, but I haven’t tuned into an over the air country radio station in years. Because the music that’s available there is not really country music- at least not the way I think of it. It’s regurgitated pop made by pretty little media creations designed to grease the wheels of commerce. The cycle goes like this: find someone photogenic who can at least croak out a melody, get the talented, starving and desperate songwriters in Nashville to come up with some commercial sounding songs, hire some magician-cum-producer to make it sound good and get the CDs into Walmart and Best Buy. Much of the rock genre is the same way. Meanwhile amazing talents like the Star Room Boys, the Drive-By Truckers and others gig away in obscurity.
The blogosphere is the same way. You can write the best posts ever written, but if you don’t get the star making machinery behind you, few will ever read it. On the other hand, if you can tap into the collective affection, all you need is cat pictures (I’m not dumping on the cats, as they have more readers than I have letters on my blog pages; but it’s not exactly Pulitzer material).
The music industry and the blogosphere are very inefficient entities. But they are also similar avenues for self expression and the pursuit of a common experience.
Getting a link from another blogger and hearing your song being played, you know it’s the same release.