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The Inverse Relationship b/w Technical Singing Abilities and Lyric-Writing Abilities


DukeOfBoom

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I posted this on the Singers forum, but there isn't much overlap b/w members so I am posting it here to for perhaps more feedback.

 

I created a little graphic showing the inverse relationship phenomenom between a singer's level of training and his ability to write good & poignant lyrics.

 

The equation is:

(Lyric Writing Ability) = 1/(Amount of Vocal Training).

 

As one may conclude, it is dangerous to have too much vocal training. In short, if someone calls you, "a true vocal acrobat" there's a good chance you can't write a decent lyric to save your life.

 

2hyayk9.jpg

 

Examples of some bad lyrics include:

 

Cremating the land

In seek and destroy

Apocalypse slays

Napalm he'll deploy

-Judas Priest

 

A stifling surge

Shooting through all my veins

Extreme apprehension

Suddenly I'm insane

-Dream Theater

 

Awesome Lyrics:

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

She tied you to a kitchen chair

She broke your throne and she cut your hair

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah


-Leonard Cohen

 

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand

You see somebody naked and you say 'Who is that man?'

You try so hard but you don't understand

just what you will say when you get home

because something is happening here but you don't know what it is

do you, Mr. Jones?

-Bob Dylan

 

As has been discussed here before, good songs & lyrics convey some sort of emotion that the listener can identify with, or some poignant social commentary, or both. Furthermore, these lyrics are often symbolic and written in a noncliche and non-trite manner.

 

I think it's interesting to note that most of the best lyric writers are Jewish.

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It would have been impossible for me to list every artist who has ever recorded.


I believe the sample I chose accurately illustrates my hypothesis widened to include most of the pop/rock population.

 

 

The main problem with your premise is that you fail to take into account market forces. The vast majority of the population writes terrible lyrics and can't sing at all, but of course we've never heard of them. If you're an amazing writer, there's a chance that you'll enter the public consciousness despite your limited vocal abilities, and if you're a great singer, you needn't be able to write great lyrics in order to be successful in the world of music.

 

It's certainly less likely that someone will be amazingly talented in two very different areas. But to suggest that they're related in any way borders on dangerous, and your fear-of-learning conclusion sounds like an excuse.

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Yes, I considered how most people can neither sing nor write lyrics.

 

I entered my name onto the chart as a joke. My name is not meant to be taken seriously. lol FWIW, I do currently take vocal lessons, and years ago I did the Vai 10hr guitar workout for months on end.

 

In the Singers Forum we were talking about IQ vs EQ (emotional intelligence), and how they interplay. I'll quote Chester's post:

 

 

IQ is the ability to quickly process and remember information, while EQ is the ability to perceive reality as a whole and draw connections.


High IQ, Low EQ= nerd

Lower IQ, High EQ= most artists, criminals, athletes, druggies, etc.

Low IQ, Low EQ= lowlife

High IQ, High EQ= genius


nerd is most likely to obsess over perfecting vocals, but has a lower poetic capacity

 

 

i thought that idea made sense.

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Joni Mitchell. Allison Krause. Emmylou Harris. Gram Parson. Dolly Parton. Harry Nilsson. Smokey Robinson. Willie Freakin' Nelson. Curtis Mayfield. Tim Buckley. Jeff Buckley. Jackson Browne. David Crosby. Phil Ochs. Laura Nyro. Ricky Lee Jones. Kate Bush. Donovan. Norah Jones. Joan Armitrading. Selected Eagles. James Taylor. Etc...

 

 

I look at this as a fun conceit to get discussion started. (I would have said cute but it's already used to good effect above.) But, like CM, I'm doubtful of its scientific validity. ;)

 

Certainly there are enough fine writers who seem challenged by vocal limitations to give us similarly challenged writers a glimmer of hope.

 

 

(And, while I don't know DOB all that well and don't, offhand, recall ever seeing or hearing his work, I was pretty much figuring his inclusion of himself at the great writer end of his zero sum continuum was tongue in cheek.)

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Yeah... I don't see nerds as obsessing over vocals so much as over lyrics and maybe music. But I suspect it depends on what one's definition of nerd is...

 

Our old pal Mr Dictionary.com is of little help here, seemingly unable to decide:

 

 

1. a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person.


2. an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit: a computer nerd.

 

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Well, I think what we were getting at with the "nerd concept - high IQ/lowEQ" is that the true singing nerds - i.e. the technical gurus who have had years of classical lessons (e.g. James LaBrie, and most of the singers from power metal such as Stratovarius, etc) - they're lyrics are pretty much relegated to discussing the finer points of Dungeons and Dragons. Such lyrical and poetic masterpieces like, "I have come to conquer thou and they land" and "I die by the sword or not at all"

 

I was thinking about this yesterday and it makes sense. It's not relegated to singers, but to guitarists and other instrumentalists as well. It fits into the structure that those who are overqualified with their instruments, whether it's voice or guitar, tend to be wankers and sing/play for the sake of singing/playing. They do this as opposed to doing something that fits into the song best.

 

So singing nerds just want to sing ANYTHING, and thus do not devote time to lyrics and melody, b/c they're too impatient to do some vocal acrobatics. Guitarist nerds do the same thing with solos.

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I have definitely seen an anti-education bias among a lot of songwriters. Maybe DukeOfBoom has an interesting point, but it would be very dangerous to then draw the conclusion, "If I learn how to be a better singer, that will make me a worse songwriter." Surprisingly (to me), I have heard people say things like that, or that if they took singing lessons it would take away from the "rawness" or "emotion" of their singing. A related misconception is that if you learn music theory it will make your songs sound more like everyone else's and take away your creative uniqueness. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more creative a craftsperson you can be.

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Well, something that has only been partially addressed is the fact that, as CM hinted, when we deal with a population sample made up of well-known artists, that is hardly a random pool.

 

It is a pool made up of people who rose to prominence for one reason, another, or some combination. So that sample pool has already had most of the bad singers who are also bad writers winnowed out. But I think we can assume that that 'doubly-cursed' population is likely a large one...

 

 

One issue Eddie brings up is education with regard to both writing and singing...

 

I would have to shade that and suggest that, if, in educating oneself in lyrical and musical composition and that education is heavy on formula-driven thinking, then, yes, indeed, that person could be led astray from his existing storytelling and music creation skills that he has developed less consciously.

 

By the same token, I have certainly heard singers who were made worse -- at least in the short and medium term and sometimes far worse -- by (I would say) inappropriate or insensitive vocal instruction -- or simply by increased self-consciousness.

 

And I've seen that very process at work in my own singing. For 30 years I approached singing as merely a natural expression of my personality and artistic sensibilities. I didn't mind most of the limitations that came with that -- although there were certainly times when I kept takes that should have been thrown out -- even from that perspective.

 

I came from a folk/punk approach and I had no interest in the kind of 'straight' singing esteemed by the singing contest crowd -- although I certainly admired some singers that impressed the masses with their singing, many bored me to tears. And many of my favorite good singers tended to be outside the limelight for the most part, anyway. One of the best contemporary singers I've heard in the last couple decades is Andy Bey. Not exactly a a household name, huh? But he can sing rings around most of the over-singers and showboats that impress the rubes.

 

But once I started trying to improve my singing skills, the same processes I'd seen work against other singers started arising for me... my confidence was greatly undercut and I found myself not only increasingly unsatisfied with my skill set -- but increasingly unable to tap into the sometimes challenged skills that I had less self-consciously developed. I'm still determined to improve my singing -- but I need to find a way to do it that allows me to regain the sense of self-assurance and sense of self that had served me not always well but certainly better in the past. As it is now, I'm a worse singer than I was.

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I suppose I should add that I have NOT in fact empirically tested my formula: (Lyric Writing Ability) = 1/(Amount of Vocal Training)

 

I have not figured out a way to assign appropriate numerals to the 2 variables. But nonetheless, it seems to accurately portray the talent pool that one finds in popular music.

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Again,the pool of
well-known
artists is hardly representative of
all
singer-songwriters.

 

 

And you've already provided a far from exhaustive list of exceptions, though I hesitate to call them exceptions, as I suspect that "singer-songwriters" who are good at both halves of that phrase are the norm. Stevie Wonder, Lowell George, Lyle Lovett, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Carole King, Marvin Gaye...

 

I don't know if it's my background as an educator, but I can't help myself when these anti-enlightenment threads come up. It's nice that this theory is so concisely stated, as it makes it so much easier to discard it wholesale.

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And you've already provided a far from exhaustive list of exceptions, though I hesitate to call them exceptions, as I suspect that "singer-songwriters" who are good at both halves of that phrase are the norm. Stevie Wonder, Lowell George, Lyle Lovett, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Carole King, Marvin Gaye....

 

 

I would put those guys in the middle along with Layne Staley. I've never been blown away by any of their lyrics and thought to myself, "wow, there's an inherent multi-layered lyrical and poetic depth to this song." On the contrary, most of their songs have run-of-the-mill lyrics.

 

This is how I evaluate lyrics:

1)if, after 1 listen, do I grasp the meaning of the song? If yes, then the lyrics suck.

2) if, after 3-4 listens, do I then grasp the full meaning of the song? If yes, the lyrics are decent.

3) if, after many listens, do little poetic nuances and different interpretations come to me that have never come to me before? If yes, then it's a great lyric.

 

All those listed by the Chicken Monkey fall into the 2nd category.

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This is how I evaluate lyrics:

1)if, after 1 listen, do I grasp the meaning of the song? If yes, then the lyrics suck.

2) if, after 3-4 listens, do I then grasp the full meaning of the song? If yes, the lyrics are decent.

3) if, after many listens, do little poetic nuances and different interpretations come to me that have never come to me before? If yes, then it's a great lyric.


All those listed by the Chicken Monkey fall into the 2nd category.

I literally laughed out loud at #1 -- but on consideration of all three, I think if we rephrased that as something like, If a song is so superficial or pat that I get it all the first time and subsequent serious listens reveal nothing further, that song is likely to be of little ongoing interest to me and I don't mind saying so -- maybe folks would be a trifle more sympathetic.

 

Mind you, I think there are some very plainspoken songs that actually have a lot of ongoing value and interest -- and I think that lyrics that seem crafted with special attention to obscuring the meaning for the sake of appearing arty or deep had better be really good -- but usually are not. And I have to be able to convince myself that lyrics do mean something even if I don't get it -- or I'm ultimately probably going to be very annoyed with the songwriter for wasting my time. I'd rather listen to a patently dumb ass song that makes no pretenses about its dumb assedness than to waste my time trying to figure out some trying-to-be-arty-fake-underground-poetry type thing.

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It's not relegated to singers, but to guitarists and other instrumentalists as well. It fits into the structure that those who are overqualified with their instruments, whether it's voice or guitar, tend to be wankers and sing/play for the sake of singing/playing.

 

 

It's sad to say the notion that amateurs have something special that institutionally trained or expert practitioners lack is a pretty common sentiment sprouting on internet forums of all varieties, not just music. Clearly it suits a lot of people on the internet for this to be true, because the net is an environment where amateurs are not restricted in their contributions.

 

But the reality is that it is usually just a sentiment, not a proven fact: Of course nominal "amateurs" frequently produce expert-quality stuff, but it simply isn't true that experts generally don't produce expert-quality stuff, or are somehow less imaginative. There is no reason to think that someone becomes less imaginative solely because they have a high level of involvement with something. Naturally some professionals occasionally get jaded (or create duds, or have low points), but this could be for any number of reasons.

 

The opening post hardly presents a fair appraisal (with it's cherry picked examples and diminutive scope); actually he could have just left the graph out and made his unfounded claim to just as good effect. I could produce a list of song writers who are also expert singers as long as my arm. What's more, I could do a similar graph to demonstrate that, generally speaking, a good songwriter's craft improves with practice and diligence, which goes against the claim made in the OP. Generally speaking, the pattern is that good songwriters start off pretty decent and improve. The idea that one should start off being a great songwriter and gradually over time somehow lose their songwriting flare specifically because of their practice as a singer doesn't make a lot of sense.

 

The comment about instrumentalists is totally unfounded. With sufficient background checking it is possible to establish that the vast majority of people who contribute to pop-rock, overall, have received some sort of serious training or have practiced so diligently as to have reached an expert standard, in whatever it is they do be it playing or some involvement in the production process. Where someone with little or no experience has a major success this is usually the exception rather than the norm.

 

I don't mean to be provocative by my reply, but I see this style of comment again and again, and quite frankly it's willfully ignorant.

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