HONESTY

The only guaranteed path to success is to make music so good people just HAVE to share it with everyone they know...

...no small task.

There is no formula you can follow, because people don't know what they will like, they just know it when they hear it. One thing most all beloved and time honored music has in common is honesty. There are a few things that come to my mind when I think of honesty in music...


BOLDNESS
To pursue your vision and follow your muse without fear or reservation. Led Zeppelin played whatever felt and sounded good to them, from heavy metal to blues to folk all within the same album, sometimes even the same song! And the critics almost universally disliked them. But their own music was ringing true for them, and who they were...and it turns out, hundreds of thousands of people heard something they could connect to.

Rush is an example of a band that by all accounts had little to no commercial appeal. Their arrangements were complex and musically dense, the subject matter of the lyrics often obscure, and they regularly played in odd meters with time signatures and changes simply not found in popular music. They experienced commercial failure early in their career, yet rather than compromise and make music that was more accessible to the average listener, they took it even further and made some of the most unique and progressive music ever made to this day. And the people who actually "got it" were so astounded, a whole new musical audience was spawned and, along with Rush, flourished.

That is boldness. THAT is honesty.


VULNERABILITY
To be honest is to at the mercy of the world. It's almost human nature these days to guard ourselves with privacy and false confidence. We don't want people to know our truths because that gives them the power to hurt us. We live in fear that if the ugly parts of us start to show, they'll know we really don't deserve to be loved. But we should all understand that to be TRULY loved is to be seen completely, our best and our worst, and to be accepted without condition. This is how God loves us, and how we are called to love each other. What a rare thing it really is today. And what a different world it would be if we followed God's original design.

In music, honesty means laying yourself bare for the listener, scars and all. Whether that's in the raw expression of your voice or the harsh and beautiful truths of your lyrics, meaningful connections are made when people catch a glimpse of their own reality in yours.

Two of my favorite artists are Eminem and The Avett Brothers, and they could not be more different in their genre, subject matter, or their life experiences and world view. One is a rapper who grew up on the harsh streets of urban Detroit, and often raps aggressively about drugs, violence, anger, and pain. The others are two young folk rockers who grew up together in the quaint beauty of rural North Carolina, and sing beautifully melodic songs about love, heartbreak, and soul searching.

Yet I love both of these artists for the exact same reasons. They both have unique, raw, and expressive voices with tons of personality. And they both write brutally honest songs directly from their heart to the pen. Whether Eminem is spitting venomous lines about his childhood with a mentally ill drug addicted mother, or playing out a gruesome fantasy of the murder of his estranged wife who ripped apart his life and his heart...there is no questioning the authenticity of his words and emotions. Likewise, Scott and Seth Avett seem to have no inhibitions about sharing their real lives through stories of girls that got away, the anxieties and hard lessons of journeying from adolescence through manhood, and their relationships (for better or worse) with their friends, families, and even each other.

When you let people into your world, your thoughts, and your emotions, you give them the chance to find something familiar and feel a little more connected to you as a real person they can relate to...and even love.


CONVICTION
A lyric in one of my own songs says "Papa told me 'Say what you mean, son...and mean what you say.'" This means being honest with yourself as well as the rest of the world. It's called integrity. It takes conviction. My father really has said that to me my entire life. I mean what I say.

Now that doesn't mean you can only sing about things that really happened. You can sing about whatever you want, but when you sing it you had better mean it.

Whether recording in the studio or playing a live show, your performances should never be anything less than 100% passion and conviction. People know when you're just going through the motions. And whether you're just phoning it in or truly putting every ounce of yourself into it, energy is self multiplying, and people will respond in kind. What you put out is what you will get back.

One of my favorite singers is Kurt Cobain. He was a good singer, though not incredible from a technical standpoint. But his delivery was so intense even when you can't understand the words you can FEEL everything he is trying to convey. His own drummer Dave Grohl said at times it sounded like somebody was boiling rusty nails in his throat. That's intensity. One of the most memorable musical moments ever captured live on camera was at the end of Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance, when Kurt's voice broke and the last note turned into a tortured howling scream on the word "shiver" which eerily never fails to send actual chills up my spine.

One of my favorite PERFORMERS is Jim Morrison of The Doors, who often sang with a similar intensity. Though it was his onstage confidence that really captured his conviction. To him, the performance was part of the art, and when people watched him strut, run, dance, and crawl all over the stage, they never saw a man who was just singing a song. Jim Morrison WAS the song. He wasn't afraid to let the music move him into physical expression. Audiences responded with the same energy and went for the ride right along with him.


Art is subjective; and there is no telling what styles, trends, or ideas will be popular and fashionable from one day to the next, or even from one PERSON to the next. But these are a few areas a musician can definitely challenge themselves in if they ever hope to really reach people. As with anything worth doing, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. I'm going to read this back and try to get started taking my own advice.

Boldness.
Vulnerability.
Conviction.

HONESTY.

2 comments

  • Dad

    Dad Hanford

    Nice article. I'm not musical in any sense of the word, but art in any form must always be honest. I hope thousands of musicians and artists get a chance to read this article. In life, as in music, honesty sets you free to fully experience life. Proud of you, son.

    Nice article. I'm not musical in any sense of the word, but art in any form must always be honest. I hope thousands of musicians and artists get a chance to read this article. In life, as in music, honesty sets you free to fully experience life.

    Proud of you, son.

  • Wes D.

    Wes D.

    Loved reading the blog guys, very well put together and I was compelled to read all of what you had to say. Very true, very honest. Really great advice here :) Thank you for posting this and good luck to you! -Wes / mourningstone.com

    Loved reading the blog guys, very well put together and I was compelled to read all of what you had to say. Very true, very honest. Really great advice here smile Thank you for posting this and good luck to you!

    -Wes / mourningstone.com

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