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How To Speak Music (Chapter 2)

Define your terms and save both you (Mr. or Ms. Composer) and them (the well-intentioned client) worry and frustration.

Welcome back to our highly instructional series “How To Speak Music,” written to help rewire that common aesthetic disconnect between you and your clients. [Part 1 is here.] Sure, you’re both speaking the same basic language, but everybody has their own language when they’re talking about music.  Let’s page through some more words that people use while dancing-about-architecture that get commonly misunderstood.

Dark:  As in, “I like the melody, but… can you make it darker?” Thanks to TV critics and hipster humor, this term now means everything from “spookier” to “more emotionally disturbing.” Or maybe they just think it has too much high-end in the mix. Some pin-down words to discuss: Murkier. Scarier. Leaden. (Seriously… maybe they’re just talking about tempo.)

Edgy: Considering the recent history of modern music, you’d have to go a helluva distance to do anything that was actually “edgy:” Yoko Ono looking for her hand in the snow backed by David Torn on a synth banjo and John Cage passed out on the keys of a pipe organ might qualify, I guess.  So when a client says it, you can be sure that “edgy” isn’t really what they mean.  Pin-down words: Fast. Noisy. Discordant. Metallic. Industrial. Electronic.

Faster:  I know what you’re thinking. How could this possibly be misinterpreted?  Faster means faster, right? Not always. I’ve worked on three projects where the client specifically asked for the piece to be “faster,” but didn’t really want the tempo increased.  What they really meant was “busier.” They wanted the piece in the original tempo, but wanted more 16ths in the drum part, double-time countermelodies, etc.  They didn’t know that’s what they wanted until they heard it. Pin-down words: Active. Energetic.

Gritty:  see “Edgy” above.

Hip:  This swamp is right next door to “contemporary.” Isn’t one of the ancient and universal unanswered questions, “what is hip?”  To most musicians, jazzy extended chords and snaky rhythms are hip.  To an agency creative director, hip might mean “dreary soft-voiced shoegazing troubadour with a ukulele.” The potential is so broad that the fastest way to get to the meaning of this descriptor is to play them something YOU think is hip, and give them the chance to say yes or no.

You get my point. What they mean is rarely what you hear. Since the composers the ones who understand how music affects people, the onus is on us to make sure that everyone is… well, singing from the same page. For a better experience for everyone, teach your clients to speak music… or, at least to speak it the way you do.

 

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