Writing is a lot like singing. I came to the conclusion this week, which is week five of Dark Continents Publishing’s first open submissions period. Right now I’m feeling a lot like I imagine Paula Abdul must feel nearing the end of the first round of American Idol auditions. Or possibly Simon Cowell. Yes, I definitely feel the urge to say cruel and cutting things to people. Not that DCP is in the same career-launching league as American Idol. Yet. But like the contestants on American Idol, we have dreams…
But on with the writing/singing analogy.
Some singers have talent, but they’re in too much of a hurry to hit the big time when they’re not quite ready for it yet. These singers should be told, gently and sincerely, to go back, hone their craft, and try again. Some singers are capable of making pretty sounds come out of their mouths, and they will usually make it past round one. But they don’t survive a closer inspection once it is apparent that they don’t really understand what they are singing about, they can’t make an emotional connection with the song, and they can’t make an emotional connection with the audience. And isn’t that what it’s all about – making the audience feel something?
Some singers don’t understand, or choose to ignore, the fact that American Idol is a pop singing competition. The
definition of ‘pop’ is generously broad; your style can be country-infused, or rock influenced, or coloured by classical training, but ultimately you must appeal to a pop-loving audience. The performers that present with a thrash metal performance or a hard core rap performance, or even, incredibly, a strip show or a mime, never receive the magical Card of Acceptance.
Some singers are enamoured with a particular famous performer, and will try to impersonate them in their audition. I have one word for them: Don’t. Some singers blow it by excessively flirting with or sucking up to the judges, or they wear wildly inappropriate outfits, or their performance is so over the top that there is no chance it will ever climb back again onto the side of normalcy.
Some singers are actually not half bad, but they trigger some pet peeve of one of the judges. Which is why there are three judges on the panel, to account for variations in personal taste (DCP has three readers on its editorial panel too, for exactly the same reason).
Some singers enter American Idol with a level of self-belief out of all proportion to their actual ability or talent. You can usually pick these singers by the way they introduce themselves. Anyone who feels the need to tell you “I am the next big thing and you reject me at your peril” invariably isn’t. They are the ones who will argue, loudly and vociferously, with the judges (hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m waiting for it…). These singers should be told to stick to singing in the shower, even although they probably won’t listen to you. And there’s nothing wrong with shower singing, just as there is nothing wrong with keeping a journal or writing a blog or emailing your mum twice a day. It’s all self-expression, all an integral part of a healthy human life; just don’t expect to foist it on other people and get paid for it.
The over-confident wannabes are often giddy on the dream of instant fame, fortune and adulation. But the truth is, an infinitesimally small number of singers exist who possess enough raw talent to be successful without any training or practice. The myth of the overnight sensation, in both the music industry and the publishing industry, is just that, a myth. Behind the appearance of the ‘overnight sensation’ is years of music lessons, years of slogging it out entering talent competitions, busking on street corners, performing for a handful of indifferent drunks in dimly lit bars, and practising, practising, practising.
Real singers will hand out with other musos. They’ll swap war stories. They will become intimately familiar with the intricacies of the industry. They may or may not choose to enter American Idol, but if they do, they will have watched the show and will have followed the career paths of previous winners with interest. And they will never give up, even when they have suffered rejection after rejection. Because that is who they are. And that is what they do.