How to play well with others

How to play well with others

By Carla Muller

I’ve said before that songwriting is really just a matter of listening to your inner voice. But how can you convey that inspiration to the musicians you’ve hired to play for you? They don’t know you. Or how you feel. Really, the first time you work with a musician to bring your songs to life, they have less of an idea who you are than if you’d participated in a job interview. And nobody really shows their true self at an interview. It’s usually just an awkward email or phone call where you both agree to meet at the studio and you cross your fingers that it’s going to be good. Now, I’m very lucky because, my friends who have been in this business for years have shared contacts with me, and most of those contacts have been kind enough to go for it. And they have been wonderful. But there is a getting-to-know-you phase that everyone needs to go through. And I thought I’d share some tips for accelerating that a little

There is something I was very surprised to learn about musicians. I’ve been impressed by how quickly they can pick up what I’m putting down, but I was genuinely amazed to learn that most of them don’t actually listen to the lyrics of the song. I mean, I’m sure they do to some degree, but for the most part, they’re getting their emotional information from the music itself. It’s the language they speak. But I believe that both music and lyrics are equally important. And I have learned that it is important to make myself heard, not just through the music I write, but through the meaning behind it. And I have found a way to connect.

When I started doing this, Scott Metcalfe, a producer I worked with, was a little surprised. We were sitting in the control booth at Canterbury, and things were moving along pretty well. The problem was, I just wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t feeling the musician’s souls in the songs. I mean, they played beautifully, but I kind of had that feeling like in a few minutes, they’d be checking out like Wil E. Coyote and Roadrunner punching the time clock. I wanted them to feel what I was feeling; from where I felt the song was coming from. So, I jumped up and called a time-out. “I want to try something”, I said.

I walked over to these gods-among-musicians (I really was fangirling), and just opened my heart to them. It was terrifying. I was worried I’d be offending them, but I had to let them know just what it is they were becoming a part of. That they were becoming my voice to tell my story. My mother’s story. My family’s history. My heartbreak and hope. And to their credit, (and my amazement), they really listened. They took it in and took on the mantle of storyteller for my music. Scott and Julian had to agree, the music was better. More engaged. More heartfelt. Now, I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that these amazing musicians aren’t capable of feeling the music. They absolutely are. I’ve listened to many of their own compositions on Spotify, and they are all in. I’m not sure if anyone else would detect the difference between two technically perfect passes of the same song – before and after my little talks with them, but to me, inviting them into my world to let them feel what I am feeling made all the difference.

And after all; I am the storyteller


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