How Do You Define…. and why does it matter?


puzzled emotoconYou ever stop and think about how you perceive and personally define styles or genres of music?  What does AAA mean?  Americana?  Rock?  Pop?  Can you articulate the difference between Rhythm & Blues and contemporary R&B?  Neither can most people – even those we’d think might or should know …such as event talent buyers.

So, I’m on the phone this week – doing what I do – consulting on matters related to music in Colorado, and I get asked “how do you define singer-songwriter?”  My immediate off the cuff answer was “everyone in music is a singer songwriter if they sing songs they write.”  That’s true.  If you sing songs you write you are in fact a singer-songwriter.  But the definition goes well beyond that.

The question came about because the person I was consulting had gotten push back from event buyers for being a singer-songwriter.  For many people in the scene – event buyers especially – the term brings a less than likable meaning – that of solo (or duo) act that sings soft wimpy ballady acoustic “folk” type songs – the type you hear in coffee shops and many brew pubs regionally today.

folk singerAccording to,  “…the term Singer/Songwriter refers to the legions of performers that followed Bob Dylan in the late 60s and early 70s. Most of the original singer/songwriters performed alone with an acoustic guitar or a piano but some had small groups for backing. Their lyrics were personal, although they were often veiled by layers of metaphors and obscure imagery. Singer/songwriters drew primarily from folk and country, although certain writers like Randy Newman and Carole King incorporated the song-craft of Tin Pan Alley pop. The main concern for any singer/songwriter was the song itself, not necessarily the performance.”

Examples of singer songwriters also include:  Simon & Garfunkle, Billy Joel, Elton John, John Lennon, Van Morrison, and James Taylor from the 70’s and from the more contemporary listings, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, and Sara Bareilles to name a few.

This point is worth repeating; The main concern for any singer/songwriter was the song itself, not necessarily the performance.”

So why does it matter?  It is the performance issue that drives many buyers away from so called singer-songwriters.  Many buyers don’t see the singer-songwriter as a performer – as an ENTERTAINER (despite the Billy Joels and Elton Johns, who few think of as singer-songwriters, but rather pop and/or rock acts).

I made a few calls to verify that my thinking was in line with realities on the ground.  I wondered why “singer-songwriters” need not apply in most cases.  The answer was “energy.”  What I took from that was not “energy” but FAMILIARITY.  Bring an Elton John or Bob Dylan tribute band to the party and you’re in.  Bring in Bob Dylan performing solo songs on an acoustic guitar that no one has yet become familiar with and he’s out.  Why?  FAMILIARITY = ENERGY and ENERGY = FAMILIARITY.

It’s not that folks expect to hire cover bands …and tribute bands fall into a different role in the scene – accepted as something more than a cover band.  It’s that folks who put on events desire music that the average attendee can “move along to” (read:  “sing along to”) even if they’ve never heard the song before.

If you avoid using the term singer-songwriter, as an artist what do you say you do musically?  Americana?  What’s that?  What’s different between pop and rock?  Is country “country” if it doesn’t sound like what’s on commercial country radio – or is that even country to begin with and when is it “too country?”  How bout the differences between Rhythm & Blues (R&B) in the classic context, and R&B in the contemporary context?

One event buyer/planner this week asked me to find them “Colorado sounding” acts.  When pressed, I came away with an answer that what was meant was acts in the bluegrass, jam-grass, jamband, reggae. jamband oriented funk and hip-hop, and “Americana” (read: non Nashville sounding country) styles of music.  At no time was I asked for singer-songwriter, folk, rock, pop, blues, soul, jazz, or country.

My best advice?  Leave the genres to those who care (uh … hello?)  and define based on comparatives, on “if you like so and so you’ll like _____________”  … choose “__________ compliments so and so in a mix,”  NOT “_________ sounds like so and so.

And even if you are, don’t call yourself a singer-songwriter … most singer songwriters I know can do solo, duo, trio, quartet, or even orchestra shows – and are not simply a gal or guy with a guitar …or Bob Dylan without a band …a “folk” singer.

When we think of great Colorado singer-songwriters, here are a few I think are definitely worth mentioning …we do love singer-songwriters in Colorado.  Turns out they’re among our most revered treasures.


#coloradorocks #coloradovideos #colordaosingersongwriters #leaderofthepack #localmusicmatters


The Colorado Sound Live365 – TOP 10 Mid-FEB 2014

Doing some backend work on the station … added new cut from Dianne Reeve’s new album today to the morning 6A-11A schedule.  Pulled the spins list .. these are the most heard titles right now.

(_____) = date added to rotation.

1. Otis Taylor – Blue Rain In Africa (Oct 03, 13)
2. Jeff Brinkman – Island (Oct 04, 13)
3. Trout Steak Revival – Bell (Dec 29, 13)
4. The Fray – Love Don’t Die (Oct 25, 13)
5. Big Head Todd & The Monsters – Josephina (Jan 23, 14)
6. Elephant Revival – Birds And Stars (Dec 29, 13)
7. The Changing Colors – True Love Knows (Jul 30, 13)
8. 3 Twins – Station On Down The Line (Dec 29, 13)
9. Mosey West – Old Stone (Jan 23, 14)
10. Matt Skinner Band – Ashes To Ashes (Dec 30, 13)

The Colorado Sound S7 EP32 SEPT 2013

Goat_Logo_color_on_whiteI’m so done with the heat until next June.  Seriously.  I am not done with festival events however 🙂 …. One more – SEPT 20-21 – Fortober Fest – Fort Collins – bicycles, beers, and bands is the theme for this newer annual event now in its second year.  This year’s featured acts = 12 Cents for Marvin, the Railbenders, P-Nuckle, Jeff Brinkman Band and several others.  It’s the last big chance I know of to catch some of the region’s top bands outdoors before the fall sets in hard.  Time to decorate the bike and join the fun … hope to see you there.  Isn’t September 21 the first day of fall?  Hmmmm.  

In artist related news – congrats to John Common and Jessica DiNicola on their wedding this past week … nicely done you two 🙂  If you don’t know these two fine singers, check out this video of John & Jessica performing at the Soiled Dove Underground in 2011 … 

SuCh Stretch MarksCongratulations are in order for Colorado actress and neo-soul songstress Su Charles who goes by the handle SuCH … she signed a distro deal for her more recent album, Stretch Marks, to be sold at retail in Japan – a pretty big deal there .. and she also won Denver’s equivalent to the Tony Award – called the Henry Award – she won for outstanding lead actress in a musical for her performance of Celie in the Colorado Purple.  SuCh is a Boston born, New York raised, California educated, Chicago groomed soul singer living and working in Denver – and I for one am glad she is.

News broke just this morning that Jeff Brinkman made the cut for this season’s X-Factor …  see the video here =>  “The X Factor” Season 3 premieres Wednesday at 8/7c on Fox.  With that … the Featured Video Pick of the Week is Jeff Brinkman – Island … 


Boenzee Cryque “Still In Love With You Baby” [single] (1967)
Zephyr “I Am Not Surprised” from Sunset Ride (1972)
a. Tom Collins “Mambo” from Stick & Poke (2013)
3 Twins “Little Bird” from De Nada (2013)
Bad Brad & the Fat Cats “Thunder On the Mountain” from Eyes on the Prize (2013)
Meniskus “The Equalizer” from Stowaway (2013)
Lion Drome “Curve of the Earth” from Curve of the Earth (2013)OneRepublic “Light It Up” from Native (2013)
Pretty Lights “Around the Block (feat. Talib Kweli)” from A Color Map of the Sun (2013)
(D) Gabrielle Louise “Colours” from The Bird in My Chest (2013)
Newcomers Home “Hold On” from In the Hour (2004)
GogoLab “Honey Trap” from Border Patrol (2013)
Cory Harris “Got to Be A Better Way” from Daily Bread (2005)
India.Arie “Slow Down” from Voyage to India (2002)
Flobots “The Rose and the Thistle” from The Circle in the Square (2012)
12 Cents for Marvin “Russian Roulette (Tragedy Version)” from Change (2006)
Dubskin “Warrior Stomp” from Release from Fear (2011)Head for The Hills “Never Does” from Blue Ruin (2013)
Thom Chacon “Ain’t Gonna Take Us Alive” from Thom Chacon (2013)
Patti Fiasco “Small Town Lights” from Small Town Lights (2013)
Yonder Mountain String Band “Criminal” from The Show (2009)
Wendy Woo Band “Hold On” from Live (2013)
Danny Shafer “I Am” from Wherever You Are (2013)
Fingers of the Sun “The Leaves Were So Green” from Fingers of the Sun (2011)Jim Stranahan “I’ve Got No Rhythm in My Feet” from Free For All (2010)

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