Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Sting)
I love the old Jazz standard, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It
Ain't Got That Swing)." Indeed, one of my all time
favorites, writers Irving Mills and The Duke (Ellington)
probably had no idea that it would fit so appropriately in
so many areas today when they wrote it back in 1932.
Adding further credence to its lyrics, probably, one of the
most blatant examples of irony in the Music industry, is the
fact that many, if not most, "creative" artists, in the forms of
musicians, are not truly creative at all, in several respects.
Sure, as writers, musicians and singers, comparative to
most of the general population that is not musically talented,
we stand out.
But, even so, within our own confines, we are often simply
repeating a riff we have heard, a line we may have played
from an obscure piece of music, or a phrase we have sung,
somewhere, at some time, whether intentionally or
And, sure, we can flip it, flop it, slam it against the wall and
drop it...reshape it to the point of it being no longer
recognizable. But, in doing so, is it just the same old thang,
or a new bang?
What I am speaking of, is ever present on our turf, and
within our normal existence of the daily commercial music
world. And, it knows no bounds while transcending every
So, what is it?
It is known as 'Formulae' (form-u-lay). Now, in researching
the term, I found a number of definitions, but the most
applicable ones specific to the Music industry, are:
- A method of doing or treating something that relies on
an established, uncontroversial model or approach.
- A prescription of ingredients in fixed proportion; a
- An utterance of conventional notions or beliefs.
While on one hand, it can present itself as a disciplinary
rule in organization, the obvious downside of 'formulae' is
its consistence in serving to, eventually, bore the audience
upon which it is, repeatedly, visited.
Several apt examples of formulae that are being used in
today's Music industry can overtly be seen in music videos.
What begins as one unique hairstyle, dance, or other
element, and used successfully on its audience, almost
immediately, results in a ton of 'copycat' artists attempting
to capitalize on the newfound element(s).
In many RAP music videos, it is the purveying message
that, whatever one desires should be taken by force and
attitude, with the reward being an endless supply of wealth
ROCK musicians' images, on the other hand, seem to
carry the message that, in order to be a real rocker
(whatever that means), it is a requirement that your hair be
no shorter than waist-length, lest ye fail miserably in the
Rock music world.
<"I want it permed, babe...and if ya have time, give me a
layer job as well, doll.">
Alright, COUNTRY musicians...you aren't getting off *that*
easily. Okay, blame it on my inner ear's subscription to a
combination of tinnitis and vertigo but, until recently, I
couldn't tell the difference between such twangers as
George Jones, Randy Travis and John Anderson.
In fact, one of the few unique male voices in Country that
really stood out with me, was Johnny Cash. As for female
Country artists with unique voices, I believe Dolly Parton
wins hands down or is, at least, in the running lead.
Now, I've cited these examples to substantiate and
circumvent the idea that few of us in the industry, whether
as artists, labels, executives or whatever, are even willing
to step outside the proverbial "safe zone" and provide a
fresh breath of uniqueness to our ever hungry audiences.
In fact, further irony of Indie musicians and the
independent concept finds that, in many instances and,
very often, it ends up looking just like the corporate version
of the industry that most of us claim to hate, in the interest
of commercial synthesis.
<"Alright, Ma! Tell me again...which one is the alligator,
and which one is the crocodile?">
Take CD covers...over the course of your lifetime, how
many covers can you recall that made an indelible print in
your mind? I'll bet very few, as most covers come off anal
retentive, along with sending the message, "Hey! We're
four guys from Brooklyn! Look at us and our toothy
smiles! Ain't we kewl?"
Instead of displaying a photo shoot of you in a trance, why
not do something really different and bold with your CD
cover? The best way to enhance your cover is to allow its
graphic to support and strongly relate to your title. In other
words, act out your title...put it into "action." Make it a verb
(remember those?), instead of a plain old noun.
Call it a handicap of mine, but whenever I see a title that
could have had a dramatic presence and response with a
different and more supportive graphic idea, I start to itch,
get chills and want to reach out and "touch" the creator.
I'm not sure if the reasons artists *don't* take liberties with
enhancing their covers and their respective titles past the
basic 'photo shoot' are because their creativity ends with
their music, or they feel they will appear silly and criticized
if they present anything other than themselves.
But I am of the opinion that the reason many artists fail to
generate interest at the initial stage is, the failure of
imagery and visual concept follow-through.
The point of this article, is to get artists to thinking about,
yet, another area that most are overlooking, but an area
that is critical to their success.
Everything about your entertainment career that you have
chosen, in relation to performance, should have
(((((IMPACT!))))) Pow! Bam! Boom! Every aspect of
your career should leave a memorable impression on its
beholders, in one form, or another.
Your impact should feel like a bee sting, at every available
opportunity of which you are presenting yourself as a
Just as radio airplay will be short-lived if you aren't getting
press coverage and, vice versa, your music sales will
also suffer to a large degree if your cover is just another
shot of you sitting there, holding your guitar, and looking
like you are wondering which direction to turn for the next
As the proverbial shameless plug goes, if you would like
to venture into conceptual covers, and am now ready for
something more than the "deer in the headlights" stare
for your cover, check out how I can be a significant benefit
to you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, let's do what we can to eliminate the boredom factor,
while livening up a deadpan existence through revisiting
uniqueness, creativity and originality to their fullest extents.
For, it don't mean a thing, if you ain't got that sting.
Editor's Note: Kenny Love is extensively involved in both
the Music and Writing industries. Get complete details on
his business/career services for musicians with requests to:
"It Don't Mean A Thing (if it Ain't Got That Swing)"
Written by: Irving Mills
Written by: Duke Ellington (Edward Kennedy Ellington)
What good is melody, what good is music
If it ain't possessin' something sweet
It ain't the melody, it ain't the music
There's something else that makes the tune complete
It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing
It don't mean a thing, all you got to do is sing
It makes no diff'rence if it's sweet or hot
Just give that rhythm ev'rything you got
It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing
Written By: Kenny Love