Cecilee: Singer/Songwriter or…. Something Else? That Is The Question

In my area, there’s an annual contest for up-and-coming local singer/songwriters. You sign up, submit some songs, and if you’re chosen, you get to perform your song for judges and you win prizes and all sorts of prestige and yay yay yay!

And every year, I can’t join.

One of the rules of the contest is that you can’t have a commercially available album. I interpret that as “you can’t already have an album available for purchase on Bandcamp/iTunes/some other digital outlet. Doesn’t matter if it’s self-released. If you have any of your music available for people to buy, you can’t join our little club nee ner nee ner.”

So that disqualifies me. I find that rule a little frustrating because it’s not like I’m making my living off my music and I’m not signed to a record label (you can’t walk into FYE and buy my stuff), but OK, whatever.

But even if I didn’t have a Bandcamp page where I sell my music, I still wouldn’t be able to sign up for this contest.

You see, another contest rule stipulates that you can’t use any kind of electronic enhancement. You have to play an acoustic instrument.

Well, you got me there. Because when I’m not being “girl and a piano,” I like to live-mix my songs on my iPad while singing live.

Sure, I could sign up and play piano. But…. well, as much as I love to play piano and sing, I enjoy doing my live-mixing even more. Because it’s different. You don’t see many other people doing what I do, especially singing live on top of it. And it takes a LOT of practice to get your singing and your mixing right. You have to make sure everything flows.

And that’s where we get to a big question.

Am I still a singer/songwriter even though I do electronic music?

Because here’s the thing: I consider myself a singer/songwriter. So does my husband. So do my friends. I do what a singer/songwriter does: I write and sing my own material.

However, listening to my recorded music, you might not think so. When people think “singer/songwriter,” they think of a lonely guy/girl singing and strumming a guitar. Or sometimes playing a piano. However, I can tell you from personal experience that the number of piano players at any given open mic night is far lower than the guitar players. It makes sense, if you think about it. Guitars are easier to carry around. Pianos? Not so much. I’m usually the only piano player at any given open mic night.

And at times, I’m also the only female performing that night. But I digress.

Getting back to that eternal question of whether I’m a singer/songwriter or not, I believe that I am. The only difference is the choice of instruments. I’m not a lonely girl playing guitar on stage. I’m taking that singer/songwriter format of lyric-writing (writing about personal experiences and feelings) and marrying it with electronic music and other influences.

French music.

Sometimes Italian music (but NOT opera; there’s more to Italian music than opera!).

80s synth pop.

New wave.

Even more than that, I like doing something different. Why would I do the exact same thing as someone else?

If a singer/songwriter can’t include people who perform non-acoustic music, then what would you consider someone like Imogen Heap? She writes and performs her own material. I consider her a singer/songwriter then.

What about Charlotte Martin? Her recorded music is electronic like mine. I too consider her a singer/songwriter.

Kate Bush? She writes and performs her own music. So she’s in the club too.

Just a few examples for you there.

And I think that’s probably the biggest beef I have with that contest. How else are we supposed to push the art forward if we aren’t allowing people to do something different with it? By not allowing something different, like me live-mixing and singing live with my iPad, which takes a LOT more talent to do than most people might think, the art of singer/songwriters becomes stagnant.

I wish people would realize that a singer/songwriter can be anyone who’s playing an instrument and singing their own song.

And it shouldn’t matter the instrument.