7. The Internet and Self-Production:
It’s an exciting time to be a musician, as the Internet and home music production have greatly expanded our possibilities for reaching niche audiences. YouTube, Facebook, CDBaby and iTunes have made it possible for independent musicians to market directly to the listener, allowing us to bypass industry execs who only want to back the next big star who sounds like the last big star. Independent musicians no longer need labels to distribute our music to listeners from anywhere on earth. In other words, traditional folk music can be viable even if record labels don’t push it, even if your local town doesn’t have a venue for you to perform it. You can reach your audience partly or entirely online.
6. Reach a More-Diverse Audience:
Traditional folk music can be great cross-over material: it can allow you to reach a larger and more-diverse audience than you might otherwise get. Folk music, because it is traditional, is uniquely able to engage different generations at once. It can gain the attention of people who might never seek out your original work. Once they hear you perform some folk songs they recognize, they may give your other work a shot. It’s the same reason that many new bands begin by covering previous hits. Traditional folk music allows you to do the same, but without having to pay for licensing a copyrighted song. If you want your music to reach beyond your own generation and region, then traditional folk music can help you achieve that.
5. Room for Innovation:
But, you might say, my audience isn’t chiefly composed of rustic farmers or old folks: how will my audience respond to folk music? The answer lies in how you adapt and deliver those traditional songs. The same traditional ballad can please grandparents at a town fair, young rockers at a punk show, or singer-songwriter fans in an urban café. Same song, different delivery. Dare to believe in the message of the songs, and deliver them the same way you’d deliver your original songs—take them seriously, and use modern vocal styling and instruments. The effect can be quite striking: a two-hundred-year-old ballad can take on new life. Many traditional folk songs have simple musical structures, so you can play them simply or adapt them to your musical tastes, turning them into anything from heavy metal to experimental jazz. If you’ve been turned off folk music by hearing corny, old-fashioned or sloppy renditions, then take on the challenge of giving the songs better treatment.
Not only might the songs be easier for you to learn because you’ve heard them before, but many of your listeners will likewise have heard the songs. It can really be tough to get audiences to engage with brand-new songs, as listeners in venues like bars/pubs tend to want songs they can sing along with, songs they already know. People are creatures of habit, but you can capitalize on that fact by incorporating some traditional songs into your set and/or album. You can lead your audience to see your new songs as part of a tradition that they already know and enjoy.
3. Easily Build Your Repertoire:
The fact that traditional folk music is copyright clear could allow you to quickly and easily add songs to your next set list and/or CD. If you’re like me and writing original songs takes you a long time, then adding some traditional songs to your repertoire could be fun and useful, especially if your band hasn’t been writing together long enough to have a full roster of original songs. Moreover, you may already be somewhat familiar with the traditional songs from hearing them performed, which would make learning them quicker.
These days when governments and the music industry are cracking down on copyright infringement, traditional folk music offers a safe haven. By definition it is in the public domain. It belongs to the public—to you and to me and to future generations. Do your research to ensure that a given song you want to perform/record is indeed old enough to be copyright-free (usually 75-100 years after publication, but check your country’s laws). If it is old enough, then you can record/perform that song without the hassle of seeking permission or paying for a mechanical and/or sync license. One warning: a song may be traditional though an artist holds copyright in a particular arrangement of the song, so, again, do your research. The effort is worth it, since covering contemporary songs without proper licenses (whether live or in recordings) can land you in legal trouble. (Disclaimer: this is not legal advice.)
For many people, the term “folk music” conjures up only quaint images of geriatric fiddlers or country bumpkins square dancing at the town fair, but folk music can be rewarding in many ways for musicians of any age and from any region, whether rural or urban. Traditional folk music is the enormous body of tunes and songs that have been around long enough to enter the public domain, often of unknown authorship. These songs have stood the test of time, and many popular artists have incorporated them into their repertoires, from Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, to Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, to Dropkick Murphys and Metallica. In fact, the 1960s saw a revival of folk music that pushed it into the mainstream, and that revival continues today, albeit less prominently.
What follows are ten good reasons to consider learning some traditional folk music, reasons I learned over ten years as a performing singer-songwriter and as a recording artist, both for albums and for YouTube (www.youtube.com/bardofcornwall). My experience is mostly in folk music from the United Kingdom and North America, but these points also apply to many other traditions.
Reason 1. Huge Variety:
Those who would dismiss folk music as irrelevant to modern listeners generally haven’t experienced even a fraction of the traditional songs that we know of. There are so many to choose from, and so many moods created by them, that there would be some song to suit any musical taste. When it comes to traditional folk music, modern musicians are really spoiled for choice: you could listen for a lifetime and still discover new gems, from comic songs to love ballads to laments for the dead.
Note: This contest is now closed. Congratulations to winner Patricia McCue!
To mark the beginning of my new music blog, I’ll be holding a draw for a free copy of my latest CD, The Butcher Boy (the winner may select instead another of my in-print CDs). This contest is open to all ages (with parental permission) and everywhere in the world serviced by Canada Post.
No purchase necessary. All you have to do is to post a comment to this blog entry in which you tell me which of my YouTube videos is your personal favourite. Contest closes 12 pm (EST) October 31, 2014.
Fine Print: One entry per person only. Jesse Ferguson is not responsible for missing entries. The winning entry will be chosen with an online random-number generator after the close on October 31. The CD will be mailed free of charge with basic shipping. Jesse Ferguson assumes no responsibility for CDs lost in shipping. Winner assumes responsibility for any duty/taxes.
Welcome to my new blog! This is Jesse Ferguson, Canadian singer-songwriter, folk musician and poet. This new blog will offer my personal reflections on a variety of music-related topics. As a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, public performer and home-recording artist, I have a lot to say on a variety of music subjects, so hopefully there should be something here of interest to everyone from professional performers to those just learning to play an instrument, from those interested in folk music in general to the fans of my own YouTube channel and CDs. I will also post occasional updates on my public performances and informal reflections on other bands’ performances and CDs.
I plan to update this blog at least once a week, but I may post more as time permits, so if you like what you read then please check back regularly. Cheers!