Being Musically Flexible


January 9, 2013 by folkchris

Since beginning my studies in Songwriting at the UWS in September 2012, one of the most significant challenges I have had to consider in my work is that of not pigeonholing myself as ‘just a folk musician’.

At any stage of a musician’s career, from a commercial and musical standpoint, it is vital that one is flexible enough to work competently in different genres, with different musicians ultimately trying to appeal to as many different audiences as possible. Being a writer or singer of only ‘certain types of music’ is to limit one’s potential, to say the very least.

Willie Nelson for example, will always be considered by and large,  to be a ‘country musician’, but looking deeper into his discography, one can see Nelson has made a career out of embracing musical diversity:  Recording reggae albums (Countryman 2005) jazz albums (two with Wynton Marsalis 2008, 2011 respectively) Gospel albums (The Troublemaker 1978) even making a new Christmas record in 2012, on top of this, working with hoards of artists of seemingly varied genres over recent years, Snoop Dogg, Jon Bon Jovi and Kid Rock among others. 

Image  (the Country Music Hall of Fame-er’s reggae album)

In being musically ‘flexible’, one considers the concept of authenticity.

Alan Moore argues ‘buzz words’ like authenticity carry an ‘ethical charge’ and to perceived to be ‘inauthentic’ is on a par with being perceived to be ‘sub-human’ (Moore,2012, p260).

Sceptics may argue that Nelson recording with Snoop Dogg,for example, lacks authenticity both as a ‘country song’, as Snoop Dogg is a rapper and at the same time, authenticity as a ‘rap song’ because Nelson is a country musician. However, in terms of collaboration, I would argue that these apparent musical polarities, only serve to enhance the song, both from a writing standpoint and during the listening experience. After all, it is the sharing of diverse ideas of other people that enables a piece of collaborative writing to potentially be so rich. – ‘Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die’- Willie Nelson feat. Snoop Dogg –‘Superman’ – Snoop Dogg feat. Willie Nelson.

Post modernists would argue, that the debate between what constitutes authentic or inauthentic music is irrelevant, so long as the listener gets something out of the piece during the listening process.

From my own standpoint as a songwriter, while the theory of what the listener gets out of the music is important, what actually goes in to the writing process of the song must be real to the songwriter, at least to some degree.  If the song is felt (by the writer) to be inauthentic, it may be apparent to the listener .

As well as this, maintaining originality and avoiding cliché (or parody) play an important part of the writing and performing process.

 A certain school of thought suggests maintaining an element of ‘familiarity’ in one’s music, as it can be problematic to be ‘too original’ (Moore, 2012, p259). However, being ‘too familiar’ may border on being cliché and this, would ultimately suggest inauthenticity.

Therefore, I would argue that finding and maintaining a balance between familiarity and originality, disregarding the notion of being typecast or pigeonholed while creating something which the musician considers to be ‘real’ is vital in the process of songwriting.


Moore A (2012) Song Means:  Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song. Surrey. Ashgate.

Nelson W (1976) The Troublemaker [CD] USA. Columbia Legacy. 517274 2

Nelson W (2005) Country Man [CD] USA. Lost Highway 602498820551

Nelson W (2008) Two Men With the Blues [CD] USA Blue Note Records 5099 5 04454 2 4

Nelson W (2011) Here We Go Again [CD] USA. Blue Note Records

Nelson W (2012)The Classic Christmas Album [CD] USA. Sony Legacy .

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die – Willie Nelson feat. Snoop Dogg [Online] Available:

[Accessed January 9 2013]

Robinson K (2001)Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative.Oxford. Capstone

Super Man – Snoop Dogg feat. Willie Nelson [Online] Avialable:

[Accessed January 9 2013]



One thought on “Being Musically Flexible

  1. You speak great truth! You can’t be a one trick pony in the entertainment industry.

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