Earthbound Dreams: Vocals

The best music to relax is not always instrumental.

It might be claimed that the best kind of music for relaxation or easy listening MUST be instrumental, free of distracting vocals. I am not sure this is true at all. Whatever music you choose to soundtrack your day is quite spontaneous. Music that is designed specifically for productivity (like work) is often anaemic or simply boring.

Surprisingly instrumental music had always seemed a bit weird to me unless it soundtracked a film or television show. It’s only in recent years I’ve come to appreciate the art of vocal-less music, although classical era musicians first made it a thing centuries ago.

But as I scan my Apple Music library, the reality is that almost everything I listen to features vocals. Deep down, we need that most obvious form of human connection in music, a voice. Any music will seem emptier without it.

A Night At The Opera is on the cards

However, I rarely listen to Opera, why is that, because orchestral singing is the most beautiful sound imaginable? Often within the working class social circles I grew up in, Opera was ridiculed as posh music. In reality a Glass Ceiling had been laid upon much of the classical music world. It seems stupid that we can be snobby about any music when much of the world of popular music is influenced by operatic styles anyway.

Perhaps folk music (or music for folk, a vast popular genre, that is not just Bob Dylan et al) is my entry point into Opera. There are certainly operatic qualities in the soprano vocal delivery of London electronic music producer Alison Goldfrapp. 2013 Goldfrapp album Tales of Us provides a perfect bridge to being an Opera fan. I’ll keep you posted!

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Lyrics can be nonsense but they mean something to the songwriter, however much you ignore them

Even my favourite guitar music has accompanying vocals. But weirdly, since becoming an instrumental artist I became more self conscious and even a little fearful of the presence of vocals in music. Perhaps because I now feel more exposed, because I had always written songs with vocals in mind. It’s a hard habit to break, since being part of a band. In that sense, vocal-less music is a new challenge that I am also excited by.

I certainly wish I could sing as well as Stephen Wilkinson, an English guitarist/songwriter who makes beautifully crafted soundscapes as Bibio, blending many styles including Soul, Folk, Electronic and Classical.

Bibio’s 2019 album Ribbons is a particular favourite.

I don’t think the content of lyrics really matter. I am often not really listening to the words. A voice is just another instrument. Vocal parts are usually constructed according to their poetic quality, the best sounding words that are easiest to sing. Vowels are also more pleasing to the ear. My attempts at lyrics were always clumsy and too literal. Inspired by psychedelic experiences (LSD), I went through a phase of writing complete nonsense, which might have been a better approach! However, words should at least mean something to the author. John Lennon’s lyrics for Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (about his Son’s school painting) is a great example of reality decorated by the acid culture of the day.

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Break the chains of algorithms, mix up your listening and have a mood-lifting event everyday

British musician Arlo Parks’ eclectic and highly impressive second album My Soft Machine proves you can mix-up the sonic vibes, combining dreamy, ambient moments with feelgood R&B and Rock. Even in the moments that we require deep focus, upbeat music is very useful for stimulating a variety of emotions. Like writing this post for example!

Is it a creative or business choice, for musicians to attempt to design music for particular audiences? That seems to be the trend today. Why not make the music that turns you on? The music I get off on the most was created for artistic reasons, to convey a sense of the artist’s persona. The fact that it neatly fits into a chill or focus playlist is purely coincidental. Music has always been categorised since record shops, for convenience. And with streaming I try not to be too influenced by algorithmic suggestions. As I once preferred being left alone while browsing an HMV store.

Music offers much more than a soundtrack for mundane activities. Playing music can provide a significant mood-lifting event that you can make happen everyday, at any given moment. For a really positive change, try music with vocals – because you probably do anyway. The sound of a human voice provides a more relatable connection.

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Instrumental music is difficult to do

I am rediscovering vocal music. It’s natural that I miss writing music for vocals. However, I’ve chosen to embark on an instrumental journey and that’s a different challenging. There are many more extra steps I need to take to pull off something special, without the reassurance that a vocalist will make a song sound complete. The fact that instrumental music requires visuals for the best impact, means I have to find a way to convey this by making music videos or somehow get my foot in the door of the film business – yet another cultural industry that requires the smashing of glass ceilings. Maybe not!

Alternatively, the music I make is simply waiting for a suitable songwriter to bring it all to life and relieve some of the creative pressure.