Songwriters And Artists, Polish And Perfection Or Rough And Ready?

Last month I was on a judges panel for two very good but very different events. One was The Belmont Commercial Music Showcase where they had  whittled it down to the top 10 students to represent Belmont University here in Nashville. They could be any style and didn’t have to write the song they performed.

The other was Pucketts in Franklin for the semi-finals of their Rising Star program. This was all about the song. In each case the goal was to pick the top 4 with slightly different things to look out for. In both cases, by the time they’ve gotten this far you know they’re gonna be good and they were.

What I loved was that in past years of judging at Belmont you were more likely to see a few clones of the most recent American Idol winner or whoever ruled the charts at the time. This year I didn’t see anything like that, much more originality and I went away inspired by these students. Same with Pucketts, fantastic to see mostly young writers who might be wearing their influences on their sleeve but forging something of their own. If not right now, you could imagine it coming.

Here’s the dilemma that came up especially in the instance of the ones currently in a commercial music program. Are they too polished? Are they paying so much attention to  perfection that it’s hard to hear their own voice come through? Again, all of the students were flawless in their performance and that was one of the goals, I get it. Then..One girl came out full of attitude, originality ( played her own song) and quirkiness. I voted for her hands down…she didn’t make the cut. Not even in the top 4. Not near as polished as the other 9 but just had …something .

Similar experience with Pucketts but more to do with songwriting than performance. A few of the writers had everything in the right place, sounded perfect but in some cases it was hard to feel ” them ” in their song. Happy to say there were also some real diamonds in the mix.

I’ve written about this same debate from a personal point of view in the past regarding my own experience writing for specific artists and I’m still of the same mind. I can appreciate the hours of practice and hard work that artists and writers put in but if we’re talking about the next level ….gimme  a mix of 10,000 hours AND rough, warts, imperfection , attitude and promise over  pure perfection!

What do you guys think? Can you have both? Can you be too studied or too raw and still succeed?