On Writing,  publishing

Artistic Choice and The Voice Finals


In case you missed The Voice finals tonight, you should really find it and watch it. Some amazing music. And great interviews. Completely entertaining.

But as you are watching it, put on your writer hat. Not your creative hat, but the hat that observes and sees patterns.

Over and over and over again the three judges with artists left praised how their artists were original, not like anyone else in the world. The judges kept saying that their artists were doing their own things, had their own way of approaching music.

It was a mantra and clearly the most important thing to the judges. They kept saying it over and over and over. They said it so many times, it wouldn’t even be a good drinking game.

Just as they have done all year, right from the first show.

So some writer observations extrapolated from The Voice final show:

1… Being like everyone else would be a bad thing.

2… Singing the same songs, even covers, in the same way as everyone else would be a bad thing.

3… Being afraid to be yourself would be a bad thing.

4… Following the crowd to what is popular would be a bad thing.

5… Being unwilling to take risks would be a bad thing.

6… Not working harder than anyone else at your art would be a bad thing.

7… Not having fun with what you are doing would be a bad thing. (This group all had a ton of fun, clearly.)

Sort of all fits in with the different topics of artistic choice we have been covering here, doesn’t it?

Sometimes it is just easier to see the reality when shown in another art. But the lessons are the same.

Write what you love, don’t follow trends, work hard at your art, be true to yourself, and keep having fun.

The Voice tonight showed all that clearly. And you got some amazing music as well. And two of those four finalists had the courage to sing their own original songs they wrote. Wow, just wow.


  • G

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate again.

    I’ve watched a lot of The Voice over the years (although not the current season, granted). You can also find plenty of times where the coaches have said that they weren’t sure what genre an artist might fit into (and not in a good way). Although the coaches like originality and praise it, they clearly want to see a defined genre for the artist (for instance, Blake Shelton loves country and reacts when he sees someone who he know he can put forward to his vast country fanbase).

    So although you may cherry pick to see the coaches saying the things you believe in, there are also lots of counter examples where the coaches discuss branding and the market and all of those things you claim don’t matter when it comes to writing books.

    Which is why so many people fall into the middle of the spectrum of “create what you love” vs “create for the market.” Most folks don’t fall on one extreme end of the spectrum or the other, nor should they.

  • G

    P.S., when I talk about branding, I’m talking about the coaches stating clearly that they see a pre-defined “brand” for someone who might be young and good looking, might appeal to a certain market segment, etc.

    These things matter. They are real. To just create a product before you even know if it can sell or has a market basically goes against every common sense rule of business.

    First, know your market. Then create the product. That’s how businesses usually work.

    Only in the arts do folks think that it makes sense to create a product without even establishing that the market exists to support sales. Which is fine–it’s art. People can dow whatever they want–but they shouldn’t imagine they are making sound business decisions. They should be very clear they are working only from an artistic standpoint.

  • G

    I will make a final comment on why this premise about The Voice is faulty, from my viewpoint.

    And this is probably the most important point of all.

    On The Voice they are singing songs that are already established hits. That’s why people want to see it. A show where folks only sang their original content would be a huge bomb.

    The very fact that the show is based on people singing pre-established hit songs shows that this is totally market driven. They are literally re-doing a song, not creating anything new.

    Whereas when we try and write formulaic fiction, you chide us for doing so–you greatly enjoy singers serving up pre-fab songs that are not original. I agree, The Voice is enormously entertaining.

    But you are missing the forest for the trees. The Voice works because it is serving a pre-established market for songs that are already proven, NOT delivering original content from fresh new voices.

    • dwsmith

      G, as I remember saying a few years back, we are just going to have to agree to disagree. I try to help people get to love of writing and careers that will last for a very long time. You are more focused on today and making money now, right now. Fine. So you look at even something like the advice from the Voice coaches, who have lived in the arts and make a success out of it, with your filter of making money now, must be crass commercial everything.

      Sorry, just don’t agree. An artist who is who they are, finds what they love with their music or writing, are the ones who go forward to being superstars. The others play in bars doing cover songs and making a little money. Granted, they are doing music, but here I try to help writers chase their own dreams, their own art, their own voice. And I make no bones about it being a long journey and not an easy one. There is no shortcut to making a living with writing, no matter what you might want to make people believe.

      And let me define making a living. I made a living with my writing in 1989. I am making a living with my writing in 2016. And most years between. I have been a professional writer. I have made mistakes, the ones you advocate people do and the ones I shout for people not to do. They are mistakes and even a few of your posts have come close to admitting that.

      Writing is a business, sure. When the writing is done. But you take that business back before the writing and into the writing and into the art and that’s why you are asking for trouble. Keep the business after the writing, not in the decision process of what to write or how to write it. And that’s where we differ completely.

      • G

        Dean, We do disagree. But I learn from disagreement, from analyzing an opposing viewpoint and then having that back and forth over it…

        So although I am disagreeing with you, I am also learning from you.

        You’re correct, I have admitted that you make very valid points about the dangers of writing to market, especially when done to an extreme extent where the market is the only consideration.

        I hope you understand that I don’t come on here to pick fights with you and try to “win” anybody over to “my side.” I’m on here because of the discussion, and because I am an avid fan of your blog.

        Do I sometimes get frustrated with what I feel is a mischaracterization of the write to market mindset? Yes. But it’s a mild frustration at best.

        Your way of looking at writing and selling is pretty much opposite to what I do, but in the end I enjoy your posts, your way of detailing the writer’s life, and many of your chief criticisms of writers “doing it wrong” (over-editing, too much self-critical talk, etc) are things I completely agree with.

        Anyway, I hope that my honest disagreement hasn’t annoyed you too much.

        • dwsmith

          Not in the slightest, G. I too like good discussion on a civil level, which you always do, even when we don’t agree. Thanks!

  • Annie Reed

    Interesting comments re The Voice and formulaic fiction.

    One of the best lessons I’ve learned from watching The Voice is about how to take an expected story and make it your own unique individual version without disappointing the audience’s expectations. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” – we all know what that sounds like. It’s Frank. Undeniably, immediately recognizable as Frank. Now go watch/listen to Billy Gilman’s version of “My Way.” He took that song and made it his own. Ditto with what Sundance Head did with Etta James’ “At Last.” Both those singers had passion for the song, and it showed. They loved what they were singing, and that showed too.

    So the finalists on The Voice this season built an audience singing their versions of pre-existing hit songs. In the finale, they each sang an original song. All four original songs hit iTunes’ top ten singles chart, and those songs were all in the genre that each of the singers obviously loved because their passion for their original songs showed too. But those original songs also met genre expectations for the listeners.