Tuesday, September 09, 2008
The singer-songwriter is a modern popular music phenomenon. The term's meaning is fairly implicit; a singer-songwriter is a musician who not only performs but also writes the music that they are performing. Though the act of writing your own material is somewhat par for the course in modern popular, rock and country music, the term evolved in a time when singers and performers, not songwriters, ruled the day. As the presence of performers who composed their songs became more and more common, the term singer-songwriter switched to refer to a specific style of music, one that is often associated with folk or country traditions.
Though a Latin tradition had started years before, the American singer-songwriter appeared in the late 60s and early 70s. It was a style bred out of necessity in a tumultuous time; songwriters typically shied away from writing about touchy, political topics, and the many folk artists, including Carole King, Bob Dylan and James Taylor, felt the need for an alternate view to be expressed. Additionally, these singer-songwriter artists (many of whom had been writing for other musicians) desperately wanted to perform their own material instead of handing it over to someone else destined for its glory. It took awhile, but record labels eventually latched on to the singer-songwriter influx, understanding its impact on both the public and the industry.
As time passed and the war ended, the folksy singer-songwriter tradition seemed to slow considerably, but the mark had been made; artists attracted to the singer-songwriter trend began writing and performing their music, forcing self-composition into the limelight as an industry standard. And even though nearly every rock band could be considered a group built of the singer-songwriter, the term stayed firmly rooted within the folk tradition; the label itself didn't re-emerge until the mid-90s, when a wave of female singer-songwriter artists such as Indigo Girls, Sarah McLachlan and Suzanne Vega revived the original form. It has since branched slightly out of the folk scene, encompassing such rock-influenced singer-songwriter artists as Bright Eyes and Dashboard Confessional.