IntroductionSinger/songwriters are musicians who write,
compose and sing their own musical material including lyrics and melodies. As opposed to contemporary popular music singers, the term singer/songwriter describes a distinct form of artistry, closely associated with the folk-acoustic tradition.
Singer/songwriters often perform the entire composition or song themselves, typically using a guitar or piano; both the compositions and the arrangements are written primarily as solos, with the material angled toward topical issues; sometimes political, sometimes introspective, sensitive, romantic, and confessional.
OriginsThe concept of a singer/songwriter can be traced to
ancient bardic tradition, which has existed in various forms throughout the world. (Bardic Poetry refers to the writings of poets trained in the Bardic Schools of Ireland and the Gaelic parts of Scotland.)
Poems would be performed as a chant or song, sometimes accompanied by a harp or other similar instruments. After the invention of printing, songs would be written and performed by ballad sellers. Usually these would be versions of existing tunes and lyrics, which were constantly evolving. This developed into the singer/songwriting traditions of folk culture.
History: Folk and BluesThe term "singer/songwriter" in North America
can be traced back to singers who developed works in the blues and folk music style.
The tradition of writing topical songs (songs regarding specific issues of the day, such as Lead Belly's "Jim Crow Blues“) was established by this group of musicians. Singers would attend rallies for labour unions, and so wrote many songs concerning the life of the working classes, and social protest; as did other folksingers while blues singers wrote songs about their personal life experiences.
History: Folk and BluesDuring the period from the 1940s
through the 1960s, sparked by the American folk music revival, young performers inspired by traditional folk music and groups like the Almanac Singers and The Weavers began writing and performing their own original material and creating their own musical arrangements.
History: Folk, Blues and CountryThe first popular recognition of the
singer/songwriter North America and Great Britain occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s when a series of blues, folk and country-influenced musicians rose to popularity.
In contrast to the storytelling approach of most prior country and folk music, these performers typically wrote songs from a highly personal (often first-person), introspective point of view. The adjectives "confessional" and "sensitive" were often used to describe this early singer/songwriter style.
History: CountryIn the country music field,
singer/songwriters emerged from the 1940s through the 1960s, often writing compelling songs about love, relationships and other subjects.
History: RockAdditionally in the 1930s through the
1950s several jazz and blues singer/songwriters emerged as well as in the rock n' roll genre from which emerged influential singer-songwriters.
While the members of rock bands of the era were not technically singer/songwriters as solo acts, many were singer/songwriters who created songs with other band members.
History: Pop and Rock
By the mid-1970s and early 1980s, the original wave of singer/songwriters had largely been absorbed into a more general pop or soft rock format, but some new artists in the singer/songwriter tradition to emerge, and in other cases rock and even punk rock artists transitioned to careers as solo singer/songwriters.
Examples: Bob Dylan Bob Dylan is an American musician,
singer/songwriter, music producer, artist, and writer. Active from 1961 – present. His most famous song at this time, "Blowin' in the Wind", partially derived its melody from the traditional slave song "No More Auction Block", while its lyrics questioned the social and political status quo.
Examples: Tracy ChapmanTracy Chapman is an American
singer/songwriter. Chapman is widely regarded as a politically and socially active musician. During college, Chapman began busking in Harvard Square and playing guitar in various clubs and coffeehouses before she got her first record deal in 1986.
Examples: Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand is an American singer/songwriter, author, actress, writer, film producer, and director. As the 1970s ended, Streisand was named the most successful female singer in the U.S. - only Elvis Presley and The Beatles had sold more albums.
Examples: Sheryl CrowSheryl Crow is an American musician,
singer/songwriter, record producer, actress and political activist. Her music incorporates elements of rock, folk, hip hop, country, and pop. Active from 1986.
She has sold more than 17 million albums in the US and over 50 million albums worldwide.
IndependenceRecording on the professional-grade
systems became affordable for individuals in the late 1990s. This created opportunities for people to independently record and sell their music. Such singer/songwriters are known as "indies" because they release their records on independent, often self-owned record labels, or no label at all. Additionally the Internet has provided a means for indies to get their music heard by a wider audience.
Key Instruments: Acoustic GuitarThe acoustic guitar is widely used with
singer/songwriters as it gives a simple but effective sound and allows the artist to compose the whole song themselves.
Ed Sheeran Gabrielle Aplin
Key Instruments: PianoThe piano is also used because of
the solo aspect of it and its compelling sound.
Emeli SandeElton John
Technology: Loop pedalThe loop pedal is a piece of equipment
on stage with the singer. It is used to record live sounds and play them back on a loop overlapping each other so there is no need for a backing track. It is rarely used but is most popular with artists of the singer/songwriter genre.
Album Covers The album
covers are usually very simplistic, with not much more than the artist’s face.
StyleSinger/songwriters usually wear
simple, casual clothes in music videos and on stage as to not distract from the brilliance of the song.