ARTICLE: Don’t mean a thing…

Don’t mean a thing, (if it ain’t got that swing) (By Kenny Love)

I love the old Jazz standard, ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing.)’ Indeed, one of my all time favorites, writers Irving Mills and The Duke (Ellington) probably had no idea that it would fit so appropriately in so many areas today when they wrote it back in 1932.

Adding further credence to its lyrics, probably, one of the most blatant examples of irony in the Music industry, is the fact that many, if not most, “creative” artists, in the forms of musicians, are not truly creative at all, in several respects.

Sure, as writers, musicians and singers, comparative to most of the general population that is not musically talented, we stand out.

But, even so, within our own confines, we are often simply repeating a riff we have heard, a line we may have played from an obscure piece of music, or a phrase we have sung, somewhere, at some time, whether intentionally or subliminally.

And, sure, we can flip it, flop it, slam it against the wall and drop it…reshape it to the point of it being no longer recognizable. But, in doing so, is it just the same old thang, or a new bang?

What I am speaking of, is ever present on our turf, and within our normal existence of the daily commercial music world. And, it knows no bounds while transcending every commercial genre.

So, what is it?

It is known as ‘Formulae’ (form-u-lay). Now, in researching the term, I found a number of definitions, but the most applicable ones specific to the Music industry, are:

1. A method of doing or treating something that relies on an established, uncontroversial model or approach.

2. A prescription of ingredients in fixed proportion; a recipe.

3. An utterance of conventional notions or beliefs.

While on one hand, it can present itself as a disciplinary rule in organization, the obvious downside of ‘formulae’ is its consistence in serving to, eventually, bore the audience upon which it is, repeatedly, visited.

Visual Imagery
Several apt examples of formulae that are being used in today’s Music industry can overtly be seen in music videos. What begins as one unique hairstyle, dance, or other element, and used successfully on its audience, almost immediately, results in a ton of ‘copycat’ artists attempting to capitalize on the newfound element(s).

In many RAP music videos, it is the purveying message that, whatever one desires should be taken by force and attitude, with the reward being an endless supply of wealth and women.

Yo! Whazzup wit dat?

ROCK musicians’ images, on the other hand, seem to carry the message that, in order to be a real rocker (whatever that means), it is a requirement that your hair be no shorter than waist-length, lest ye fail miserably in the Rock music world.

I want it permed, babe…and if ya have time, give me a layer job as well, doll.

Sound (Voices)
Alright, COUNTRY musicians…you aren’t getting off *that* easily. Okay, blame it on my inner ear’s subscription to a combination of tinnitis and vertigo but, until recently, I couldn’t tell the difference between such twangers as George Jones, Randy Travis and John Anderson.

In fact, one of the few unique male voices in Country that really stood out with me, was Johnny Cash. As for female Country artists with unique voices, I believe Dolly Parton wins hands down or is, at least, in the running lead.

Now, I’ve cited these examples to substantiate and circumvent the idea that few of us in the industry, whether as artists, labels, executives or whatever, are even willing to step outside the proverbial “safe zone” and provide a fresh breath of uniqueness to our ever hungry audiences.

In fact, further irony of Indie musicians and the independent concept finds that, in many instances and, very often, it ends up looking just like the corporate version of the industry that most of us claim to hate, in the interest of commercial synthesis.

Alright, Ma! Tell me again… which one is the alligator, and which one is the crocodile?

CD Covers
Take CD covers… over the course of your lifetime, how many covers can you recall that made an indelible print in your mind? I’ll bet very few, as most covers come off anal retentive, along with sending the message, “Hey! We’re four guys from Brooklyn! Look at us and our toothy smiles! Ain’t we kewl?”

Instead of displaying a photo shoot of you in a trance, why not do something really different and bold with your CD cover? The best way to enhance your cover is to allow its graphic to support and strongly relate to your title. In other words, act out your title… put it into “action.” Make it a verb (remember those?), instead of a plain old noun.

Call it a handicap of mine, but whenever I see a title that could have had a dramatic presence and response with a different and more supportive graphic idea, I start to itch, get chills and want to reach out and “touch” the creator.

I’m not sure if the reasons artists *don’t* take liberties with enhancing their covers and their respective titles past the basic ‘photo shoot’ are because their creativity ends with their music, or they feel they will appear silly and criticized if they present anything other than themselves.

But I am of the opinion that the reason many artists fail to generate interest at the initial stage is, the failure of imagery and visual concept follow-through.

The point of this article, is to get artists to thinking about, yet, another area that most are overlooking, but an area that is critical to their success.

Everything about your entertainment career that you have chosen, in relation to performance, should have IMPACT! Pow! Bam! Boom! Every aspect of your career should leave a memorable impression on its beholders, in one form, or another.

Your impact should feel like a bee sting, at every available opportunity of which you are presenting yourself as a performing artist.

Just as radio airplay will be short-lived if you aren’t getting press coverage and, vice versa, your music sales will also suffer to a large degree if your cover is just another shot of you sitting there, holding your guitar, and looking like you are wondering which direction to turn for the next shot.

As the proverbial shameless plug goes, if you would like to venture into conceptual covers, and am now ready for something more than the “deer in the headlights” stare for your cover, check out how I can be a significant benefit to you at

And, let’s do what we can to eliminate the boredom factor, while livening up a deadpan existence through revisiting uniqueness, creativity and originality to their fullest extents.

For, it don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that sting.

“It Don’t Mean A Thing (if it Ain’t Got That Swing)”

Written by: Irving Mills Written by: Duke Ellington (Edward Kennedy Ellington) From: 1932

What good is melody, what good is music
If it ain’t possessin’ something sweet
It ain’t the melody, it ain’t the music
There’s something else that makes the tune complete
It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing
It don’t mean a thing, all you got to do is sing
It makes no diff’rence if it’s sweet or hot
Just give that rhythm ev’rything you got
It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.

Editor’s Note: Kenny Love has an extensive background in both the Music and Writing industries. Learn about the new services that he is providing to unsigned and independent recording artists in response to today’s shaken and fractionalized Music industry by sending an email request to

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