Should you Changes Lyrics for a New Audience?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

I’m a pretty wholesome mom, inside and out. Except when I write songs. When I sit down with my guitar at night and start strumming, the first lyrics that come to mind aren’t about dinosaurs and eating vegetables. I drift to another place — my mind drawn to more salacious topics, like sex and politics or even gay rights and gun ownership. I’ve been known to drop more F bombs than your average mom singer (is there an “average mom singer,” though?).  

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with songs about dinosaurs — kindie-rock performers like Laurie Berkner write some killer dinosaur tunes. But it’s not the way I’m wired. For this reason, I use a stage name that’s separate from my real identity so my guitar students will have a harder time finding my music online.

Here’s the problem: Unlike my contemporaries who are famous, I don’t have the luxury of playing whatever gig at whatever venue I want whenever I want. While I believe moms should be proud to be themselves — whether they want to write about dinosaurs or sexual fantasies — club promoters and bar managers don’t aways see it that way. So unless I’m playing a dive bar or indie-rock show in Brooklyn, I feel pressured to alter my lyrics considerably. Sometimes, I’ll have to completely gut a song, lyrically — which inevitably leaves me feeling a little empty. 

This happened at First Night Delaware about 15 years ago, with my D.C. band Grandma’s Mini. We were given $400 to play a New Year’s Eve gig for four hours, only to learn last minute that we would be playing four back-to-back sets in a library. Yes, a LIBRARY! Children would be coming to see us!! If you’ve ever heard Grandma’s Mini — whose most famous song, “Learn to Love Your Sh*t Job” was featured in the indie flick Washington Interns Gone Bad — you know that most of our songs aren’t meant for the ears of innocent children. So it was a mad, 20-minute scramble for me and Ann (my music partner) to come up with alternate lyrics.

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Playing “not so innocent” music with my band Grandma’s Mini

While I don’t mind playing cute songs like “Baby Shark” or “Shiny” when I’m playing a library gig or for my sons’ preschool, I hate watering down content like this. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better to turn down gigs altogether than change in the slightest, which can feel inauthentic. When money’s involved, the decision gets a little harder. Ann and I weren’t about to let go of $400 after we’d booked hotels and arrived on site. 

There are other considerations too. I’m a super-busy mom who rocks — but also works. I barely have time to market my band, or any musical project I’m involved in. I can’t be picky. If I get asked to play at any event, it’s an honor.

On the other hand, life is short: People shouldn’t have to compromise who they are in their hearts. Cardi B doesn’t!

What would you do if you were in my shoes? Take the gigs that require a change in lyrical content, or just be grateful for what you get and adapt as needed? 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy.

2 thoughts on “Should you Changes Lyrics for a New Audience?

  1. Honestly, it sucks that the First Night couldn’t have done a little research and hired a kindie band for that gig and placed you in a setting with an appropriate audience for your original music (which sounds awesome, by the way). There are so many of us kindie musicians who do put so much effort into writing fun creative songs for kids & grownups to rock out to together. Even when I play covers I am very conscious of the lyrics & do change words occasionally when I think they don’t send a good message since kids are absorbing *everything* — subtle or not. Sounds like you handled that particular situation well, but it highlights a bigger problem among event organizers & for those of us in the kindie world who are often hustling to gig & create music while momming. Hard to get anyone to shine sunlight on your music & notice you for gigs even when you would be a perfect fit. My two cents!
    — Marsha
    (of Marsha and the Positrons
    http://www.marshaandtheposiitrons.com)

  2. Hi Marsha — you raise a really great point. Organizers should do a better job of putting appropriate bands in appropriate settings — The kindie market is as competitive (if not moreso) than other markets. However, there are very few paid opportunities for original musicians whose content is not “family” oriented so I kind of just went with the flow.. Had we not taken that gig, we wouldn’t have gotten paid anything.

    That said, I absolutely support all of my kindie mom musician peers — and appreciate the huge effort they put into their work, and would love to help them in any way I can (next time we can gig again).

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