From The Side of the Road… even bigger and still better

We sometimes don’t like to think of it this way, but we live in a fiercely competitive and ever-changing business, with all of us searching for ways to offer something unique, and to find something that will give our musical product even the slightest edge over the competition.

In other industries, it’s believed that it’s just necessary to make the big bigger or the good better. In the world of appliances, it’s the freezer that’s just a little bit deeper or the washing machine with one more cycle option (“incredibly delicate” or “dizzying spin”). In football, it’s the linebacker who weighs five more pounds than the previous guy, or in basketball, the center who’s half an inch taller.

Mind you, with physical products, once you’ve made the big bigger, it’s important to gradually shrink it year after year while charging the same money. It’s hard to do shrinkflation with CDs, which are all a uniform size, unless that’s really the point of the EP.

In the world of bluegrass music, there’s the temptation to just make everything a little higher and faster, sometimes within the same performance of a song. There’s a limit to this. Can you really make Bill Monroe’s version of White House Blues that much higher and faster without losing the feeling of the song, or the impact of lyrics like, “Look here you rascal, you see what you’ve done, you shot my husband and I’ve got your gun”? Sing it too fast and the drama is lost.

I think there are some other ways to take what you do to the “next level,” and I’ve jotted down a few ideas below. I was inspired by a songwriter in Canada who decided to rewrite some of Canada’s best-known songs but augment them to, in his view, give them that much more impact. The result was Five Strong Winds, a new and even windier take on the Ian Tyson classic, and Snowbirds, a plural version of Anne Murray’s early hit.

Personally, I think he should have drawn the line at Wreck of an Even Bigger Freighter Than the Edmund Fitzgerald, but that’s just one person’s opinion. Overall, I still think it’s a concept we can and should run with. 

We’ll start with band names. Try giving your band a name that expands on previous band names, a great opportunity for one-upmanship as a bluegrass artist:

  • Fourth Tyme Out (or IVth Tyme Out)
  • Blue Freeway (Interstate/Expressway/Autobahn, depending on where you’re based)
  • The Never Scene (Make your fans feel like every concert appearance is special and extremely rare)
  • The Destitute Ramblin’ Boys
  • Knock-out Punch Brothers
  • Trampled to Death by Rhinoceroses
  • Leftover Lobster (just upping the price per pound)
  • Volume 11 (in the spirit of Spinal Tap, why stop at 6?)

When in doubt, add superlatives and adverbs to up the ante:

  • Highest Fidelity
  • Extremely Lonesome River Band
  • Completely Authentic Unlimited to Infinity (CAUI for short)

Also, though the Clark Family can probably never be equaled for sheer quantity of children, why not make each family band a little bigger? (some adoption may be required).

  • The Shankman Quintuplets

Can we use the same process they used to arrive at Five Strong Winds to make our songs that much more exciting or dramatic?

  • Little Cabin Homes on the Hill (it’s starting to seem like a subdivision)
  • Two Pigs in a Pen (Could the one pretty little girl feed them both? Probably.)
  • This Year Has Been a Lonesome Year (much more worrying than one bad day)
  • On and On and On and On
  • Can’t You Hear Me Screaming?
  • Rock Salt, Nails, and Some Sharp Pebbles
  • Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and a Deafening Fire Alarm
  • Wayfaring Stranger Who’s Also Rank (combine song ideas for more emotional punch)
  • Handsome Molly and Tenbrooks
  • Bringing the Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake Home
  • The Shining But Wicked Path of Sin
  • Uncle Pen and Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party

When all else fails add “”The legendary . . .” to your business card.