How to Communicate: For People and Artists 

By  Judy Fine

People tend to believe that good communication is about knowing what you want to say. And that is certainly an important step. If you’re not clear on the message, it’ll be hard to deliver it. But this is only one step in successful communication.

I’ve heard others say that good communication is about listening. I understand the point of this statement, and it makes for a great Facebook meme. But once I know the What of my message, I hardly think listening would be the next step.

No. The next step after What is How. And this is where a lot of communication goes awry. We see things the way we see them, and we forget that the view, language, and experience is always different from another angle. That angle could be influenced by your past experiences, or your personal priorities, how you interpret certain words, or a myriad of other variables. And from that standpoint, no perspective is wrong. They’re just different.

Nothing drove this home for me more than my experiences practicing in bands. And when I began to apply a similar approach to the messages of my craft and business, it was equally beneficial. Before we get to that, though, imagine this scenario during a band rehearsal:

Drummer:  Let’s go back to the part where I go (swings arms around wildly) bap-bu-bee-boo, taka-taka-tee, taka-taka-tee.

Rhythm Guitarist: You mean the section where I’m strumming on the upbeats?

Keyboardist: No. Where I play that string pad for eight measures, right?

Drummer: No, the part where I go (swings arms around wildly again) bap-bu-bee-boo, taka-taka-tee, taka-taka-tee.

Singer: You mean, when I sing “Ooh baby” twice?

Drummer: No. This part. Taka-taka-tee, taka-taka-tee.

Rhythm Guitarist: Right! Where I’m strumming on the upbeats.

Lead Guitarist: Just before the solo at the bridge?

Drummer: No. This part. Taka-taka-tee, taka-taka-tee.

Singer: Oh! I know what you mean. When I’m riffing on the word “looooove!”

Drummer: No! I quit! (starts taking down his set).

This is an exaggerated interaction, but only a little.

The problem in this scenario is that everyone understands the song from the perspective of their own experience with it. None of them is aware enough of the other members’ perspectives to be able to communicate productively. If the drummer knew what his bandmates were doing at the place in the song he wanted to practice, he’d have been able to easily communicate what he wanted.

The same goes for your craft, whatever it may be. If you have a great idea for a song, choosing the best lyrics and structuring them in a way that will be understood and memorable for the listener isn’t “selling out to the capitalist complex.” It’s putting your great message into a format where it’ll best be received. Isn’t that the point of having a message?

I often get pushback from creative folks who “don’t want to ruin their art by learning music theory.” But the reality is, Western music theory is ingrained in our culture. Our ears already know what it sounds like, training or not. You can innovate inside it, but everyone will know if you do it straight-up wrong. It’s like saying, I don’t want to ruin my writing by learning the alphabet. It’s silliness. But I’ve gotten a little off-track.

Changing how you communicate so you can be understood by someone who doesn’t think like you is not giving in or selling out. It’s being a good communicator. Which means, a well-delivered message will change according to circumstances.

If I want to help a singer who is very religious open up and let loose, I’ll tell him to spread his arms, look upward, and sing to God. If I want the same from an atheist singer who loves being out in nature, I’ll tell her to imagine she’s standing at the rocky summit of a mountain she just climbed and sing to the glorious setting sun. I don’t do this because I’m two-faced about religious convictions. I do it because good communication isn’t about me. It’s about the person I’m communicating to.

So the next time you get frustrated by someone who doesn’t understand you, ask yourself, “Am I being like that drummer Judy wrote about?” Then, instead of examining your message (or giving up), examine the receiver. And learn that person’s language.

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Judy Fine

Judy Fine has been a vocal and performance coach since 2007, specializing in artist development coaching for aspiring singers and confidence coaching for everyone.

  • “Good communication is about the person I am communicating to” – this is good.

  • The band is strange. Nobody recognized the taka-taka-tee? Are they deaf or something? 😀

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