How to Become a Big-Time Filksinger

How to Become a Big-Time Filksinger:
Tips for the Neo Filker

By John Hall, © 1979

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1. If your voice is not as good as it might be, sing louder. Volume is an acceptable substitute for tone. Besides, if nobody can hear that golden-voiced bastard on your right, maybe they won't realize how bad you sound.

2. Presentation is very important. A long, boring introduction will make even the worst song sound better by comparison.

3. A filksing can lose momentum waiting for some turkey to tune their guitar. Remember that as long as most of your strings are within a quarter-tone of the right note, most people can't hear the difference. If you must tune, do so while somebody else is singing.

4. The guitar is not the only acceptable instrument. Be creative! Play your banjo, bagpipe, accordion or trombone. Philistines may say your instrument is not suited to a particular song. Ignore them. "Mary O'Meara" might sound good on a kazoo.

5. In a busy sing, the neo must be aggressive and grab any chance to start his song. Between verses of somebody else's song works well.

6. Don't bother to practice singing or playing between cons. A performer of your stature doesn't need any more practice.

7. If a fellow singer screws up a song (doesn't sing it the way you do), always correct him loudly. He should appreciate constructive criticism. On the other hand, if someone tries this on you, a superior look and a knowing reference to the "Folk Process" will cow all but the most obstinant heckler.

8. If you have a poor memory for songs, bring your songbooks to the sing. For comfortable reading, put the book flat in front of you. Look down at it as you sing. Never look up at your audience; you might miss a word.

9. You may find yourself at a sing with a singer who wrote a song that got a lot of applause when she premiered it at the last con you attended. You know how modest filksingers are, so be a friend and save her the embarassment of another such ovation. Sing the song yourself, early in the evening. Don't worry if you don't know it very well, your friend will help you out. (Maybe all the way out.)

10. Don't be shy. You have the right to sing as many songs in a row as you want.

I can say without reservation that any singer who takes these ten simple rules to heart and practices them vigorously will find that, more quickly than he expects, he will gain a reputation for his singing. His deeds will be mentioned often at filksings and in the fannish press. With surprising regularly, he will be the star singer at very small, extremely exclusive filksings.

(This piece was originally printed in Kantele #1, Summer/Fall 1979, published by Margaret Middleton; included in FilkOff with John Hall's permission.)