Every Songwriter Is More Than Just a Voice

Leah Capelle on how activism is the responsibility of all artists.

What is our responsibility as artists? Is it to provide a much needed break from the heaviness of the news? Is it to simply provide entertainment, to become one more distraction from the daily responsibilities of life? Is it to be the voice of our whole generation, or to be just a voice for those who can’t put their feelings into words?

Social activism and music have gone hand-in-hand for decades. From the rambunctious rebellion of the hippie generation and anti-Vietnam movement to the anti-culture rebellions of the ‘80s and ‘90s, musicians have always had a platform to make a difference in the world around them. Think back to Joni Mitchell’s early work: She wrote music both for herself and for the people of her time. In interviews regarding feminism in music, she is the first to say that she was not a feminist — just a woman in a man’s world who could write and perform with the best of them. But by being a woman and making the strides she did, her voice was that much more potent. More palpable. She didn’t pretend to have an agenda, she simply wrote from within and shared that message outward. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is perhaps one of the most famous social commentary songs of all time, and still to this day leaves a lasting impact on listeners. But at what point does that social platform become tired and overplayed? Is there a moment when it becomes disingenuous?

By expressing emotions through music, every songwriter is more than just a voice. By being empaths, by feeling things more deeply than the average individual, artists are inherently social activists. Even if the activism is putting words to a feeling that someone, somewhere, needs to hear expressed out loud. This nuanced activism is an important part of every artists’ story. Determining what one believes in and fighting for those beliefs — however delicately — is how real change is made. Change is a wave, one fed by droplets of passion. It is hungry, terrifying, ever-swelling. But sometimes it isn’t enough to contribute one or two little droplets to the greater cause — sometimes that wave needs a storm.

The issue becomes when an artist’s social platform is nothing more than a façade — when a platform is used as a tool to gain followers, or to vaguely associate oneself with a cause to posture as a better person. In modern western society in which social media popularity has become the kingpin of influence, to the degree that “social media influencers” are highly paid to advertise for brands, it can be easy to get swept along in a movement for the sake of image and affiliation. Convenient bubble-gum “activism” runs rampant in the entertainment industry. This surface level interaction is false, and ultimately detracts from the genuine message at the core of any movement.

As a feminist, and a woman in music, I have seen this issue arise time and time again. I too am guilty of it in my younger years. I wasn’t interested in politics — I was a musician! What power could my young voice contribute to the greater good at 16 years old with an acoustic guitar and lack of insight? But even as I have gotten older, I have seen the permeation of this issue deepen. It is no longer an excuse to not be versed on the issues. With endless information available at our fingertips, the only excuse for ignorance is negligence — and we are living in a time in which negligence is no longer a viable out.

The expression “boots on the ground” is one that needs to be taken very literally now. If you honestly care about an issue — whatever that issue may be – get out and support that cause. Go to the marches, the fundraisers, the benefits. Donate what you can to causes that mean something to you. We are at war in America, whether you realize it or not. I don’t mean to sound preachy — I certainly don’t only write rally cries, nor do I mean to imply that the sole purpose of music in 2019 is to have a political agenda. But when you have a substantial platform, it is a waste to not shed light on issues that may be underserved and deserving of attention. With the 2020 Presidential Election already starting to escalate in the public sphere, make sincere choices about who you support, the issues that are vitally important to you, and then act on them. As musicians, we have a way to share our passion with a wide audience — and it’s important to not take that opportunity for granted.

“You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one / I hope someday you’ll join us / And the world will be as one”

—John Lennon

(Photo Credit: Ryan Saradjola)

Leah Capelle is a pop/rock singer-songwriter from Chicago and is currently based in Los Angeles pursuing a B.S. in Music Business at USC Thornton School of Music. Earlier this year, Capelle released a visual for “Settle Down,” a dauntless feminist ballad exploring identity, acceptance, and empowerment. We see Capelle completely vulnerable and exposed while also carrying a weight on her — a myriad of paint colors symbolizing societal projections and expectations placed mainly on women. The single — produced by Grammy-winning Jeff Bova (Eric Clapton, Celine Dion, Cyndi Lauper, Yoko Ono, Billy Joel, and many more) — dropped ahead of the new year along with Capelle’s Giants EP.

(Photo Credit: Ryan Saradjola)