Song Tells a Story...
Does it Need to be an Abstract
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For a musician, your songs
are your art. They are the physical
embodiment of your creative gifts. Every
bit of anger, happiness, angst, joy, pain, elation, knowledge or humor goes
into the story known as your song. You
write and re-write it, scouring over each note and word…perfecting it for
recording and live performance.
But when you play it for
others, you’re not getting the reaction you expected. Your friends, fans and
family seem less than enthusiastic as they dully respond, “Yeah. That was…um…good.” How could this be? You poured your soul into this piece. This was your “Stairway To Heaven”! This was your “Smells Like Team Spirit”! It’s a lyrically amazing ode about the
persecution of pagan midwives in grass hut tribes! It flows, it breathes, and it’s seven and a
half minutes of pure musical perfection!
Whoa. Stop right there, Mozart. You wrote a seven and a half minute song about
the persecution of pagan midwives in grass hut tribes and you’re wondering why
you’re thirteen year-old cousin fell asleep in the middle of the fourth verse? You wrote a seven and a half minute song about
the persecution of pagan midwives in grass hut tribes and you’re confused as to
why your drummer’s girlfriend began calling her friends on her cell phone
before the song had reached its bridge?
It may be hard to believe
when you’re penning an opus such as this, but the normal human brain is wired a
little differently than an accomplished musician's, like yourself. And although music is art, it’s also popular
culture and the goal should be for others to enjoy your creative efforts as
much as you do.
So, how can you make sure
that your writing experience is as positive as your audience's listening
experience? What can you, as musicians
do, to eliminate aspects of your songs that may alienate, confuse or just plain
bore your fans?
The following are a few tips
that may add success to your songwriting experience:
1.) After Four Minutes, It Becomes Background Music---Music
aficionado’s aside, the average person has roughly the attention span of a
young adult hummingbird. As a
songwriter, you need to grab your audience’s attention and hold it until the
end of the song before they flit off to something else more interesting to
them. Although four minutes (or less)
may seem like the blink of an eye when a songwriter is storytelling, it’s a
very long time to expect your run-of-the-mill club-goer or web-surfer to stay
fixated on your music.
2.) Tell Your Story As Directly As Possible---We all love
allusions, allegories, vague references, and subtle metaphors but use them
sparingly or become a beat poet. A
little abstractness goes a long way when writing a popular song. Song lyrics fly into people’s minds as
quickly as the bassist plucks out quarter notes. If you make your lyrics too complicated, then
your audience may still be trying to figure out the verse when you’re already
playing the chorus. This could prompt
the average listener to tune out your masterpiece, order another beer and
switch on their Ipod.
3.) If English Is Your First Language, Use It In Your
Song---It’s great that you’re an educated, cultured, artistic intellectual
sponge. But remember that most people
who hear your music are not book worms or art whores. Big, involved words make for memorable song
lyrics but use them occasionaly. It’s
good for your fans to ponder the meaning of a particular lyric but give them
too many to ponder and they’ll get so caught up in the words that they may forget
4.) Obscure Musicality Can Be Confusing Too---Lyrics
aren’t the only way to confuse the average listener. Obscure time signatures, discordant
instrumentation and avant guard drum lines may seem like genius to your fellow
musicians, but if your listeners can’t tap and/or hum along, you may find
yourself only invited to perform in underground opium bars where the audience
members have all had one too many hash brownie.
If you’re not sure where to
begin, start simple. Write a short, but
sweet, song that packs an emotional punch in a universal way. Write about something everyone is familiar
with: love, politics, lifestyle issues or the sociology of being a human being
on the planet. Once people have fallen
in love with your music, it will be easier to get them to give the extra listen
to your more complicated, artistic pieces.
Remember that just because a
song is popular or easily understood, doesn’t mean that it’s not good
creativity. Art is subjective, and truly
in the eye of the beholder. Your least
favorite song could be someone else’s favorite.
You never have to stop being creative or artistic, just acknowledge that
there’s an audience out there that wants to hear what you have to say…but
they’ll need to be able to comprehend it first.
Sheena Metal is a radio host, producer,
promoter, music supervisor, consultant, columnist, journalist and
musician. Her syndicated radio program, Music Highway
Radio, airs on over 700 affiliates to more than 126
million listeners. Her musicians’
assistance program, Music Highway, boasts over 10,000 members. She currently promotes numerous live shows
weekly in the Los
AngelesArea, where she resides. For more info: http://www.sheena-metal.com.