Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stirring the Creative Pot 1

Where do these ideas come from? What’s the story?

Take a look and listen to songs you know (and what you like). For some, songwriting is telling a story in a song. That’s how I see it – yes, there are people and companies creating rhythms and dance mixes and grooves and so on. Sometimes they tell a story – a very, very simple one.

I don’t think that every piece of music, every song, must have lyrics. Have a listen to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, for instance. There’s a story there, and it moves me to tears though I’ve been listening to it for decades. My interpretation of the story might be different from yours, but there is a story there.

Rod Stewart said “every picture tells a story, don’t it?” (Well, he wasn’t the first, but that’s besides the point). Every song tells a story. It might not be a traditional “folk song story,” but it’s still a story, and very often the story is told with an economy of words, and an economy of chords. Etta James sang “I Would Rather Go Blind” in a two-chord progression (I – ii) (which is C – D minor if you’re in C) and mopped the floor with us. “I would rather go blind…than to see you walk away from me.”

Next time you listen to a song, ask yourself “what’s the story here?” It may seem obvious, but thinking about it gets you to thinking about song construction.

Sometimes I’ve decided to write a song about a certain topic, and sometimes the song idea just hits me and it pours out. The thing about songwriting is that there’s no real “right” or “wrong” way to get started. There are certain things in crafting the song that make it more accessible to listeners, and I’ll be covering those over time as well. But for now, listen for the stories in the songs you like, and keep writing your own.