Sunday, October 07, 2012

Song right

I've started a blog on songwriting and lyrics. Haven't progressed to customising the Wordpress template but never mind.

In that same spirit, at my approaching half centenary, a demonstration of how to be prolific and proficient in the art of lyrical composition.

If you can capture a rhythm and mood for the song, using a schema that emphasises the real characteristics of the subject matter, then you'll have a crafted number to work with. Sometimes the sounds of the words or phrases or lines conjure a certain feeling in the listener. If you have the skill, you can break any rules I might be in the process of creating, but this is a guide to aid the novice or fellow songwriter who is looking to change styles or embrace more techniques.

You don't have to have a snappy or original title for your song to be popular or accomplished, or even great. Nor do you need to set the world on fire (to choose another popular motif in the songword crafting fraternity) with your unique approach to genre or theme, or even subject matter.

But if you do have the ability to write a song with resonance while sneaking in your pet project, then the arresting title will get you that wider audience, especially if you can pound those metaphors into the ground.

If you get too bizarre or comic, you'll find it hard to get seriously noticed for your other work. Comic writers have their own market and following, but that's a choice.

And the gimmick is more or less forgivable according to genre. The cry to come and see my wit that is the more rhinestone corner of Nashville, only works on some occasions and can still wear out its welcome if there is an initial chuckle or recognition.

Songs worn smooth with association persist, even if a swelling contingent of listeners are now turned off by that sound or message. But if you're aiming for the superior song that you can still turn out at a reasonable rate despite its combination of qualities, then you need to take the next strata where smoke on the water obscures a stairway to Heaven.

Nor do the enduring classics of the underground and independent arena fare the worse for exposure. How many times has Psycho been covered? A crazed fifties country tune covered by the punk and grunge grit-erati of decades to follow.


How does this all work in practice? I don't see why I should tell you my secrets, except for the fact that you're here reading the ramblings of this old fart, so there has to some pay-off and show of appreciation for doing so.

Alright then, let's say that in your quest to prove your skill in the craft of clever or substantial song construction, you agree to take on any title or any idea. I did this very thing on a message board I was on and it was a lot of fun.

Some delinquent yells out 'Wearing a Raincoat in the Theatre' and instead of berating him you compile a hasty collection of images 'yellow' 'hood' 'plastic' 'wet [rain]'/ usherette, balcony, stage, wings. Speaking personally, I've made extensive use of these latter images in my Self Reflexive Song Suite so it isn't something I feel any pressing need to remark further on in verse.

But this gathering of notions or concepts or icons that fit in with both raincoat and theatre are what drives your piece. That being the case, you might need to take another balcony shot or again pace the stage.

"Sheltering with Shakespeare from the showers'
'The setting for getting away from the storm'
'Walled wailings drown the thunder out'
'High and dry in the bleachers wit'
'Panting over pantaloons on those not predisposed'
'An Ark type'

Note that these are nothing more than random capsule snapshots that could provide a path to pursue. Mostly they're done subconsciously since my conscious mind doesn't really pour concentration onto a song until I've settled on the direction I'm going to take.

The first encourages the song recipient to focus on what is taking place in the theatre, the second contrasts inside and outside the theatre, explaining the raincoat and relief. The others are variations thereof. You'll note that only the second last even goes in the direction that our most common understanding of raincoats in a theatre conjures. But this isn't out of some desire to be different; the emptying of accepted associations in favour of using the words of the title alone to inform what the song will be about opens fresh lines yet stays true to the topic. A further possibility makes itself known at this juncture: there's no reason why you can't have bits of plastic, a hint of hood, inside/outside, wet/dry. You can take this in any direction, or you can take it in several.

So now imagine your second contributor suggests something equally tricky or boorish; that you write a song with such a wellworn title that it all but begs you to reproduce the same tired tropes. How can you work even that and make it fresh? Let's say "Baby I Love You" which would bear the title of less songs than used by "Baby" and "I Love You" but still pops up often enough.

Well, it's important not to have any existing song in your head, and you have to approach this exercise as though you were coming up with something startlingly original.

If I was basing a whole song on telling my baby I loved them, then I'd assume that Baby is a term of affection that shows love interest and proceeds with a range of flattering terms and show of devotion. Another take might be that we don't assume you've forgotten her name. A spray of "Baby"s makes it okay.

And I know I said stay away from deliberate humour but a song with the protagonist (be they female or male) using Baby is because of the number of love interests they've had. Too many to remember names.

Or you could have this narrative where you're telling this person that you love them - even if no one else does (or Mummy or Daddy don't or other kith and kin don't). Baby I love you. I don't worship you, I don't follow you, I don't believe you, I don't dream about you. I just love you.
The last one here is the hardest. It's 'Baby I love you' because isn't this the normal focus; you telling your "baby" that you love them.

Here you have the choice of personalising this person you're addressing through the song. This 'you' in "Baby I love you". Is this person a drunkard or a thief, a boisterous blaggard? This is as possible as them being some heroic romantic rescue, but harder to write, since  you have to convince that you have this conflicting impression of your loved one, rather than wholehearted admiration.

Either way is bound to have been canvassed in 'Baby I Love You's of yore. The 'you' could be highly individualistic but how well has this worked when stacked up against the ones that opted for platitude over attitude? That shouldn't be a concern when writing. You are opening up to whatever ideas or snippets appear on the page or screen. I think you can make the second person distinctive by painting a vivid and appealing picture of who this person is.

What if you're being asked to invest it with an emotional resonance? This is upping the ante because now you're occupying the same well plowed field as all those other Baby I love you composers

We've already had 'I get no kicks from champagne/cocaine' but I get a kick out of you, so saying you love this individual and not other things is not an original approach in tackling Baby I love you and it has to be if you're going to make any headway in unwisely choosing the last word in the phrase to emphasise.

Of course there's no lack of different types that could occupy the place of 'you'; just imagine the possibilities of addressing a cosmonaut this way.

For your third song title, a  playwright appears at your elbow and, holding your gaze, asks whether you can deliver a song or suite or snippets for this musical that's being produced. Can you complete this if they give you the gist of the work (I don't want to crowd your creativity), what it's to be about, and the tone?
You express you interest and ask for more information.

So now it can be about more than the song.

Though you're writing for a specific project, you're being given  Carte blanche

First auditioning part for playwright giving you this assignment is an earnest humanities student doing a political play entitled 'No Fracking Way'. Next nervous but not without talent is a biographer who wants to put the life of an identity into a musical a la Evita. Or your playwright - or musical director if you prefer - has an ambitious plan to tell an involved, both in dialogue and props, story on the stage. Fourth candidate for performance perfecting and proficient imprimatur is the oughtta auteur who gives you a title more than a synopsis. You after all are providing colouring; you're not the main attraction and neither are your songs.

So let the title be 'Rags'. You could depict tramps in tunnels but this is the most shopworn association for rags. They're used by mechanics. Or maybe they are rags being worn but it's "you" describing how it feels to be wearing rags. There's the ragbag where old favourite shirts and slacks end up. And there's the musical rag.

You could use rhyme

'bags', 'dags' 'crags' 'mags' 'f(l)ags' 'hags' 'shags' 'stags'

or assonance

'rugs' 'rigs' 'rogues'

or alliteration

'rivets' 'rips' 'rough' 'wretched'

or let the narrative direct what devices are put into play

Will you need an oboe for the hobo, or are these rags used in other ways in this work? Perhaps it's the "rag trade" but that's a stretch.

The point is, your rags rejoinder will form part of the overall performance piece, even if it's just piped through speakers.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home