One Man Production Machine Part 2: Capture the Audience With Your Songwriting
Welcome to the second part of our weekly series on production and arrangement with Ed Elefterion. Take it away Ed!
I don’t care what style or genre you write in – or whether you use lyrics or not – one thing that everyone from Quincy Jones on down agrees with is…
It Ain’t Easy.
For the purposes of this series – and because I think it will be helpful to most of you – I’m going to assume you write songs with lyrics.
What Makes a Song a Song?
You create words (lyrics) that tell some sort of story (more on the different kinds of storytelling later), create sounds (music) to tell a parallel story, then combine the lyrics and music to create yet another story (a more deeply emotional one), then manage the internal relationship of these elements, and organize the whole thing in terms of time (rhythm and duration).
That’s quite a juggling act.
Let’s say you start with an idea for a song. You’ve got your guitar or keyboard. How do you turn the idea inside your head into something tangible that you can play, arrange, change, record and even teach to other musicians?
Everyone Has Their Own Way
There’s no wrong way to do this. The trick is, finding the way that’s most efficient and satisfying for you.
There are 3 possible outcomes after reading this post:
- What works for me might work very well for you.
- What works for me might nudge you towards something you didn’t try before that ends up – through trial and error – working for you.
- What works for me might totally not work for you, BUT…knowing what doesn’t work will help you define what does.
(I’m a big believer that knowing what you don’t want is just as important as knowing what you do want.)
I consider each of these outcomes a “win” because each deepens your understanding of your own personal process. Something repeatable that works…for you.
Here’s How I Do It
I basically have 4 steps that I go through when writing.
- Lyrics – an Idea in Text That is Universal Enough to Mean Something to Strangers
- Melody and Chords – Shape and Support
- Verse and Chorus – How are they Related? Same Chords?
- Bridge – Does the Song Need One? If so…Where Does it Lead?
Lyrics and melody are a chicken and egg kind of thing. My most efficient results come when I start with lyrics, so that’s how I’ve organized my process.
Next week, I’ll start unpacking it more than I ever imagined I would.
Some insights about the wonderful folks on the receiving end of our efforts.
The Nature of An Audience
I’ve been creating live theater for audiences for over 25 years. In that time, I’ve learned about how to get and keep their interest over the span of 2 hours. Each of these art forms have obvious differences but…an audience is an audience. I’m sure many of these simple observations will help you.
Check them out. Think them over.
- Audiences love narrative because narrative itself is a hook.
- Audiences like short stories better than long ones (and songs are relatively very short).
- Images created with words are powerful.
- Images created with words and sounds are more
- Audiences will create links between any two images you give them, no matter how random or seemingly unrelated.
- Rhythm is the most powerful tool in any art form (remember: rhythm is also visual).
- Audiences will always want to know what’s coming if you write/arrange specifically.
- Stories need characters.
- Characters need change.
- Humor Wins.
- Humor is the best way to create intimacy (and draw an audience in).
- Rhymes are a great tool (audiences can’t resist them).
- Rhymes are not always necessary.
- Rhymes, poorly used, hurt: they insult the audience and can minimize emotion.
- Forcing rhymes can very easily put your ideas in a straight-jacket (beware).
- Audiences are amused by cleverness.
- A sudden rhyme at the end of a verse (or in the middle) is very clever.
- Music that seems to repeat but is somehow a bit different is very clever.
- Audiences love a mystery. (They’re clever too.)
- Audiences love a puzzle (Yep: clever.)
- Audiences will always pay attention to movement. (A key arranging and mixing idea.)
- Theme is what unites a song without narrative. It’s rare but it happens, and with great success: (Beck, Tom Waits, David Bowie, John Lennon, to name a few).
I keep the audience front and center in my mind through every step of making music.
From the moment I sit down to write, to the final master…I’m aiming at them.
They help me make decisions and remind me that, no matter what happens: it must be interesting.
With any art that unfolds over time (music, theater, film, dance) boredom is the first, most important obstacle to overcome. Without the audiences’ attention – even if it’s just your friends and family (arguably the worthiest audiences of all) – does any art matter?
Next week, I focus on Lyrics and share some techniques I use to create and develop them.
In the meantime, think about Audiences.
Do you agree with any of my observations? Do you have any to add? Share them in the comments below. Looking forward to reading them.
If you’re overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Maybe you simply don’t have the time to do anything more than write your song – which is no small feat by any means.
Shoot me an email and I’ll help you out with a…
I’ll listen to your demo, we’ll Skype for 15 min and I’ll tell you what I’d do. You can take my ideas (or not) and execute them yourself.
Or, if you want more direct help, we can talk about how much (or how little) you want me to be involved.
We’ll work out a fair price…I’m not in this for the money. I’m an artist, too, and I won’t exploit other artists. But more on all this later.
Think about your audience, the stories you tell them,
and how you tell those stories.