Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Brought up short!

That’s me playing piano.
I enjoy listening to the radio. Sometimes I’ll even go out and sit in the car and listen to a favourite show or a ball game (if it’s the right time of year). I nearly always have the radio on when I’m driving anywhere. Interesting thing is, I’m generally not listening to music — an odd thing when one is a musician.

But this musician is also a writer, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoy listening to interview shows and documentaries, stuff like that. Talk shows drive me crazy.

Fortunately, I live in Canada where we still have the CBC and a lot of their radio programming, especially in the evenings is excellent.

This morning, I was driving home from an appointment, and listening to an interview on Q with a Scottish singer/songwriter, Stuart Murdoch, and a lot of the talk was around   his composing. I always find that sort of thing interesting since I’ve written some of my own, including a complete musical in my last year of university. (Sidebar: It had 8 performances and I even got paid for my troubles!)

Anyway, I’m driving along listening intently to what Stuart had to say (he’s very erudite), but then he uttered something that really caught my attention. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something about walking around with a whole bunch of characters in his head. These were the people he made up whose stories he then told through the lyrics of his songs.

Whoa! Believe it or not, I'd never thought that the little “stories” making up songs had something like characters in it. You may be slapping your forehead into your palm and this point since it’s a pretty obvious thing and I’m a complete dunce for not coming to this enlightenment a heck of a lot earlier, but there it is: song writers make up characters in much the same way prose writers do and for the same reasons.

Perhaps this whole point was lost on me since most of the songs I’ve written had lyrics supplied by someone else. My job generally involved melody, harmonic structure and much of the musical treatment of each particular song.

Now, I’m forced to think of every song I’ve ever heard and will hear with a completely different mindset. It’s a heady idea: making up a character, giving them some sort of back story and then tell a small, concise portion of their life. Maybe the structure that most resonates is this: a good song is a musical short story.

Funny, but I’d never considered that, and to say that I’m gobsmacked by this very late revelation is putting it mildly.

Does it make me want to write a song? Not really. I learned a long time ago that this is something that I don’t do well innately, and since I have so many other things in my life that need my attention (see last week’s post), it’s best that I don’t add any more to my to-do list.

But I know I’m going to be closely listening to the lyrical content of any song I run across from here on in – except for songs by the progressive rock band Yes whose lyrics make no sense to anyone – with a new sense of engagement, and try to reconstruct the character the lyricist conjured when writing the song.

How about you?


Eileen Goudge said...

Interesting! I'm always fascinated by the process, whether it's songwriting or fiction. Now if only someone would write a hit tune from one of my novels...

Rick Blechta said...

You can make a lot of money by writing a hit tune. I know someone who played guitar for Norah Jones and wrote one of the songs on her album that had a gazillion sales. One song. He made over $2,000,000 in royalties, I believe (probably more by now since my knowledge is now several years old). Now that's not bad, wouldn't you say?