Music, like poetry or prose, tells a story. It paints a portrait of a a person or a situation or an ideal. As writers, one of our hardest tasks is engaging the reader right from the first page. There are entire seminars on writing that first line to hook your reader. Musicians have no less of a task. In some ways it’s harder, because they not only have to engage a listener with their lyrics, but also musical quality and style. On the other hand, they only have to entertain for three and a half minutes, whereas we writers have to keep our audience’s attention for a few hundred pages at least.
But that doesn’t make the task of writing a song any less daunting. Consider some of the popular songs out there. Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is immensely popular. Yes, she has a beautiful voice, and yes the rhythm and tone of her song is driving and well-performed, but the thing that resonates with her listeners most is that “we could’ve had it all,” because most of us have had that first love, that past break-up, that nostalgic memory or the lingering thoughts of “what if,” even if we’ve long since moved on. It’s relateable, because it’s an experience many of us have been through.
Or Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts.” She starts with “You know I can’t take one more step toward you, ’cause all that’s waiting is regret.” How’s that for an opening line? Immediately we have the sense of yearning and desperation and the tension of that desire warring with good sense.
Think of any of your favorite songs, and I suspect you’ll notice patterns in the themes, lyrics, or musical quality that you can relate to or that tell an engaging story. And after you’re done analyzing that, especially if you haven’t already done so, go look up the music video and watch it, keeping in mind the story that the song is telling.
I don’t watch a lot of music videos. I never was a fan of MTV or any other music video station. Once in awhile I find one I like on Youtube or something, but more often than not the video is annoying or creeps me out even if I like the song.
Now, keeping in mind the story or character you related to when you were listening to your favorite song just now, compare that to the video. Did you notice that in a large percentage of music videos, the videos have almost nothing to do with the song itself? Don’t get me wrong, some videos are really cool or fun or entertaining. Here’s a couple I actually like:
But, even though I actually enjoy both of these songs and these videos, they serve to prove my point. It’s like the song is telling one story, and the video is telling another, entirely different story. The video and the song may not even have anything in common, or there may be similar themes and words, but in most cases if you listened to the song without the video and then you watched the video without hearing the music, you’d likely come up with two completely different stories.
Why is that?
Is it because too redundant to have the video telling the same story as the song? Are we so hyper-stimulated that we have to have multiple trains of thought going at once for us to be able to appreciate it? Or is a sneaky way of drawing in customers, luring them in by two different venues in case one doesn’t work: “Oh, yeah, the song stinks but you should see the video!”
Any thoughts, insights, comments, or rants you’d like to contribute?
I leave you with this absolute gem. Enjoy.