You, the Movie Director

Guest Post excerpted from Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics

This book excerpt explores the challenge of properly communicating feelings and emotions with listeners through one’s lyrics, and looks at how a songwriter can structure their work in such a way as to clearly get their intended message across without excessive exposition.

Songwriting: Film & Songwriting

In case you haven’t yet realized: Watching movies is one of the best ways of improving your songwriting. No other artform has such a strong resemblance to songwriting. The film makers are teaching us songwriting by ways of analogy, and this is the reason why a good many aspect of story telling, and working with emotions, are more easily learned about by watching film, than by analyzing other songs. Below is an example.

The Film

You’re watching a movie. At the end of the movie, the camera stays fixed on the face of the very sympathetic leading character. In the movie, you have witnessed this character being very badly treated, but she has all the time been acting very contained. Although her face doesn’t give her feelings away, even in this last scene, you feel so strongly for her, that you yourself have difficulties holding your tears back.

Good Film Making

In reality, badly treated people have a tendency of breaking into tears as soon as they have had some time to react emotionally. Some people need an hour or two to think about what they’ve been put through, other react more or less instantly.
In good film making, displaying emotional responses in this spontaneous way is often avoided. Why? because it doesn’t engage the viewers imagination and reasoning. It doesn’t require the viewer to step inside the film character in order to understand what the character is experiencing. In stead, it distances the viewer from the film.

You, the Movie Director

Say or think any word. When you do, some kind of imagery appears in your head: an object, a facial expression, a situation you associate with the word, or something else. You can’t stop this from happening, since the process is hardwired into you brain. We store information in the form of concepts containing lots of information. Words are representations of these concepts. When you hear, or read, a story, it comes to life inside your head. This is why a songwriter also is a movie director.
The words, and the thoughts carried by the words, bring in emotions, but the No. 1 carrier of emotions in your songs will always be the music. Music is all about emotions. With your music you can really ”explain” to your listeners what emotional dimensions your lyric possess. Be mindful of this.

As shown in the beginning of this blog post, a movie often benefits from not explaining too explicitly how someone feels, by for instance showing someone crying. This can be applied in songwriting!
Every once in a while you write a lyric with a strong emotional charge. Don’t automatically make music expressing the same strong emotion! While it sometimes works perfectly, it might, in other cases, create a much stronger emotional effect to hold the music back a bit. It is sometimes better not to ”let the music cry”, if it is supporting a sad lyric – to make the analogy with the movie example clear. Occasionally, you might even want to take a few steps in the other direction: letting a sad lyric be carried by balanced music in a major key. The Motown classic What becomes of the Brokenhearted by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser & James Dean is a nice example of how this can be done. We like the cover version by Ari Hest, but do listen to the original with William Weatherspoon as well!

For more on this: read the blog post titled ”Don’t Explain To Much” which deals with the same aspect of songwriting, but from a lyrics only perspective. Now, prove yourself a demon director of ”in-the-head-of-listeners-movies”!

If you want to become a songwriting ace, do read the book: Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics.

If you feel there is something in the blog posts we need to explain more thoroughly, or if there is a topic you would like us to write about, drop us a message on the Black Belt Songwriting Facebook page!