Conceptual Writing workshop 101.
DEFINING CONCEPTUAL WRITING
Conceptual writing is a form of “song writing” that involves a specific goal or message. Songs that are “conceptually based” are often built around subjects that are very important to the lyricist. These songs are normally intended to be very serious in nature and are meant to send a powerful message to the listener. Conceptual writing is not just for musicians looking to push an agenda. It is also popular for musicians looking to create a more “fantastical” or “whimsical" world. This is because “conceptual” songs often need to have a world “created” around them in order to be successful. The trick is using descriptive words and phrases that will trigger a visual concept clearly into your audience’s head.
In order to begin writing with C.W. you must first have a “concept.” A concept is simply the driving idea of your story. It can be a person, situation, opinion, belief or anything you can think of that you passionately want to speak about. Great concepts can come from anywhere, a life event, movie, dream, video game or a personal experience.
For my example, the song I’m going to create is about “someone having a hard time fitting in.”
Once you have decided on your concept, the next step is to begin fleshing out the most significant parts of the story. Begin by answering the questions below in writing, in as few words as possible AND as precisely as possible.
· Who is your protagonist?
· What is the plight or situation your protagonist is facing?
Now that you have you protagonist, it’s time to create a basic back story and a brief summary of the history for your character. Focus on the use of descriptions using metaphors, analogies and similes to flush out the elements in the story. If you find yourself having trouble defining your protagonist, start by asking yourself questions someone else might ask you about your character.
What do they look like?
What kind of personality do they have?
Answering simple sample questions like these will give you building blocks that will help you flesh out, develop and most importantly help the listener connect to your song.
Finally, gleam out the most descriptive and exciting words to begin the creation of the song. Look for words that are empathic and vividly describe the protagonist’s world as colorfully as possible.
MY BACK STORY EXMAPLE: A young male is constantly being forced to move from town to town because his parents job keeps causing them to move.
PROBLEMS THAT ARISE:
He has problems making and keeping friends. He becomes socially awkward as well as guarded. He becomes distant and reclusive. Is often lonely and depressed. Has strong feelings of being different and misunderstood.
THE LYRICAL & CREATION POCESS
So far in this section I have been going over how to develop and flesh out the most important elements of your song. The reason this is done is so we can highlight the most significant and interesting aspects of your story. Remember, you are attempting to write more than just a song, you are trying to convey emotions to a total stranger. Your job as a writer is to create a world for the listener that takes that person out of their world and into a world you created with your voice, mind and music.
It is now time to begin writing lyrics using your notes and work from above.
Keep your writing short and precise. Focus on writing one line at a time as if each sentence is it’s own individual story about your protagonist or a significant event in their life.
SONG STRUCTURE & THEORY
I am a strong believer that you do not have to construct your song with the traditional beginning, middle, end approach that most institutions teach. Songs themselves do not have to be in exact chronological order and they don’t even have to make perfect sense from a literal perspective.
The goal of your music should always be to connect to the listener by “conveying the emotions” that will stimulate the mood and feelings you are trying to convey.
With that being said, for this method you are going to start dividing your work into three categories
It is advised that you do not try to commit too much effort into writing just a chorus or just the refrain at this time. You will learn that the songwriting process is a fluid process with constantly moving and interchangeable parts. Meaning, a piece you originally wrote to be the intro, might actually work as the refrain, chorus, hook, etc.
Now as a rule, most people say the best way to tell a good story is to start from the beginning. That is because people get confused easily when having a lot of details thrown at them at one time. Keep in mind “starting from the beginning” is a relative term and different people involved in a “situation” will have differentiating opinion as to when everything started. To keep your listener from getting confused, it is my advice to start with either introducing your character or the “plight” first.
THE CREATION OF VOCAL LINES & MELODIES
To continue on at this point of the songwriting process, you must have a backing track, riff, beat
or at least a prepared vocal melody to sing over. This is the point in the songwriting process where we take a long look at all of the ideas we fleshed out and begin to build verses, refrains, hooks etc. We have the subject; we know the plight, now its time to put his journey into words.
If you can not seem to find the right words and you are stuck with the lyrical portion of the writing process, play the backing track, riff or melody on a loop a few times. Begin to hum or sing notes over the backing track or melody without using real words. This is a great way to begin building the vocal lines and defining the “sound” for the song you are going for. (The challenge here is, you will have to replace the sounds you sang with real words that contain the same syllable count. Some people find this method to be effective and easy while others find it near impossible.)
*Try this fun exercise to get a better understanding of the method I am trying to teach.
Think of one your favorite songs, make sure it’s one you know well. Now, hum the melody to yourself. Next, try I want you to make the song funny by changing the words. (Basically, think of any song from Weird Al Yankovic and boom! There you go, you just wrote lyrics for a song!
Not your traditional form of teaching, right? Did it work? And, there you go.
Unfortunately, I have gone about as far I we can without personally knowing your project and getting into complicated and boring music theory. Hopefully, this workshop helped give you some tools and new ideas to help you in your songwriting journey.
Thanks for reading.