• February 16, 2021

How About The Music?

Start by identifying the antagonist in vocal songs (it’s easier there).

Three common situation are when the antagonist is an ex-lover (say, “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele) or a present, undecided lover (“Should I Stay Or Should I Go” by the Clash), or a desired future lover (yeah, you’re not the first one to notice that pop music revolves mostly around sex…)

But the antagonist does not need to be a person at all: in “Killing In The Name” by RATM, the antagonist is any authoritarian figure or organization, while in Taylor Swift “Shake It Off” it’s the opinion of other people, and in “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi the antagonist is the unlived life.

So when you set out writing lyrics, have clear in your mind who or what is the antagonist: just having this in mind will make the difference.
Once you have a bit of practice with vocal songs, try your ear with instrumental songs.

Start with something like “Mars Bringer Of War” by Holst or Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain”. Can you hear the antagonistic “evil” element? Can you hear the danger coming closer? Good: mark that spot in the track. Now listen to that again, and ask yourself how the composer “rendered” the antagonist in that part of the piece:

How is the dynamic used (the piece is becoming louder or quieter?
What instruments are used?
What chords/harmonies are used? (you may want to have the score in front of you for that)
What comes just before? What comes just after?
Write down all your answers. Now, try the same with other instrumental pieces. If you are a guitar player, listen to some guitar instrumentals and see how the same thing is done there. If you are a piano player, listen to some piano instrumentals. Genre and style are not important here: listen to the music YOU like and ask yourself the same questions.

In this way, by analyzing the songs you like, you will discover what YOU like. After examining 2-3 songs you will know enough to do it yourself in your own composition… but don’t forget the most important element: you need to HAVE an antagonist in the story you are telling, and you need to keep it in mind while you compose. It’s useless to know how to describe it if you don’t have it in the first place!

So grab some of these pieces and start listening!

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