Any songwriter knows that the key to a great song is a story. The music should be a narrative (“It’s a musical journey!”); the lyrics should tell a memorable tale. Tension. Release. Central characters. All that stuff. Think of all the greats; Dylan, Springsteen, Cash, Cohen (pictured above) – a huge part of their success as artists is due to their ability to spin a great yarn. Listen up as Jon Bon Jovi tells you a story about Johnny on the docks, or as the Eagles take you on a trip down a dark desert highway - these stories are etched into our memories.
As an artist, it’s your job to tell great stories. As the wise man once said, “There is nothing new under the sun”. All the chords have been played; all the lyrical clichés worn out like old tyres. What do you have left when you put pen to paper? You have your story, your unique experience of life. And that’s the story no one else can tell.
It’s also the thing that’s going to help you stand out in a saturated industry. As much as artists need their songs to be great stories, they also need to sell themselves as a story. Journalists, music reviewers and record execs are more swamped (and frankly lazier) than they’ve ever been. You can be guaranteed that, for most of them, there is nothing new under the sun. You will not be the first jazz-fusion metal crossover band they’ve heard of. Your song, even if it is a real cracker, will be buried in an inbox avalanche with the other 50 guys who think they have the song of the year.
This is where a great story helps. When Bon Iver’s 2007 album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ was released, the album’s story did a lot of the selling. Yes, it was a beautiful, heart-wrenching album of homemade folk songs, but it was also accompanied by a great story. As the legend goes, the project was the result of a heartbroken songwriter, suffering mononucleosis, who locked himself in a Wisconsin cabin for three months, pouring out his catharsis by stomping on floorboards and strumming at an old acoustic guitar. That story, as much as anything, compelled the story-starved music press to rave about the thing.
So, practically speaking, how do you tell your story as an artist? How can you make yourself the most compelling yarn in that inbox?
A cracker bio is a good start. Too many bands treat their biography as some kind of Curriculum Vitae, listing the bands they’ve shared the stage with, or that time their single charted at #17 on student radio. Your achievements are important, but your story is the foot that will stick in the door.
Don’t think you have a story? Throw yourself into the depths of your art: Can you remember a specific encounter that triggered one of your songs? Was there anything unusual about your recording process? What childhood moment turned you on to the power of music? What odds have you beaten in order to create your art?
Learn how to spin a great yarn and we’ll all follow you on your musical journey down that dark desert highway.