I find it useful to think of`a song as a form of hypnosis, and the songwriter as a hypnotist. As writers/musicians, we create extraordinary experiences of words and musical backing that speak to the feeling level of the listener’s mind…again and again. A song is lightning in a bottle. Open the bottle and let the lightning affect your feelings. Any time you want. A song can make people cry, fall in love, dance, fight, feel inspiration, become light-hearted, or depressed, receive wisdom, go to war, feel the presence of the sacred. You can have that experience whenever you hear the song.
Like hypnosis, a song requires an induction process, a structure. A common one in modern music is the practice of using “verses” to create a mood or tell a story, and “chorus” or “hooks” to drive the point home. The chorus is repeated at rhythmic intervals. A bridge is an interlude, a delightful side trip that refreshes the journey.
Words are repeated in cadence. Ideas are expressed are often expressed in metaphors. Everyday objects become powerful, metaphorical, enigmatic tools of communication. Like a river of invisible energy, the elements of sound: rhythm, cadence, harmonies, melodic lines submerge into the subject’s unconscious. So also do words: images, objects, metaphors, symbols, rhymes and meaning.
From the beginning of poetry, people used rhyming cadence to enter minds and affect the listener. The voice, and the words it sings, the sounds it makes to sing the words, is the voice of the hypnotist, the incantation of the magician. Different vowel sounds, ahs and ooo’s, as opposed to azz’s and oo’s, have a power other vowel sounds may lack. Important also is the pause, the breath between phrases, the call and response that lulls and pulls the inductee deeper into your spell of words and music.
This is the art of songwriting, and the power of the songwriter. If you write a great song, you are creating an emotional experience for someone else. And you are probably having one writing it.
I find writing a song, a good song, is an emotional experience for me, the writer. In fact; that’s how I know it has potential as a song. Going through the process of researching my subconscious by brainstorming, stepping away from it, then editing and shaping into lyrics–it can be an emotional experience for me. Those are the songs that I trust the best; those conceived when I was feeling what I hope the listener will feel. Now grab your notebook and your pen, make yourself a nice cup of coffee or tea, take a deep breath and write what you see in your immediate vicinity in short phrases. This is what I see at this moment– an old guitar, a broken harmonica, a dirty shot glass, a letter from my daughter….
Now, I step away from it. I’ll try to put it together in a moment. Do you think I can? Of course!
Without telling a story, these details, all details, do tell a story. And better than telling: they suggest. The mind loves a problem. If you tell it what to feel, it will resist. But if you skillfully leave random clues, the mind will put the clues together, and will feel what the artist or hypnotist wants it to feel on a truly profound level.
To get to a place where I can create lightning in a bottle, I have to go through a unique exploratory process of trusting my unconscious mind to solve the problem. Stepping away can really help. Now that I have stepped away from the problem, lets see if I can quickly assemble the details to tell a story.
“That old guitar hardly plays no more. That rusty harp got tone so poor. That shot glass needs more booze Then maybe I can play my blues.”
“Not too shabby,” says the songwriter to himself. “Let’s put it down and see what ideas come next.”
The problem I often face in myself is that I try to force my unconscious mind to bend to my will. I say to myself, “Now I am going to write a song about my break up.” And all I can come up with is trite and bloodless descriptions of feelings:
“I am so lonely, I miss you so much, you are my everything, I long for your touch…”
To me, that’s writing lyrics from the outside in. My writing yields much more interesting results when I write “off topic,” using an object, or nature, or time to suggest more. In the process of writing I might not know what that more is. I’m trusting my subconscious to put it together to connect the dots. So, I start a “device”–a trick that lets you speak on a deeper, more metaphorical, poetic level. The weather is one of the best. Time of day is a great device.
In one of my songs, “Missisippi Moods,” I use the weather:
“You’ve got more moods than a Mississippi Day, Storm clouds in the morning, sunshine on the way…” https://jongindickband.com/track/1693049/mississippi-moods
(Placing a song in Mississippi doesn’t hurt either.)
Another of my songs is called “Walk a Mile in My Blues.” A friend suggested the title, but to write my verses, I used details of walking that mile.
“The road is hard, just one mile’s rough, Sticks and stones, trust in the dust. Everyone you know is surrounded by fools. To live this life, you’ll walk a mile in the blues.”
In my creative process, the song did not come alive until I described the road where we walk that lonesome mile. Then, suddenly, I had a way to describe the subtle inevitability of betrayal and empathy being parts of the knowledge of life (At least from that world-wise point of view of the blues that I enjoy taking on in my poetry.)
A few years ago, suffering from a break up, I had writers block. At the time, I lived under some telephone wires and there was a very obnoxious bird waking me up every morning. I wrote about that damned bird, stole a title from someone else’s song, and came up with these lyrics:
“Bird on a wire, singing a song, his own private choir singing along, singing ‘nevermore, nevermore, will I fall in love.’” Hear the entire song. https://jongindickband.com/track/227507/bird-on-a-wire To me, these are all examples of hypnotic induction, using off topic details, inducing the mind to fill in the blanks. The Edgar Allen Poe reference adds a little poignancy.
That is all for this column. I hope you find it useful in your songwriting adventures.