A friend recently asked me if I could explain the Story-to-Song process to them in a little more detail. I had asked if they might like to work on a song, and they wondered what kind of story makes a good song.
This question seems to come up time and again in my songwriting work, and I feel that it warrants more attention.
I have noticed that many people are concerned with telling the right story and singing the right notes. They want to sound good right away, myself included.
What this tells me is that I have much more songwriting to do in the world.
What this also tells me is that people have learned that their stories are not interesting or valuable, which translates into the person being of little value.
I can tell you that any and every story makes a good song. I have found that there tends to be a story that comes instantly to my mind in the moment. The first time I volunteered to work with Malcolm, I knew that I wanted to tell a story about my dad taking me to preschool as a child. What I did not know in advance was all of the layers of meaning that would come from that seemingly simple story from so long ago.
I seem to find that the story is only a part of the overall process. There are layers of meaning that come from somewhere deep inside, emotions a person may be holding on to that want to come out through with this particular storytelling in this particular moment in time.
What I do for the process is type up all the words you share for your story. I might ask follow up questions to try to learn a little more.
Then, I work with you to create a poem from your story, hitting enter or “carriage return” after each phrase that feels like it would be a line in the poem and ultimately a line they could sing in a song. I ask them to imagine they are breathing in, speaking or singing the words, and breathing out.
The next step is to have a person sing through the your story in poem/free verse form. I record this singthrough and then listen back to see if there were any melodies you liked. This is a very raw process and not meant to sound polished and perfect. It is an important part, though, as it connects their inner voice with the words of their story in a musical form of expression.
I then look for the most powerful string of you notes sang and also the words that seem to communicate the real heart of the story. I combine these two to create the chorus.
From there, I look at the entire story and separate the individual events into sections that could become verses.
The entire story will not make it into the finished song because it would be super long, so I try to concentrate and whittle the story down into its most vital parts for getting the meaning across in musical form.
Intrigued? Still confused?
This will make much more sense if and when we work together in person. It can be an emotional experience. It also tends to be quite cathartic for people. One participant told me that it helped cut right to the center of what was going on for her at a particular time of her life.
I can tell you that if you tell me about your day from start to finish, there will be a beautiful song with meaning and music that can only from you and you alone. I can also tell you that even if I am the only person who hears your song, it will speak to me in a powerful way. I will be better for hearing your story. And you will have the opportunity to hear your life sung back to you.