Ever Tried Songwriting Rules and Consistent Underlying Band Themes or Concepts?

claes

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Well check one out


Well, one song about safety is okay. As one song on any topic. But using it as a concept for every song sounds boring.
Picture an album with titles as "Sit down and pee" "Use your safety belt" "Safe spaces at any institution" :D

I think I pass
 

Charlie Bernstein

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Unimaginative rules can box you in But rules can also force a ton of creativity. In fact I'd say that there really is no creativity without rules of some sort.
Yup. That's why I write most songs in 4/4 time.

Back in the nineties, there was poet from around here who only wrote sonnets. An interviewer asked him how limiting that was. (He was pretty prolific.)

He said that having a structure helped him give shape to his thoughts. So as you say, the structure channeled his imagination into art.
 

Bob Womack

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You know, it turns out that the concept of freedom being absolute, a condition of being without any restraints, is a new thing. Before philospoher Jean Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) tread this mortal coil, no one had really thought that way, right down to artists and musicians. It was thought that man needed constraints in order to be TRULY FREE. Without boundaries, the natural result was thought to be chaos. Rousseau turned the previous thought process on its ear with his demand that freedom isn't freedom at all if there is any restraint.

Before Rousseau's philosophical ideas reached music and art and resulted in the Romantic movement, ALL music was composed within the confines of expected forms. Much of the structure of each musical piece was prescribed. What was left to the composer was choosing the materials (the basic melody, etc.) and finding an artful way to plug them into a developmental form that was familiar to society. Some really wonderful music resulted, but you have to understand the forms for the music to make sense.

Ironically, of late we've discovered some of the truth behind the old school way of thought demanding that there be constrains and boundaries. On forums I read continually of players suffering from "analysis paralysis." This malady arises when people attempt to create but find themselves without constraint. The result is an inability to get off the dime and get started because there are simply too many options for them to wrap their heads around.

I studied composition under a very modern composer who had come through the thoroughly modern understanding and out the back end, and had moved on. Though his music was ultramodern and much of it was electronic music, some of it without melody,harmony, or classic rhythms, he absolutely believed in structure and form. He forced me to compose within concepts like ritornello form, statement of musical ideas, development, and tension structure. With those concepts in hand, it is far easier to construct music than without.

Bob
 

TheFuzzDog

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Over the years I have made rules for myself as a writer and used them until I felt I had gotten what I could out of them. In some cases that was a few months, in other cases years or decades. As the sole songwriter in most of my bands, no one even knew the rules were in place. Some of them were:

- No rhyming. I spent a couple of years writing songs that never rhymed. It makes you work extra hard to find words that feel like they rhyme even though they don’t.

- No vocal choruses. Most songs during this period had a “chorus,” but no words for it.

- No choruses that were just the title repeated four times. Actually, I still abide by this one.

- Songs with only strict rhyme schemes. Probably a year on this one.
 

Peter Graham

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The Fall. Probably too much to discuss here.
Perhaps not. I think Mark E Smith summed it up perfectly when he said something like "if it's just me and your Granny playing the bongos, it's still The Fall".

Manchester's greatest musical export.
 

SRHmusic

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Many of the 'rules' mentioned so far are specifying things not to do. I've found it useful to focus on things that must be done, at least for an individual song, but could cover the arc of an album, as well. As others mentioned, some constraints or requirements or bounds can force or channel creativity in new ways. But I don't think I'd enjoy a band with fixed rules for a long time. Things should evolve and grow over time, hopefully.
 

THX1123

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Well, one song about safety is okay. As one song on any topic. But using it as a concept for every song sounds boring.
Picture an album with titles as "Sit down and pee" "Use your safety belt" "Safe spaces at any institution" :D

I think I pass
It's not for everyone, and that's cool. The band made 2 more albums that expanded from the original ideas, but I think they established an internal identity through the process.
 

THX1123

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My short answer is yes. Talking about and setting baseline expectations in songwriting makes as much sense as setting expectations in behavior, commitment or any other important area. So I think it could be beneficial.

But. As you have experienced, a heck of a lot of people (most?) will react badly do anybody who brings this up. It screams "ego!" Especially in informal social situations (like most music playing groups regular people are likely to find themselves in) people are going to socially punish the person who brings this up. I don't think this instinct is a bad thing; it's the same instinct that makes us want to make fun of anybody who takes themselves too seriously. Plus when you're trying to be creative you're putting your ego on the line. That's uncomfortable. You'll have to deal with criticism, both in a give and take sort of way. Most people find that prospect terrifying. So it's a kind of self-defense instinct imo.

Most people just want to have a good time. Keeping it light is the safest way to do that. If this runs against making something more creative (and I think it does) it's a price most people are going to be willing to pay.

This is why so many successful bands are dominated by a single writer. The social complications are too great for it to be otherwise.
And maybe exposes the fragility of an ego who suffers from a kind of imposter syndrome? Lots of musicians seem to talk the talk and then blow things up when threatened.
 

THX1123

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Perhaps not. I think Mark E Smith summed it up perfectly when he said something like "if it's just me and your Granny playing the bongos, it's still The Fall".

Manchester's greatest musical export.
So the #1 rule is M.E.S. or no Fall? heh heh.

Yes, they always sound like the fall, I agree...but M.E.S. booted so many players out for being "musicians" that one wonders what exactly his rules were that he never stated. One might argue it is all in Repition itself.

Have you read Excavate!? Much excellent Fall analysis.
 

THX1123

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You know, it turns out that the concept of freedom being absolute, a condition of being without any restraints, is a new thing. Before philospoher Jean Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) tread this mortal coil, no one had really thought that way, right down to artists and musicians. It was thought that man needed constraints in order to be TRULY FREE. Without boundaries, the natural result was thought to be chaos. Rousseau turned the previous thought process on its ear with his demand that freedom isn't freedom at all if there is any restraint.

Before Rousseau's philosophical ideas reached music and art and resulted in the Romantic movement, ALL music was composed within the confines of expected forms. Much of the structure of each musical piece was prescribed. What was left to the composer was choosing the materials (the basic melody, etc.) and finding an artful way to plug them into a developmental form that was familiar to society. Some really wonderful music resulted, but you have to understand the forms for the music to make sense.

Ironically, of late we've discovered some of the truth behind the old school way of thought demanding that there be constrains and boundaries. On forums I read continually of players suffering from "analysis paralysis." This malady arises when people attempt to create but find themselves without constraint. The result is an inability to get off the dime and get started because there are simply too many options for them to wrap their heads around.

I studied composition under a very modern composer who had come through the thoroughly modern understanding and out the back end, and had moved on. Though his music was ultramodern and much of it was electronic music, some of it without melody,harmony, or classic rhythms, he absolutely believed in structure and form. He forced me to compose within concepts like ritornello form, statement of musical ideas, development, and tension structure. With those concepts in hand, it is far easier to construct music than without.

Bob
Interesting. I wonder if Rousseau's perspective was contingent upon the ideas he was rejecting? Freedom might mean nothing without constraint or restraint.

I like Beefheart's "The thousandth and tenth day of the human totem pole" as an example of your point. Almost 6 minutes of non-repeating, yet structured and composed unconventional music. Deliberate, and intentional, yet constructed with the absence of consideration for expected forms. Not easy to conceive, write, or perform.

 

Peter Graham

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So the #1 rule is M.E.S. or no Fall? heh heh.

Yes, they always sound like the fall, I agree...but M.E.S. booted so many players out for being "musicians" that one wonders what exactly his rules were that he never stated. One might argue it is all in Repition itself.

Have you read Excavate!? Much excellent Fall analysis
I haven't read it - personally, I thought Smith always came across as a bit of a tool, so I'm happy just to enjoy the music and leave it at that. I suspect that Smith was one of those chaps who had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and wasn't going to let anything stop him. We might put Bowie and Madonna in the same boat. Alas for Smith, the influence of The Fall probably well outstrips their record sales. Nevertheless, he undeniably realised his vision, so fair play to him.
 

ahiddentableau

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Unimaginative rules can box you in But rules can also force a ton of creativity. In fact I'd say that there really is no creativity without rules of some sort.

I agree. If I don't have constraints in place I spin my wheels trying different possibilities and will do so literally forever. Not everyone is like me, of course, but there are a lot of us out there.
 

THX1123

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I haven't read it - personally, I thought Smith always came across as a bit of a tool, so I'm happy just to enjoy the music and leave it at that. I suspect that Smith was one of those chaps who had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and wasn't going to let anything stop him. We might put Bowie and Madonna in the same boat. Alas for Smith, the influence of The Fall probably well outstrips their record sales. Nevertheless, he undeniably realised his vision, so fair play to him.
I would agree that he often came off as tool. I wonder if actually meeting the guy would have been a good experience or a negative one. He probably would have been at his most palatable during the Brix era. Either way, and as you mentioned, one of the things about MES is there's a lot of depth and literary and historical content to his lyrics and his ethos if one wants to explore it, but you can still enjoy The Fall without ever having to go there.
 

scottser

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Here are some examples of bands, or artists that perhaps illustrate or give a bit more context to the kinds of things being discussed. Of course I realize that these are the successful ones. I imagine and accept there are a ton of projects that did not work.

DEVO. Consistent concept from inception through entire career, including name of band. Image integrated into concept. Nearly all songs fit within the musical and conceptual framework. Multiple songwiters.
Ramones. Consistent concept through career. No change in image. Musical concept consistent through career (with a caveat for End of the Century). Some collaboration in songwriting.
Wire and Pylon. As discussed in original post.
Peter Gabriel - On his third solo album he made a rule for drummers Phil Collins and Jerry Marotta - they could use no cymbals. There are no cymbals on the album. It shaped the music. I think it is his best solo work.
Oasis - Noel Gallagher had specific rules for his songwriting and the two guitar roles in the band during the band's most successful period. Granted, he was the sole creative force.
The Fall. Probably too much to discuss here.

Honorable mentions: Robert Fripp. David Byrne. Tool. Cannibal Corpse.
the smiths also, had definite rules from the start; no conventional solos, nothing that sounded heavy metal or prog rock or bluesy.
 

chulaivet1966

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I like Beefheart's "The thousandth and tenth day of the human totem pole" as an example of your point. Almost 6 minutes of non-repeating, yet structured and composed unconventional music. Deliberate, and intentional, yet constructed with the absence of consideration for expected forms. Not easy to conceive, write, or perform.
Well....I gave that track a listen.

Yes....it sounds like how you describe it.
But, for my aural receptors, it's does not at all musical....if I may be that general. :)
Far be from me to opine on the quality of the track when they'll happily race me to the bank.
I wouldn't listen to it again for a few reasons but that's not a slam to the perceived appeal of it by others.
Ohhh....the subjectivity of it all. :)

Have a great weekend everyone....
 
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Old Verle Miller

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I'm mostly a lyricist/singer and the stuff that I've had published and actually gotten paid for often had another person in the credits for the music, even though there were things in the the way the melody sounded that came from my version of the vocals.

In my experience, songwriting is genre-driven work. You and your bandmates need to find a sweet-spot genre if you want to make a living as performers/entertainers. Toss in a talented producer, work your asses off and you multiply the chances of success.

The do-it-all-yourself successes are few and far between. For every Prince there are millions of specialists.
 
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ndcaster

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too bad Ric Ocasek is dead

I would like to hear him describe how he talked to The Cars

I was listening to Candy-O the other day and loved it

they were very consistent, and that can't be by accident
 

TheFuzzDog

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Well....I gave that track a listen.

Yes....it sounds like how you describe it.
But, for my aural receptors, it's does not at all musical....if I may be that general. :)
Far be from me to opine on the quality of the track when they'll happily race me to the bank.
I wouldn't listen to it again for a few reasons but that's not a slam to the perceived appeal of it by others.
Ohhh....the subjectivity of it all. :)

Have a great weekend everyone....
It’s certainly not musical in the traditional Western sense. I’m not well versed in Asian musical forms, but it sounds like some of the Gamelan music I’ve heard.
 

THX1123

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Well....I gave that track a listen.

Yes....it sounds like how you describe it.
But, for my aural receptors, it's does not at all musical....if I may be that general. :)
Far be from me to opine on the quality of the track when they'll happily race me to the bank.
I wouldn't listen to it again for a few reasons but that's not a slam to the perceived appeal of it by others.
Ohhh....the subjectivity of it all. :)

Have a great weekend everyone....
I think one of the most difficult things to do is ask one's self why one's subjective opinion has merit, why one prefers one thing and not another.

I don't like the same regular hot dogs I ate as a kid. I know this because I've had amazing Elk and Venison sausages and killer Brats made of veal, pork and beef.

Much of Beefheart's music is initially unpleasant or confusing, but the intention and method (rules) were both to create an original expression. I like Beefheart's music. The first time I heard Trout Mask Replica I thought is sounded like instruments falling down the stairs. But it did make me feel something unique. Some art rewards the work it demands to find out why it creates a feeling. Sometimes you don't end up enjoying it after you put in the effort and thought. But you do often knowing why you don't.

If an opinion on art or music can only be justified by saying opinion is subjective, then that reasoning is just a tautology. Beefheart becomes equal to Billy Ray Cyrus, and McDonalds becomes equal to steak.
 




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