Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Some Elements of a Song

Hey bands, today is all about you.

How do you know if a song is good or not? This is a very subjective topic, so the waters might get a little choppy, so hold on. It's also 3 o'clock in the morning. Sit tight.

Well, let's first examine what makes a good movie. Everyone has seen movies, and for the most part they can tell the difference between the good and the bad. (Let's hope.) For our general purposes, I've narrowed down what makes a good movie into 4 categories.


Look: This is the Director of Photography's job to make the picture look the best that it can. This has to do with the quality of the shot, in both technical and artistic senses of the word. The technical side would be how clear it's being shot, what frame rate, what aperture/shutter speed, what type of light (diffused, harsh?) and things like that. The artistic side would encompass the visual colors and framing of the subject, how light plays a role in that, and how the depth of field of the lens can soften the background out of the viewers attention. This is basically why what you video tape at home looks nothing like what is shown in theaters.

Feel: Feel mostly has to do with the edits. Are they fast or slow, is this a karate movie or a sensitive girly movie? Or Solaris? This basically establishes the mood, and while it's probably pretty obvious, the production team has spent time thinking about this, so you should too, just for this exercise anyways.

Talent: Are the actors up to par? Are they believable? We've all seen good and bad, and if we can learn anything from Keanu, it can make or break a movie.

Effects: Are the effects appropriate? Do they fit in with the story? Television usually saves the computer graphics until it runs out of money, which is why they really suck in shows like 24 or Firefly. Other effects could include on set explosions or car stunts or what ever. If they're cheesy, it really ruins it for you.

Alright, so let's apply this to music. I gave an example of movies because everyone knows about movies basically. It's surprising how many bands don't know that much about music. So let's dive in here.

Look: Basically, what's the sound you're going for? This is the genre. I know you probably already know you're a hardxcore ska jazz band, but you have to analyze every song further than that. Is this the more mellow song? What makes it that way? Will we have drums or the cajon? Etc.

Feel: Bands NEVER take this step seriously. What emotion are you trying to convey? I understand that your art speaks for itself, but if you don't consciously think about what you're trying to say, how will anyone else know? Try and write the lyrics to fit the style of the song, so that the emotion and meaning will be more apparent. An extreme example would be to not write an emo song about a happy occasion. Unless you're trying to be ironic, or trying to write something like "Mad World."

Talent: Do yourself a favor and get a vocal coach. Get guitar lessons. Know more than what a power chord is. How can it be your artistic way of doing things if it's the only way you know how to do things? Art is about being free to choose what to do, not about only knowing how to do one thing. Maybe if you knew how to do a bass walk all your songs wouldn't have the same 4 chords. This also opens up the possibility to write new material, and not bore your fans with the same song played a different way over and over.

Effects: This really comes after recording, though it could come before, who knows. These days guitarists are carting around effects pedals in suitcases, so you never know. First off, go back to what your "Look" is and find out if effects are even necessary in your genre at all. Maybe a wah pedal wouldn't go over so well in your folk band? (Unless it's that weird indie electro folk.) But then again maybe it will work. You just have to ask yourselves these questions because often times musicians get carried away and don't look at what's what.

Alright, well, not really the structure of a song, but just the elements of a song explained. Hopefully you'll be able to take a hard look at your music and chisel away until the gem breaks free. Musicianship is hard work, and not many people realize that. They all think the hard work is living on a can of soup and a box of goldfish for a week.

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