By Renee Grant-Williams
WITH A SONG IN MY HEART
Archibald MacLeish maintained that, “A poem should not mean, but .” And what is a song but a poem set to music? A story set to sound. But sometimes we get so caught up in trying to sing, that we forget about the song. It’s much more important to live the song and bring a universal human experience to your listeners, than it is to have a perfect voice, or a loud voice, or to be able to sing 57 octaves.
SUBTEXT OF A SONG
Country music is especially lyric-driven. It must be clear and honest, yet visual and compelling. Think of singing as speaking on organized, rather than random, pitches. Instead of slinging a bunch of loud notes at your audience, speak to them. Make your vocal technique word-based rather than tone-based. If your audience didn’t value the lyrics, they’d be listening to symphonies instead.
Whether you are singing your own material or a cover song, you must live your songs and know what you are singing about and why. This is not as obvious as it may appear to be. I suggest you create a three minute mini-movie for your songs, complete with cast, setting, and dramatic background. Write out a short subtext for each song as you learn it. Try to be as specific as possible.
The subtext should answer these four questions:
- Who is singing the song? (Is it you now, or at a younger age, or are you imagining a situation that happened to someone you have known?)
- What does the singer of the song hope to accomplish or change? (Tell a lover good-bye? Stop a lover from leaving? Start fresh after a broken heart?)
- Who else is actually present? (Is the loved one in the room or is the singer leaving a voicemail message, or perhaps lamenting to a group of best friends?)
- When and where is the song being sung? (If it’s past midnight and tempers are flaring, it will feel like a different song from the one you might sing a week later after you’ve both cooled off a little.)
“Joe and I are breaking up for the third and final time. It’s 3 am and he has just come home covered with lipstick smudges—again. This time we’re really through and I want him to know just how badly he’s blown it.”
Write down the answers to these questions and you will have an emotional context for your song. Be detailed and specific. Your listeners may not know exactly what your subtext is, but if you have one, they’ll know something important is going on and they will relate it to their own experiences.
I would love to hear what you think of this blog article and if you gave this a try and how did it work out for you.