Whenever I talk with people about music, and they find out I’m a songwriter, just about the first question they ask me is: “what comes first, the words or the music?”
It’s a good question…without a good answer. Because the answer is “both”, “neither”, and “sometimes” (Satisfying, isn’t it?).
By way of a response, though, I thought I’d take a song that I’m working up right now and explain how it came to be, in installments. Like a Dickens novel, but with fewer adorable urchins and more distorted dub tape loop feedback.
Let’s start with the beat (which is actually not where the whole thing started. Confusing? See paragraph 2, above). This song was just a few words and a musical vibe which had been flitting around my head for a long time, until one day when I decided to blow off my job and finish the !@#$!% &@! thing.
I began laying hands on various instruments and devices in my studio, attempting to strike just the right combination of notes and sounds to coax the song out of its hiding place and into the world of verses, choruses, and royalty checks.
Instead, I came up with this beat.
Whoo-ee. Funky as Ryan Seacrest in a pair of pleated Dockers, eh? I was about to give up and call in un-sick to work when I decided, as a last resort, to run that thing through an old guitar distortion pedal that I’d been using as a pencil holder. Check it out.
Better, no? I thought it brought out a sense of mysterious atmosphere which had been totally absent before, which was much more inspiring. And louder and weirder, which is always good. Skipped the phone call to work. Spent the rest of the day on the song, of which more next time…
Almost since the first mp3 crawled out of the primordial digital ooze and stood upright on the Napster protocontinent, people have been bemoaning the end of music’s incarnation as a physical object, something you could touch and hold. Even if you can carry your whole music collection in your iPod wherever you go, I think most of us miss album art and liner notes, and have been hoping that someone would take advantage of the internet to create some kind of new dynamic/graphic/video wrapper for music, something that would recognize how central the old LP cover was to the whole music experience and recreate it – on steroids – for the 21st century.
As you might know, artists, record companies and web operations are already creating countless variations on just this theme, from the most basic myspace page to the album-as-iphone-app. However, in digital music, hitting the jackpot consists of getting all the tiny details just right, and somebody who seems to have “just right” c.2008/9 dialled is storytlr.
Storytlr is essentially a lifestreaming service, which goes out and grabs all your data – twitter posts, flickr streams, blog posts, etc. – from across the web, and then aggregates it all in one place – your storytlr page. That’s cool, but there are already several different services that do that. The part that I like, and which applies to the whole “what’s-the-next-album-going-to-be” discussion we’re having here, is that you can also take a snapshot of this lifestream at a given moment in time to create a “story”. Check this one out.
As you can see, this is essentially a gussied-up photo essay, using flickr stills, youtube video and twitter posts (okay, “tweets”) to tell…a story, about a hike in the English countryside. What if you used the same elements to create a story about your new album, or even a single?
You could gather tweets, video and stills from the entire rehearsing, gigging and recording process, and then post the story of the music on your website. Bingo! An attractive, engrossing, multimedia story wrapped around your music that is relatively simple to create. Listeners could hear the song, browse photos, watch videos showing how the song came together, read lyrics, etc. Of course, all of these elements are already common on artist websites, but there’s something about stitching them all together like this that creates more of a coherent narrative, and strikes a balance between the listener empowerment engendered by the web and the creative intent of the artist.
I’m very excited about this, and you can definitely expect to see one of these stories from me when I launch my next release.
What do you think? Is this an interesting idea? Do you see a future for this, or would this be an attempt to stuff a digital peg into an analog hole? Leave your $.02 in the comments…