Writer’s Room: Caroline Jones shares her thoughts on song structure and cultural evolution

Written by Caroline Jones

In the last few years of songwriting, I’ve given a lot of thought to the structure. Like most singer-songwriters, the majority of my songs follow the conventional structure: verse, chorus, second verse, second chorus, optional bridge and / or solo, and third chorus. I use the word “conventional” rather than “traditional” in this piece because there really is no traditional song structure. The structure of popular songs has developed and evolved considerably over the course of the 20th century, from ragtime to Broadway to rock ‘n’ roll, from The Carter Family to Sinatra, from the Beatles to Michael Jackson, from Garth Brooks to Billie Eilish.

Until the 90s, the structure of popular songs in country music still followed the AABA, in which the choir is not only notthe central point of the song, but itisno chorus. Listen to George Strait’s 60 # 1 hits and count how many have choruses. Rather, in this structure, the song’s “hook” lands at the end of each “A” section and the “B” section provides additive / alternate melodic themes and a lyrical perspective. All this to say that the structure of modern commercial song is relatively new. Modern commercialmusicis still less than a century old, and I don’t have enough space here to delve into the structure of popular music in Mozart’s time.

The modern structure of the commercial song – the three-and-a-half-minute song – developed through radio and records. Now, as digital platforms begin to eclipse radio in terms of audience and accessibility, I ask myself as a songwriter and creative: to what extent can I break free from these structures and createNew forms of music? A 20 second vocal or guitar riff video uploaded to TikTok or Instagram Stories can touch someone as deeply as my song on the radio. No one cares that the guitar video took me 60 seconds to record and download, and the radio single took me and a team of people months to write, produce, mix, master , distribute and promote. Really, no one cares. Listeners just want to be moved and inspired as they always have been and always will be. It’s not scary, it’s liberating. I challenge musicians around the world to thank technicians for being braver and more innovative than we have been. THANK YOU FOR disrupting and shaking up our business so that we can be CHALLENGED to create and connect again. To constantly ask: what’s the best way? What’s one way that resonates with more people? These are questions that we artists should be asking ourselves all the time, not just to our audience but to our own hearts. We will always find out how to make music and make a living doing it. If anything ultimately suffers, it will be the now obsolete middlemen and a business model that has benefited musicians.

Sometimes I write a guitar riff, or a vocal melody that the lyrics don’t immediately flow to, or a single verse, or a piano figure. As songwriters we have been taught to think of them as “incomplete” song ideas. Good starts. Fragment. We all have lots and lots of them. Some of them are really special – we all know which ones – and we give ourselves a boost when we can’t lengthen these ideas to fit our structural biases. Or, no matter how hard we try, nothing feels as good as that initial chorus we wrote. But what if thatisthe song?What if the story told in a minute and a half? And if it is full,even if it breaks structural rules? What if this song wasn’t supposed to be three and a half minutes long, and I layered the conventions at the expense ofmy biggest inspiration? Lately I’ve been wondering how I’m feelingcomprehensive and exciting, rather than constantly checking myself against the rules. The rules have been changed countless times by creative and shameless geniuses who have created art so moving, brilliant and undeniable that the music industry has adopted their style as a conventional structure.

We artists are freer than ever. You have the option to find your audience, whether your inspiration calls you to write catchy three and a half minutes songs and put them on an album, or to stream for four hours while you make instrumental music like Jacob Collier. , or create 30-second acapella clips for TikTok. Thanks to new social media platforms, we have the opportunity to share the art that comes to us pure, nonconforming and rebellious. Accept and embrace this creative anarchy, and see what you can do with it, literally.


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