Songwriter U: What’s Your Story? 

Written by Judy Stakee

Videos by American Songwriter

A great songwriter is a great storyteller. Using words as building blocks and setting them against a brilliant melody, writers employ literary devices like rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, and repetition to captivate us. Over the course of a few minutes, writers tell us the truths of life in song. 

Sharpening this craft demands we have a fine-tuned relationship with language. Increasing vocabulary will give us more words from which to choose. Analyzing the use of literary devices in songs will help us when we turn toward our own writing. We need to amass knowledge of words and language in order to employ them in a novel way. 

Of course, storytelling is as much about how we use our words as it is about which words we use. Do our songs have a beginning, middle, and end? Are we commuting coherently? Is there space in the right moments so that the audience can reflect on what we just said? Are there repetitive statements that cut to the emotional core? Thinking about these questions can help us decide if our storytelling is effective through song. If it’s not, then we aren’t doing our jobs properly. 

One should consider that our storytelling powers need to extend beyond the song. Artists, in particular, need to think about the ways they tell their stories onstage. Banter before or after the performance of a song should enhance an audience’s understanding of the art. This banter can hook new fans and make old fans feel like they are getting a heightened experience. This is why I often advise artists to write a loose script to follow throughout their set. Practice this script in the mirror. A bit of preparation will, ironically, make you seem like a great off-the-cuff storyteller off the cuff. 

For writers taking meetings with managers, publishers, and other music industry folks, it is essential that you be able to navigate the meeting effectively. Most introductory meetings will elicit the same few questions: What’s your story? Who do you like to write with? When did you start writing? The questions are fairly rudimentary, however, the answers reveal a lot. The content of the answers and the ways in which you tell your story have the power to garner an executive’s attention or turn them away. That’s why you should rehearse your music industry story in advance of any major meeting. 

For clients with whom I have a one-on-one relationship, we roleplay these business meetings. I act as the executive and they act as the creative. I ask questions that they need to answer, and through this process, we refine and nitpick at their responses. Sometimes I throw them curveball questions because it’s best to be prepared for everything. Good things happen when talent and preparation meet an opportunity head-on.

Keeping all this in mind—storytelling through song, storytelling through stage banter, and storytelling in a business meeting—we can understand that storytelling is THE essential skill that artists and songwriters need to develop. From sunup to sundown, that is your job. Getting a greater understanding of language, writing out banter, and rehearsing for meetings will keep your storytelling skills sharp. 

It just might help you get that deal you’ve been after too.

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