Write A Song About the NewsJune 23, 2008 3:05 pm Songwriting
Probably the easiest thing to write a song about is our own lives. After all, we have all the info! And, we know exactly what emotions are involved and what they feel like. The only problem is that limiting ourselves to writing about our own lives leaves out an awful lot, namely the whole rest of the world!
We can expand our songwriting horizons by trying to relate to other people, whether they be friends, strangers, or even historical figures, and to tell their stories instead of just our own. (See my article Write A Song About Someone Else’s Life for some general thoughts on this approach.)
One specific source of “someone else’s story” is the daily newspaper or the TV news shows that now run 24 hours a day on cable. Some of the stories they cover are serious, some are trivial, but any of them could present an idea or even a specific narrative for you to develop into a song. I have even written a song based on one of the oddball stories in “News Of the Weird”!
You can write about big, well-known news stories like the Iraq War (whether you are gung-ho or gung-no) but once you get into politics or social commentary you do run the risk of alienating some people with your choice of words or subject. Again, a lot of us wrote songs about 9/11, but the whole subject is so fraught with baggage and a sense of “what more is there to say” that I would be hesitant to play mine for anyone.
The “features” or “human interest stories” that are always reported along alongside the real news are often more fruitful songwriting-wise than the big, major stories. Hearing about some guy who is riding his lawnmower across the country might give you a great idea for a song. Or maybe it’s the plight of farmers in Bolivia. Anything to break yourself out of your little circle of you!
I’m not really suggesting that you tell the stories that you come across in your songs, although that can sometimes work. It’s more a matter of describing the situation, or a reaction to it, preferably from the point of view of one of the participants in the story, or as someone reacting to hearing the story.
The End Was Nigh
I’ll give you an example of a song I wrote that was based directly on a big news story of the day. Do you remember the Y2K (Year 2000) scare of the late ’90s? The fear was that when the calendar “rolled over” into the new millenium, all of our electronic systems that had the idea that years start with 19 built into them would quit working at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Planes would crash, bank accounts would be wiped clean, prison doors would burst open, and so forth. Of course, none of it happened.
I got so tired of hearing about this non-story on the news (it received saturation coverage in late 1999) that I sat down and wrote “Century Blues.” The first two verses cover some of the more extreme predictions for the millenium, then the third verse makes it seem like the singer is inclined to blame everything on Y2K!
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