How to Develop Common Threads in Songwriting

A good story has a lot to offer.  Characters, themes, plots, conflicts, timelines, specific places, situations and varied “states of being” can spark a lot of interesting ideas for a songwriter.Song Threads 

One of the techniques I use when writing a series of songs is to relate them using common threads from a storyline.  The thread can be a character, a feeling, an object, a place or any other component of a story. 

The process I use can be broken down into the following steps:

  1. Select an interesting story
  2. Identify key components of the story that appeal to you and research them
  3. Develop the key components into common threads

Selecting the Story

Select a story that appeals to you on an emotional level.  The story is going to be the platform upon which everything else will be built.  If you don’t feel connected to it, then you’re going to have a hard time writing songs about it. 

Whenever possible you should try to draw parallels between the storyline and your own real life events.  When you put your own genuine emotional content into a song….people can tell.  From the listener’s perspective, genuine emotional content will outshine your musicianship and your ability to sing 9 times out of 10.  There are countless examples of this, but Bob Dylan and Neil Young immediately come to mind.

You can create or borrow the storyline, so you’re not on the hook to actually write the story.  In either case make an effort to develop opinions about the characters.  Imagine details about what they would say, do, or think.  What drives them to make their decisions?  How do they feel about themselves and the choices they’ve made in life?  Write down these thoughts, opinions and details into a narrative and don’t edit yourself.  Make it conversational.  You’ll be surprised at how many useable lyrics result from this exercise. 

It may be easier if you imagine yourself as the main character in the storyline and see that person’s life through your filter. 

Identify Key Components

Once you’ve selected your story, dig a little deeper and identify the key components of the story that resonant with you.  These components are the common threads that you’ll weave into your songs.  Doing this will help you set the overall emotional tone for the project.  It also gives the listener a familiar “home base” for imagery that you’ll carefully sprinkle throughout the project.

Keep pulling at those threads from as many different angles as possible through your research and imagination.  It will most certainly lead you to some pleasantly unexpected places. 

Is There Anybody Out There?

Pink Floyd’s masterpiece, The Wall has many common threads.  The obvious one is “the wall” itself which is revisited, referenced and redefined many times throughout the work.  “The Worms”, The Teacher”, “Mother” “Isolation” and “Persecution” are some other examples of commons threads in the work.  Feel free to add a comment with other examples…there are plenty to choose from in this particular work of genius.

Click here to check out some of the other techniques that you can use to more closely relate songs in an album project.

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