Telling stories with songs

I really like the music of Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash because they tell stories with their songs. Since I can play the guitar and sing, I’d somehow feel like I’d “waste” these skills if I’d just write stories in form of novels. Also, I could play these songs with friends, play them again without getting bored, would get listeners more easily - but how do you feel about stories told in songs? Would you listen to them (Don’t be afraid, I won’t spam you with records of me if you say “yes”)? Wouldn’t the story be too much in the background or not complex enough for you to enjoy it? Would you treat a story told in a song (or a short poem) like a short story?
(I’m talking about modern songs here, not operas or epics.)

You might be interested in the “cantastorie” of Sicily, who combine story telling with song and political comment (along with hand-painted backdrops) – the story telling is a vital component of the song. One example is Mauro Geraci:

Songs have often been linked to story telling. I don’t think that ever has been questioned. I don’t think it will ever change. I don’t think one can really tell much of a story in a 5 minute song though. To me you are talking about cliff notes to a book report. Just the highlights.

If you are talking about taking a 72 minute CD and making it into a telling of the story, now you have my interest. It can be done, and without approaching the epic/operatic feel most would expect. I played with this and it was well received. But you need to be a really strong musician to pull it off.

As an alternate idea mixing song with the spoken word is a VERY effective compromise. It gives you the ability to bring the musical flavor, but allows you to accomplish the task without needing the same level of musical skill.

Somethings that I have done:
• Odd time sigs (primes) for conflict. 11/8, 13/4 are real trippy and create a natural tension in the audience.
• Stay in major keys with dissonant chords over shifting to minor keys. This increases the angst instead of just making things moody.
• Less is more. The point is the story, so making use of a cappella style can really pull folks into key points.
• Use distraction to force attention. A strong, lyrical melody, slowly buried in “noise” seems to really get folks attention.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Didn’t expect such quick and interesting responses :slight_smile: Thanks!
Siren: Looks and sounds very interesting, if I’d only be able to understand it :frowning: It’s especially interesting because he relies on voice and guitar (for the sound part).
Jaysen: I originally wanted to add that I also thought of concept albums, and forgot to mention it, but now you’ve already responded :smiley: Really nice to hear that you already made good experiences with that!
Telling a complex story in an album - with the songs being like the chapters - would be really great… To make it really convincing, I guess I’d need a band or at least the ability to play some more instruments. For example, a violin would be great for sadder parts, some brass instruments for “epic” parts and so on. Oh, and drums. For rhythm :smiley: I can play violin and drums a bit, but I don’t have these instruments… Also, different singers for different roles would be pretty awesome, that’d turn the whole sing in a kind of audio book/music mixture.
But since I “only” have my voice and my guitar, it’s good to hear your tip about concentrating on the story in the sense of “less is more”. :slight_smile:

Here’s one that works for me.

I can be a one man show, but I prefer playing live. Most of the stuff I did was adaptation for performance so it was a bit easier than original work. The original stuff is more fun though.

The most important point of my previous post was the last line. Particularly the the first clause. :wink:

:open_mouth: :blush: :blush: :blush: :blush:

I wrote with Roland Enders (here is his english site), who both makes music and writes stories (aside from shorter stories also a novel).
Unsurprisingly, he said both is a lot of work. Also, he said having multiple characters and a deep story packed into a concept album is complicated, opposed to doing that with a novel.
Because of that, I started with a novel - the story got larger and longer, the background of the characters grew, but the more I wrote, the more I felt that it was unnecessary, so I started working on the song-story again.
Maybe writing a long novel is just “not my type”, although I enjoy reading them. Anyway, momentarily I work on both the novel and the song version. I guess I’ll scrap one of the two versions somewhere on the way when I’m sure that the other is the “better” thing to do for me.