WRITING FOR THE 'OTHER GUY' PART II

Now, for some examples.
The first, is from my recent travels to New England to work with some wonderful people there.
The other writer, Maddy, a very cute, woman with a pretty good life. Husband, daughter, etc. She threw out the usual ideas about trucks, and country, things. Now Maddy doesn't have an extensive catalogue, and could actually used some of those type songs in it. But I really try to avoid all the cliche's everyone gets into. I try to head off cliche's at the beginning, to avoid it in the end, only to find publishers, artists, etc. saying "we already have a million of those."

We have to find subjects that relate to people in a myriad of way. As usual, Maddy's life provided the answer. She is not a singer, but loves to get in her car and drive and sing at the top of her lungs or in the shower. It is the place she can escape the family, the bills, the things that are happening all the time, especially with a teen age daughter. It is nice to have some "alone time."  Since I usually don't make shower calls anymore, the car seemed an interesting space. She threw out a title I thought might work, "I'm a star in my car." While I didn't want to use that it provided a starting point, and something that felt real.
As she talked about her life, forgetting the title she had thrown out since I didn't say anything about it, she was just talking about what she does in her life. She has to drive from time to time and loves her music. Anyone that has ever passed someone in the next lane, seen someone singing at the top of their lungs, playing "drums on the steering wheel" or air guitar, you know this one. Or if you have been caught doing it yourself, you know the deal. WE all do it. I rehearse speeches in my car. Before Bluetooth, it could be pretty embarssing. Now just looks like someone on the phone.

So as she talked I begin writing from the first line down. In my writing I go from the first line down. I am directing a video scene in my head. How could we describe who this is in the first couple of lines. I wrote the first verse and chorus from her real life comments. I just pulled in what she said:

The first two lines have to set the scene:

She’s a Mother and a wife, with a black and white life, feels she’s running in place
Daughter’s hitting those teenage years, Index finger waving in her face

I have tried to set up who she is, hint at the age, getting in those mother/daughter conflicts.
Now the next thing I am going to do is a "channel, or pre-chorus, which changes musically and gives a "lift" into the chorus:

Husband gets home, at 6:04, expects dinner on the table when he hits the door
She’ll wait till later, go for a drive, only place she can free her mind is

Now here is where we diverged a bit from reality. Her husband doesn't really come home like that. Never let the facts get in a way of a good story. I felt a lot of people could relate to that, but what it is doing is SHOWING that the character lives a pretty regimented lifestyle.
SHOW, don't TELL.
Now we are ready for the chorus. Since you have described what she really is, now is the time to tell what she is when she gets on her own:

Chorus
RIGHT DOWN 95
I POD BLASTING, COMES ALIVE
SINGING EVERY WORD AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS
STEVIE NICKS, AEROSMITH, CLASSIC SONGS
ALL BEHIND THE WHEEL OF HER CAR
SHES AN EMANCIPATED, AUTOMATED, MINI-VAN DRIVING
ROCK STAR

Now you have gotten a sense of who this is. I list specifics. "95" is the Interstate number in Boston. I chose "Classic" artists because they are timeless and are always on the radio somewhere. I also had asked Maddy about her favorite artists. I actually change the artists in each chorus to broaden the perspective. She didn't even know what I was writing about. I do this on purpose. You have to get into a "zone" and if you get too many conversations going on it can be interrupted. Not much fun for the other writer but it works.

So now I have described WHO she is, WHAT the song is about, HOW she gets there, WHEN she does it, WHY she is doing it, WHERE she is when she does it.

Does it work? I think it does.
I played it for Maddy with a groove that indicates "Car songs". up tempo, driving rhythm, and the STYLE is kind of the current Jason Aldeen, Montgomery Gentry country rock that derives so much of it's influence from Aerosmith, AC/DC, and 70's and 80's rock. Hey, just the type of people we are singing about. SHOW, DON'T TELL.
Maddy was estatic and that let me know I could move on where we were. I was in the ballpark. She had said many things in the course of our thirty minute conversation, which I took notes on my yellow legal pad, which I do before getting to the computer. So I had a lot to pull from. Again. Maddy was just talking about real life, not about a song.

Reality. Conversational. Ongoing melodic hook.

Second verse:
In this it is very easy to get into "Second verse hell. What do you say? You either advance story line or do "back story" to fill in details of who this woman is.

She visits with friends, and wonders when
The years all seemed to go
When she was 17, homecoming queen
She thought 30 was old

Okay, I've heard this before, but am trying to use it in a different way. Also it continues the story by using BACKSTORY. Who she is, what made her this way? And I don't want to get into the whole "She wanted to be a star" thing, because again, that is what people do all the time. I make sure I follow the pattern of rhyming with the first verse time for the channel:

Now she can’t recall the past at all, but she hears that highway call
Windows rolled down, van takes wings, she appreciates the little things

One thing I didn't want to do is paint her life as terrible. Again, that is what a lot of people do. Poor poor girl, she wanted so much now her life is crap. I hate those. Most people's lives are NOT crap. Sure they would like to be making more money, have better jobs, bigger houses, whatever. but most people are fairly happy. You just hear about the horrible ones because they make news and sell the news for papers, the Internet and TV shows.

Repeat the chorus. I use two lines in the verse, two in the channel and then get to the chorus. The most important thing of the song. In this one, I add other names:

"DIXIE CHICKS, SPRINGSTEEN, CAN’T GO WRONG"

Now is time for the bridge. This is where you sum up the story:


Bridge
Might not be making the big bucks
But she’s on a mission
Cause that spotlight always shines on her
When she turns on that ignition

There. We wrapped it all up. Simple story, fun times, just like to sing and drive. Sound familiar? That is what we are shooting for. Something that rings true, something that tells a cute story, doesn't change the world, but points out some fun things about life.
I think it works.

What do you think?

MAB





2 comments

  • Jimmy B

    Jimmy B

    My two cents, as I attempt to understand ALL the master is teaching. 1) 95 runs from Maine to Florida so you catch many more than just those in “Bean Town” 2) Every woman I have met sings, however, almost never to the public or even family. Therefore they all can relate with this song. 3) Dixie Chicks? The political correctness issues around this group from the name chicks to the views addressed at concerts that cost them everything. This brings huge attention to the song and this particular line or verse, was this your intent? If so please elaborate as I would love to know the reasons. In summery I feel it is an awesome song, covers a piece of life not done before in a song and many in the world can relate to. Also it is a number that either sex could sing and it would sound fine.

    My two cents, as I attempt to understand ALL the master is teaching.

    1) 95 runs from Maine to Florida so you catch many more than just those in “Bean Town”

    2) Every woman I have met sings, however, almost never to the public or even family. Therefore they all can relate with this song.

    3) Dixie Chicks? The political correctness issues around this group from the name chicks to the views addressed at concerts that cost them everything. This brings huge attention to the song and this particular line or verse, was this your intent? If so please elaborate as I would love to know the reasons.

    In summery I feel it is an awesome song, covers a piece of life not done before in a song and many in the world can relate to. Also it is a number that either sex could sing and it would sound fine.

  • Matt Casey

    Matt Casey

    Wow, glad you did this Marc. I know Maddy has been wanting to do that song for a while and you seem to have brought it to life the way she imagined!

    Wow, glad you did this Marc. I know Maddy has been wanting to do that song for a while and you seem to have brought it to life the way she imagined!

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