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Concept Writing

Today we are going to take a departure from mechanical rhythm guitar work. We will finish off the last installment of metal rhythm guitar domination next time perhaps. I’ve been doing a lot of concept writing lately with Dark Shift, and I thought I’d share some ideas with you. We are going into the studio this month, and after an entire month of writing and rewriting, I’ve picked up some cool ideas. Today there are only 3 things you’ll need:

1) Paper
2) Pencil
3) Your Mind

Have you ever thought about writing music for a concept album or song? It is quite a challenge and a lot of fun for those of you who attempt it! There are some really great concept albums out there if you look for them. I suggest picking up “V” by Symphony X and “Scenes from a memory” by Dream Theater. If you are unfamiliar with concept albums (or songs), then this is a good place to start by checking out these albums. Now, there are many more great concept albums out there, but its your job to dig for them. So, here is my take on a concept writing.

When approaching a concept song/CD, I’ve always picked a theme. Let it be a short (or long) made up story, an interpretation of a movie’s plot, story from a book, whatever…. Find a theme to write about. Be sure to pick something that inspires you! It helps to sit down and write out a story. Be descriptive too! The more detail you go into writing about on paper, the more things that you will have to describe in your music. Count on writing a lot of music, because this isn’t going to be a 3-5 minute catchy song. You are working on a long, drawn out personal masterpiece. You want to leave no stone unturned. Go after your vision.

If you are having a hard time writing a story, then you need to do more research. When Dark Shift approached writing the song “Forever Night,” (which is a vampire tale) we watched literally 6 different vampire movies in one weekend. Once you get in that inspired mind set, the music will automatically flow from your guitar. But remember, before you touch that axe, write your story or ideas down. Really knowing what you want to write about, and totally saturating yourself with that concept will only get your creative juices flowing more than ever. I read in an interview with Symphony X, that when they were going to write “V,” they did a year of reading books on Atlantis and mythology. They researched until the story they wanted to tell about was clear in their heads. In other words, don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time saturating yourself with your concept.

On approach to concept writing is to start out by writing all of the lyrics. Once you have your story, if you lay out your lyrics, then you will have a template to build around. It is like building a house, once you get a nice and solid foundation put down, the house you build will be sturdy, no matter what material you use to build it. If you write to lyrics, then all you have to do is bridge one part to another. That is one approach. Personally, however, my personal favorite approach is to map out a story, write the music, and then do the lyrics last. It is really a matter of preference. Do which ever method that suits you the best. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Sometimes when you are working on a concept piece, some unexpected surprises will happen. It is pretty cool when you are writing something for a concept song, look back at it, and realize that a certain riff would be better in another song. The clean part of “The Last Door” by Dark Shift was originally intended for the 1st part of “Forever Night,” but we decided to change the story. In turn, we decided that we liked that clean riff and made a whole different song around it. You may find this happening, where you will write something and then the next day, you will change your story for the song/CD. It is always a good thing to take a tape recorder, and record all of the new stuff you write. It is nice to look back at things you’ve cut from songs because usually they turn into another song.

A cool technique to use when writing a concept song/CD, is to foreshadow, or even steal a riff from a different part of the song. Sometimes if you play riffs that are similar, but a little different, it is a great way to build a foreshadowing of what is to come. The more times you hint at something in concept writing, the more memorable that what you are trying to describe will be. Sometimes it is cool to steal whole riffs and vocal lines from later in the song. Especially, if you have a completely different atmosphere of music around that particular part. When you hit that part later in the song/CD, you can totally warp it and evolve it to mean something else, even know it is the same segment of music. This is definitely a fun technique to play around with!

Another thing to consider when concept writing is that your tone should fit your theme. Say we are doing a song about evil, for example. You better not be playing out of a bright Marshall amp! Get your self a dark Mesa Boogie, or something along that line. Make sure that you use chords that are dark and mean sounding too. Use chaotic rhythms! Really give the listener the full experience of “evil,” if that was your concept. If you listen to “V” by symphony X, you will notice that the keyboard overlays, sound effects, strings, ect, all have this tone to them that makes you think of Atlantis. It is like you can smell that ocean air just by listening. That is what you have to do as a musician. Get your tone right!

Probably one of the most annoying parts of concept writing is arguing with your band (that is a good reason to start being a soloist…hahah) about where to segment it. If your story is nice an complex, you could break it down in a billion different ways. In the context of a song, some bands like to make the song 15+ minutes and make it a single track. The disadvantage to this is that when you are listening, and you find something you really like, then you have to hit that dang fast forward button until your fingers bleed. You can always take a long song and break it into separate tracks. The disadvantage of this is, as I stated earlier, you are going to end up arguing with your band all day about what should go where. So, this is just another thing to think about when writing. If you make your story easily divisible, then you can prevent this problem (unless you like to make 30 minute long tracks…then more power to you).

I’ll leave you guys with this for now. It is just some stuff to think about and consider for your own writing. Have some fun and experiment. If anyone comes up with any good concept tracks, drop me a line, I’ll be happy to check it out. Until next month, peace.

Questions? Comments?

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