Archive for ‘Guest Post’

December 16, 2011

Guest Post: Songwriting 101: Showing vs. Telling

by Clay Riedesel

One of the hardest lessons I ever learned came from the bonus DVD to a mediocre sci-fi movie called “Stealth.” “Stealth” is about a sentient airplane that kills people, and, as you can imagine, it wasn’t a very good movie. After I finished watching it with some friends I assumed that this was some big budget Hollywood flick that was shot in a weekend to make a quick buck.

I only watched the bonus DVD out of boredom. What I found out is that the entire movie was a labor of love. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars were put into transforming “Stealth” from an idea on a sheet of paper into a reality. And what was worse, it was clear that everyone involved really believed in this movie. Nobody thought they were wasting their time making a box office flop that would go on to score 13% on Rotten Tomatoes. Everyone was clearly proud of what they accomplished.

Growing up, I was always told making art was about passion. As long as you deeply cared about what you did and put all of your energy into making your dreams a reality, you could do anything. “Stealth” taught me that passion alone isn’t and will never be enough.

Humans are ignorant when it comes to mastering a craft. They don’t realize that there are strict rules you have to follow or your audience will feel cheated. Like a magician, a filmmaker relies on their audience believing in magic instead of thinking like a skeptic. People love coming up with armchair theories about why things work or don’t work, but rarely do they know. For the most part I’m no better. There are a lot of things I don’t understand.

But what I do understand is music, and I’m tired of ignorant people who enjoy poorly crafted songs. So in an effort to educate the public and get good music back on the radio again, I’m going to help you understand what makes music work, so hopefully you can enjoy it a little bit more. So pull out your notes and get ready for Songwriting 101!

Lesson 1: Showing vs. Telling

Every good fiction writer knows that you don’t tell an audience a story, you show them. Not that telling is bad, it just doesn’t belong in the art world. Telling is for lectures and research papers. Telling is about exchanging information. Art is about empathy. You have to show your audience what’s going on instead of telling them, because if you tell them, they’ll get bored, or worse, they’ll think about what you’re saying instead of trying to feel what you mean.

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