Telling a story with a song (without vocals)

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Jagwah
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21 Nov 2017

A friend told me telling a story through your song is one of the most important parts of the music making process.

When it comes to doing this with synths and melodies and chords, well it's not an easy thing to grasp. I googled a lot and felt like I was trying to decipher meanings of poetic statements more than actually getting to the nitty gritty of what this actually means. I think we all get the 'question / response' theory, but telling a story must involve more than that?

I could really use some advice and thoughts here. Do you practise this concept, all the time or some of the time? Can you try and explain in your own words what it means, and how you go about it? Any examples you have in your music or have deciphered in others?

Looking forward to hearing some input on this one, cheers!
Last edited by Jagwah on 21 Nov 2017, edited 1 time in total.

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Loque
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21 Nov 2017

For me "telling a story with a song" is that it creates the story in front of my imaginary eye. The sounds, melodies and moods reminds me on things and a in conjunction build a story.

Like you hear a "thunder" and it reminds you on a "stormy, rainy and windy day". The darker the "thunder" sounds, the darker your feeling is and the later the day in my imagination. And now, create this without a thunder sample :-)

Some uber wonder guys can "speak" and "tell" through musik and you understand them. Combined with different tones and sounds, and you get it. Make it "musik" and not only "tones" and you have it. This is the ultimate story-telling with music IMO.

Did not heard much of this quality music.
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Olivier
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22 Nov 2017

I like this subject ! :)

Here's where i would go to start researching this..


In music theory you can find the term: Program Music. Program music has existed for a long time.
See where the net can take you starting for example here : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Program_music

You can go the way of mimicking actual sounds through instruments and through that paint a picture. Use birdlike melodies and flutes for example.. But there isn't always an analogy available. Most of what music transfers is emotion and often there are no direct musical representation available for what happens in our environment.

There are lots of writeups about how different musical aspects are experienced generally by listeners. What does timbre do, what is the role of pitch and tempo.. what about volume. What do we take from how instruments interact melodically ? Then the larger subjects like dynamics, orchestration, arrangement and recently ofcourse (multi channel) mixing.

What all these things do to the listener are quite well documented. But by all means start by getting a good feel for yourself of what all these aspects do. Try putting it into words. What does agression sound like ? Harsh ? Loud ? Fast ? Does stress have a fast paced rhytm ? What IS a "lovely" sound ?

There are many classical examples. To the modern movie-goer they will sound like soundtracks. Thats mainly because a lot of modern soundtrack composers use a lot of the program music techniques. So there's another place where you can find information ;)

Several examples i like:





Or just watch a movie for the music and try to listen for how the different aspects of the music support the feeling of the scene.

Bonus:
Game music can be a great example too.. Listen to what happens here :

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TritoneAddiction
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22 Nov 2017

Interesting topic.

I don't really care about "telling a story" necessarily myself. I'm more into painting a picture or evoke a certain feeling. They are related but not exactly the same.

What's interesting is we all get different associations from the same music anyway. That's become very apperent to me the times I've asked other people for title suggestions for my own tracks. Some suggestions are completely off compared to how I experience the music myself.

I feel like the topic is so connected to what we are used to listening to. I can listen to a brutal death metal track with endless blastbeats and get positive uplifting reaction to it, while someone not used to it might feel like it's just irritating noise. The song was the same yet it evoked completely different emotions. So maybe there's some guidelines to telling a story, paint a picture with music, but in the end it mostly comes down to the individuals preferences and earlier experiences I think.

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Jagwah
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22 Nov 2017

...
Last edited by Jagwah on 06 Dec 2017, edited 2 times in total.

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Jagwah
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23 Nov 2017

Still hoping for more input from people on this difficult topic.

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Jagwah
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06 Dec 2017

Loque wrote:
21 Nov 2017
For me "telling a story with a song" is that it creates the story in front of my imaginary eye. The sounds, melodies and moods reminds me on things and a in conjunction build a story.

Like you hear a "thunder" and it reminds you on a "stormy, rainy and windy day". The darker the "thunder" sounds, the darker your feeling is and the later the day in my imagination. And now, create this without a thunder sample :-)

Some uber wonder guys can "speak" and "tell" through musik and you understand them. Combined with different tones and sounds, and you get it. Make it "musik" and not only "tones" and you have it. This is the ultimate story-telling with music IMO.

Did not heard much of this quality music.
Thanks for your reply Loque.

Create the thunder without the thunder sample hmmm, this is like the information I found when googling this topic. I guess the story can be told through moods of music, rather than trying to pin point exact sounds for ever part of the story.

I have definitely heard music that is telling a story and it seems such quality music, but one thing I love about Reason is just starting and ending up somewhere I could not have possibly imagined, and story is not part of that at all, so I am of two minds about it right now.

Anyway thanks for your input, you should join the chat room sometimes if you aren't already.

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Adabler
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07 Dec 2017

I think telling a story with music can be done very well, but for it to work you'll need to help the listener a little. People associate different things with different sounds and melodies and while we've found a lot of common grounds, like minor=sad, major=happy, there is still a lot of room for interpretation.

As soon as a song is released, the composer loses control over it's story. He or she can't force the listener to interpret the song the same way.

On of my all time favorite works really invites the listener to make up a story, and I am pretty sure my story is very different from Mike's:


The way I see it, there is no musical common language detailed enough for you to be sure that composer and the listener sees the same behind closed eyelids.

As Olivier pointed out, there is a lot of interesting theory on program music you could read up on. A lot of brilliant people has spent a lot of time thinking about this. In the meantime, here's is something you could try: make different animal themes! Make a cat theme, snake theme and fish theme. They look very different, surely they must sound different too? I think this is a great way to think about music as a descriptive tool.

This is also relevant:
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avasopht
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07 Dec 2017

I've always been more of painting an idea, experience or frozen moment.

I do have a few stories but I've never released them.
---

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CaliforniaBurrito
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08 Dec 2017

I tend to go with an idea, vibe, theme, experience, etc. and then it is up to the listener to create their own story. I think we should all want listeners to be engaged as opposed to having them sit there like a rotten potato mindlessly consuming television. Television is the medium to be in if you want to write stories and shove them down people's throats. :lol:

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Jagwah
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18 Dec 2017

Olivier wrote:
22 Nov 2017
I like this subject ! :)

Here's where i would go to start researching this..


In music theory you can find the term: Program Music. Program music has existed for a long time.
See where the net can take you starting for example here : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Program_music

You can go the way of mimicking actual sounds through instruments and through that paint a picture. Use birdlike melodies and flutes for example.. But there isn't always an analogy available. Most of what music transfers is emotion and often there are no direct musical representation available for what happens in our environment.

There are lots of writeups about how different musical aspects are experienced generally by listeners. What does timbre do, what is the role of pitch and tempo.. what about volume. What do we take from how instruments interact melodically ? Then the larger subjects like dynamics, orchestration, arrangement and recently ofcourse (multi channel) mixing.

What all these things do to the listener are quite well documented. But by all means start by getting a good feel for yourself of what all these aspects do. Try putting it into words. What does agression sound like ? Harsh ? Loud ? Fast ? Does stress have a fast paced rhytm ? What IS a "lovely" sound ?

There are many classical examples. To the modern movie-goer they will sound like soundtracks. Thats mainly because a lot of modern soundtrack composers use a lot of the program music techniques. So there's another place where you can find information ;)

Several examples i like:





Or just watch a movie for the music and try to listen for how the different aspects of the music support the feeling of the scene.

Bonus:
Game music can be a great example too.. Listen to what happens here :

Sorry for the late reply and thanks for your great explanation.

I hear so much in classical music, like the examples you posted, I feel definite particular emotion; those instruments are perfect at telling a story. It is less decipherable with synths imo, and more difficult to convey a message.

I like the idea someone stated here of painting a picture, which is much more like creating just a scene rather than telling a story. In an old Prodigy interview Liam talked about how he imagined people sitting around on couches in a smokey room, smoking cigars while listening to the track he was working on. I have already used this 'scene' method in the past without even thinking about it, and I kinda like it. :)

I must admit since trying to learn about this concept and work with it I am torn between doing it and not doing it at all. One thing I love about Reason is how I can sit down and just have at it with almost no intention, and within a few minutes be heading in a direction I never heard of or considered before, and I can carry on in that direction. Then, another time, after getting a basic structure down I set about strictly telling a story and something really cool happened that would have never happened otherwise, something I can't wait to get back to after finishing my current work. So, one thing I am curious about, is how often you use the story telling method? Are you using it strictly every time unless remixing or something else? What about a big, angry, choppy dubstep track - would you put the story idea aside or try and incorporate it somehow?


:D

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Jagwah
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05 Jan 2018

Here's Hydlide's take on it:


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normen
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05 Jan 2018

To be honest to me it sounds a bit like your friend likes to use big words :) To tell a story in music is the functional approach. As Olivier indicated, learn how to write film music if you want to learn that.

For any other music its about what you feel and being able to refine that. Theres no absolute story, my mum hears terror and death when she's listening to metal, I am hearing proud warriors in battle ;)

People hang on that "story" thing too much imo anyway, theres so many art forms that work way better without a strict "story" or "frame", like contemporary dance for example. In the end the actual art is always in the head of the consumer.

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CaliforniaBurrito
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05 Jan 2018

Hydlide's comments about E.T. without the music reminded me of a popular music production V-Log guy named Sadowick who produced an electronic music project titled The Icarus Project which ran parallel to the visual backing of The Matrix movie. That was pretty interesting.

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Reasonable man
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05 Jan 2018

Depends on where your comming from i guess. I know a few people who are only interested in whats current and trying to emulate that ...thinking that this is gonna make them money or a 'rep' and the music industry is so fickle that this can be a viewpoint i guess and can actually work for some people and thats really all there about . They completeley ignore the fact that most people who write 'new' or inspiring music go back in time and re-interpet old genres and give them new life or meaning and that is whatt makes thery're music inspiring and gives it that depth.
Where as in the classical realm composers would spend hours trying to orchestrate a transtion by having the woodwind double the second violin as the picaloo palys in 5th's above above it etc etc : In the electronic realm , thats equivilant to precise aoutomation, maybe doubling and at the same time changing key while fading out a synth and raising the frequency cut off and adding a two bar amp-velocity change to the hi-hats to make it sound like they plucked a reality straight out of breathing thin air. Thats what advanced storytelling involves |(i think anyway) .... creating those little moments of reality or truth (through music) that parallel to storytelling.
In the electronic realm ... The music of Brian Eno or Jon Hopkins is pure artistry but in my opinion alot of acts have achieved similar accalim whilst still maintaining a commericial edge and you have to doff your cap cause thats what (in my humble opinion) the everyday man in the street appreciates ...commercial music with an artistic edge/ viewpoint

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Dabbler
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05 Jan 2018

Telling a story with a song (without vocals) - use video. Think the Blue Danube in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

wishMachine
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17 Jan 2018

I have managed to tell a story with a track before, it's borderline classical. I wrote it on the Amiga (OctaMED SS) years ago, I've been re-working it in Reason as I feel it deserves some love.

The premise was (my mind is a tad hazy...) I was living with a woman I no longer wanted to be involved with and had no idea how to articulate this in any way. There was fear of being alone, where I was going to live and what the heck I was supposed to do. Back then (1998) I mainly wrote Jungle and Techno, so dropping the pace and creating something that had real movement was way out of where I was comfortable but it just seemed to flow. This is the only time I have ever done this and didn't realise (until much later) what I had actually done.

There are 4 parts to this track, there's a large chunk at the beginning that sets the mood, then the drums drop away for a bit and the tone gets really dark. After that there's the super happy part, right before everything falls apart and the whole piece gets ugly and sad.

I don't have a version that is in any state for sharing, I've used a lot of noise generators for the rhythm and it's proving really, really difficult to mix. I may throw out a rough cut if any one is actually interested.

Jagwah: I think it's essential to completely break formula when it comes to telling a story with music. There needs to be a flow to the story and a purpose. Don't be afraid to change tempo and instrumentation.
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aeox
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17 Jan 2018

I've never heard a story told through music that doesn't involve visual or vocals. Just good music.

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normen
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18 Jan 2018

aeox wrote:
17 Jan 2018
I've never heard a story told through music that doesn't involve visual or vocals. Just good music.
Maybe your imagination is broken, go have it checked :)

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Marco Raaphorst
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18 Jan 2018

I try to stop my brain with thinking about just feel it. Trying to become a listener, which is difficult because when composing you know what is coming. To stop thinking can be heard. But it's essential for me. Going for just feeling.

Try to get into that flow mode. Things just happen and you're part of it.
Marco Raaphorst

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aeox
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18 Jan 2018

normen wrote:
18 Jan 2018
aeox wrote:
17 Jan 2018
I've never heard a story told through music that doesn't involve visual or vocals. Just good music.
Maybe your imagination is broken, go have it checked :)
It's just really subjective.

People can take away different feelings from the same song. But those are feelings and not a story, in my opinion. I could reminisce about the past or imagine the future while listening to certain tracks but I wouldn't call it story telling.

It's not just my imagination. All of me is broken!

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normen
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18 Jan 2018

aeox wrote:
18 Jan 2018
It's just really subjective.

People can take away different feelings from the same song. But those are feelings and not a story, in my opinion. I could reminisce about the past or imagine the future while listening to certain tracks but I wouldn't call it story telling.

It's not just my imagination. All of me is broken!
The thing is thats the case with a story in words as well - hence I don't discern there :) The narrative always happens in your head.

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