Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Let the Music Move You

Music and Storytelling have always been deeply intertwined, so it should come as no surprise that music can be a great asset to both the creative writer and conceptual artist. Here's a couple techniques I've found useful when looking for inspiration.

The Character Playlist:
Whether you are creating a character for film, comics, animation, or just plain prose, understanding the ins and outs of their personality is crucial. Sometimes attempting to craft a personality out of whole cloth can be somewhat intimidating, especially if the character is a complex one with conflicting motives and desires. This is a trick that will help root out those complex feelings and brainstorm potential plot directions. Its actually ridiculously simple: Create a musical playlist for the character in question. I know it sounds odd and borderline obsessive, but it works. Now when I say make a playlist for them , I don't mean music that they would listen to. Rather, select a group of songs that embodies the characters essence. It helps to have a eclectic taste in music, although it is possible for a character to reside completely in a single genre. Additionally, avoid the temptation to make all the music about the same feeling/aspect. The goal is to create a complex, interesting character, which generally means they have more than one aspect or emotion. If you're getting stuck, start thinking about what the character thinks about other characters or events in the story. Think about their subconscious desires, what do they really need? You can go even further and make several playlists for the beginning and end states of the character. How has the character grown/changed? Remember, the song lyrics don't have to mirror everything about the character, what's important is the feelings it imparts and the bits of the song which stick out at you as resonating with the character. Pandora can be a great tool for this, because it can give you unexpected suggestions, which may give you a stroke of insight.

The Album Concept:
This is a trick for coming up with a concept based off of a whole album. While I use the example of a full world or setting, it could just as easily be used for developing any concept. The idea behind this is that a album is generally a complete set of musical thoughts laid out by the musician. By listening to the album repeatedly and iteratively building your concept from the experiece, you can craft a concept that is personal and moving. Find a full album of music that you can tolerate listening to several times. Ideally, it should be a genre with the general overall mood you wish to convey with the concept. Get yourself set up in a comfy spot with a notepad, and listen to the whole album. In the case of classical music, sometimes its better just to use a complete suite instead of a album, the point is to listen to a full musical thought. As you listen, close your eyes and begin to visualize the world the music evokes to you. When you have a idea, jot it down along with a track title or name. Try to listen through the whole album, writing down notes and refining your vision. Once you're done, take a break. Let the ideas you've thought up sit and marinate in your head. Come back later and sit down again with your notes and a medium of your choice. If you're writing, use another piece of notepaper. Visual concepts should be done on a sketchpad, with a sketching implement of choice. Personally, I find it useful to use a ball point pen for rough sketching, because it removes the temptation to erase a "young" idea. Listen to the album again, keeping your original ideas in mind. This time begin to capture specific imagery. Once you're done, take a break again. Repeat this process a few more times until you're sure about your concept. At this point you can continue to develop it without the music. You can always come back and listen to specific songs as a reminder of certain aspects. Great free resources for this are Jamendo and Magnatune. Both allow free listening of full-length albums in a wide variety of genres.

Hopefully you'll find these techniques useful. Just remember, these are tools, not rules. Feel free to explore your own methods of exploration and inspiration. Additionally, if you create anything cool using these techniques and feel like sharing, please do!


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