Sometimes writing a song about your own life, every single day, can get a bit tedious — and kind of overwhelming. It’s hard to find new things to write about when you’re constantly pumping out content. Enter the “character song.”
Character songs are songs that focus on writing from the perspective of, well, a character. This can mean stepping into a character’s shoes, or writing a song about a situation or emotional extreme you haven’t fully experienced in your own past, but have perhaps read about. Like for example, writing a song about Bonnie and Clyde without actually participating in a shoot out.
These kinds of songs are fun because they let you escape the constraints of your own reality for a minute. Or better yet, pinpoint an emotion or situation you haven’t fully been able to explore before. Sounds fun, right?
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Study the Character
First and foremost you’re going to want to study the character you’re writing about. But before you break out the books and notepads, it’s actually a lot more simple than you think. What you really need to know are some of the characteristics of the person, the situation, or extreme emotion you’re planning on writing about.
And that’s where it gets fun. This studying can be as simple as watching an episode on TV about whatever you’ve chosen, or reading a book about it. Exploring the motive of your subject and why they tick is a great way to help you truly understand what you want to write about and why you connect with that character.
And of course, this doesn’t have to happen right before you write your song. It’s more like insurance that you have previous knowledge of a situation, so you know what you’re getting into, and can create a road map for how you want to write it.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “3 Ways to Grip Your Listeners With Opening Lines.”
Language Use or Dialect
Knowing how your character speaks is crucial. Whether you’re writing about an actual character or transferring yourself into a unique setting or emotional space, figuring out their personal kind of dialect or language is truly important and can be tons of fun.
“Knowing which words and slang the person uses, or even which kinds of words feature heavily in the genre of music, can help you get to the top of the pile when having your songs placed with a pro artist.”
Not only will the song sound more like the voice of the character or the part you’re trying to play, it’ll challenge you to be extra aware of your lyrics. What makes them nervous, anxious, overjoyed, or gravely serious. Who doesn’t love that level of detail?
Side note: this is also helpful for writing pitch songs for other artists. Knowing which words and slang the person uses, or even which kinds of words feature heavily in the genre of music, can help you get to the top of the pile when having your songs placed with a pro artist.
Here’s a video courtesy of Kimbra’s course, Vocal Creativity, Production, and Arranging, in which the artist details how she developed her creative vocabulary; which leads to the manifestation of voices, characters, roles, and a heightened understanding of one’s own songwriting practice. Enjoy:
Imagery, Imagery, Imagery!
The fun part about transferring yourself into somebody else’s shoes is that you get to transfer others into their world with you. Which means you get to talk a lot about what your character would think, or see.
Going back to our earlier example of Bonnie and Clyde at their shoot out, you might be able to throw in something unique like the detail in the upholstery of the car’s back seat. Or even the sun shining through the bullet hole in the car door! Maybe even the way their hands interlaced as they fought it out to the end.
Of course, both these examples are a little intense. The point is, this new world is totally your oyster. Explore your options.
Make stuff up! Even if your character does exist in the real world, writing is an expression of your own volition. Take liberties on how the character talks, walks, sees things. Even alter their perspective if you want to. Have your main character be a tea cup, or a paper clip!
“This is your unique perspective on someone, their situation, or a set of emotions you’ve never truly understood.”
Songs about characters can sometimes just be inspired by them — and that’s perfectly okay. The idea is to find new experiences and boundaries to explore for yourself. So don’t let reality hold you back. The imagination is the most powerful tool of any creative. And the sky is your only limit.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “6 Bad Habits in Songwriting, and How to Break Them.”
Write a Song About Yourself!
The last tip about writing a character song is to always include a little bit of yourself in it. Now I know you might be thinking “hey, wait a minute. I thought the whole point of this was to write a song about someone else!” and it is! But also — you’re you. This is your unique perspective on someone, their situation, or a set of emotions you’ve never truly understood.
While you will be writing in what you imagine their shoes to be, this song will still be uniquely yours. And there’s no need to fight it.
Instead, cherish it, nourish it, and see what that line of thinking inspires. You never know what kind of wonderful ideas allowing yourself to write without constraints will bring about. This might even become one of your favorite tools in your songwriting tool box.
Now that we’ve gone over a few tips and tricks on how to write a character song, try it out! Who knows, you might even come up with something you had no idea you needed. Let us know below which character’s you’ll be attempting first. Most of all, have fun.
Don’t stop here!
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, composing, home recording, electronic production, beat making, and much more. Explore Soundfly’s exciting courses like Modern Pop Vocal Production, Unlocking the Emotional Power of Chords, and Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, and Production.