Storytelling and Music

We all know how stories and music can complement each other so very well. Entire careers have been built on composing soundtracks for movies, or creating musicals/operas for film and/or the stage. And, of course, the entire music industry, with country, rock, pop, heavy metal, celtic, religious, classical, and every other possible genre, is saturated with storytelling, whether or not songs have lyrics.

However, when I saw this video of a Korean heavy metal band performing on some Asian version of American Idol or America/Britain’s Got Talent

…I had a little epiphany.

Good stories and good songs have a number of things in common, including: structure.

Whether or not you like that particular music or this particular song (which I do) or can understand the language (which I really don’t, and I have no idea what they’re saying), there is something about the structure of this song that speaks to quality craftsmanship.

It starts in low and slow, and within the first moments, these artists use a few traditional instruments to draw their audience in. Then they hook them with their vocalizations, and I’m sure doing exactly what they do required more practice and control then I can readily guess.

Almost thirty seconds (out of less than four minutes) in, the guitar joins in, setting the rhythm, leading other instruments in the unspoken narrative, even while the vocalizations fade away, and taking us further into an unseen, mystical realm. They keep weaving the spell, emphasized by the flute (or whatever that instrument is), creating a very surreal and fantastic mood.

Fifty-two seconds in, the first lyrics begin flowing through the listener, semi-chanting in the guitar’s established rhythm, but going into audible regions the guitar cannot. The foundation is laid, and now they’re building on it, further veiling the audience in blissful wonder.

And then… one minute, fifteen seconds, they suddenly slap the audience in the face with the refrain, a different chant from the preceding verse, and a multiplied increase in intensity, volume, and complexity. They drew the audience in, and now they pushed back with the addition of several voices and the louder instruments of the orchestra. The audience is yanked to attention, lifted right out of their seats.

Now, they don’t just leave us up there, hitting us relentlessly. They took our breath away, and they give us a chance to get it back at the one-forty mark. A different member of the band sings the second verse, taking us back to the original rhythm, but in a lower key, almost growling where his band-mate was going upwards to something like a cry or a howl. It’s the same thing, but different.

They don’t let us relax too long, though, and we’re over halfway through the song now, just past the two minute mark, when they just about scream a path for the refrain to return on with a vengeance.

And they’re still changing things up! They keep changing it up, keeping things varied so the audience doesn’t get bored, clear through to the end! Around two and a half minutes in, with barely more than a minute left, they bring in a bass guitarist for an intense, grinding solo. No, wait, not solo. It’s in concert with the other guitar and the percussion instruments.

Then, around two-forty, they give the guy with that stringed instrument (no idea what it’s called) a chance to bring things down a bit with the violins, let us catch one breath amidst some serenity, resonating with the surreal, fantastic texture they first began with. It’s the last breath before the final crescendo, heralded by the drums just after the three-minute mark, taking things back up again, enhancing rather than overcoming the serenity of that stringed instrument. (someday I’m going to know what it’s called…)

Three minutes and nine seconds in, the refrain comes back one more time, with all the previous voices and instruments joining in an interweaving, all-encompassing, audible tapestry. Three-thirty-four, they just belt out the final vocalizations, bringing everything to an intense halt as all the instruments cease. But still, that’s not the end. Three-forty-three, four the last moments, a final flurry by all the instruments, and ending in concert.

Leaving the audience, if they are like me, some strange combination of breathless and cheering, satisfied and yearning for more, and awake and dreaming.

That is a song with quality craftsmanship behind it.

And just take a good look at everything I’ve outlined. They start slow, hook the audience, set a foundation to build on, add complications, hit us with something major, change directions and “voices” constantly, give us serene moments to calm down before taking us right back up into the action, and bring it all together in an epic conclusion, and resolve send us off happy with the resolution. That, right there, has all the makings of a guideline for storytellers across all mediums. Books, comics, videos games, board games, paintings, poetry, songs/ballads, movies, television, the stage, and more, including straight up standing in front of an audience and just telling it to them, old school style. This structure is worth studying.

If the song itself, without any attention to the lyrics, is a story, then these artists are masters. Heh, I note that they even sing the refrain three times, like the three-act structure most common in storytelling.

So I can’t help but wonder, what else might this apply to? Crafting the strategies of war and battle? Athletic events, like gymnastics and figure skating? Comedy routines? Hmm, I guess I already mentioned the stage and telling stories old school, so comedy is probably a good guess.

What else?

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