A Documentary Songwriter’s role is to serve the world as part-composer and part-journalist.
To document the emotions of people’s experiences in songs and to express feelings in a way that only music can.
- Musical beauty lies in the rhythms and words of spoken stories.
- Creativity can flourish when people collaborate.
- There’s more to life than what is often sung about in commercial music.
- To create enduring melodies and lyrics from people’s spoken words
- To create bonds among people through musical collaboration
- To bear witness to human experiences far and wide
- To discover what people will choose to sing about when freed of commercial constraints
- To transport listeners out of normal existence, even for a moment, and create beauty
The Work Itself:
The first stage is arranging contact: Through organizations or friendships, a documentary songwriter finds a person who has a personal story to tell. The documentary songwriter listens to the story and turns it into text by typing it verbatim into a laptop computer.
The second stage involves musical composition: The documentary songwriter serves as a “musical sherpa” and guides the storyteller — or “story source” — in distilling the spoken text into lyrics. The documentary songwriter compassionately supports the story source in singing an exploratory melody. Drawing on music theory and knowledge of song forms, the documentary songwriter finds chords for the melody and designs an instrumental accompaniment.
The third stage involves performing and recording. The documentary songwriter and the story source collaboratively refine the song and make a live recording. They publish the original song by uploading the recording, the lyrics, and any commentary to the site docsong.org. Additionally, there may be followup arranging with a band or in a recording studio for release on iTunes or Spotify.
Why It Seems to Work
Creating something as partners or in a group can fill a room with energy. It may be the most energizing thing that people can experience together. What can short-circuit this energy, however, is feeling uncreative or fretting over finding an idea. The documentary songwriting method tosses these worries out the window. It takes personal stories — spoken words — and uses them as inspiration. It carries people through the creative process and lets them experience their own creative power.