If you have a friend who’s going through tough times, you might say to them, “Everything’s going to be all right.” You hope your words will show your care and concern that friend. But sing those words to them, and you’ve got a much better chance of getting through.
That’s the nature of music, and everyone seems to know it. Politicians use music to stir up the crowd. More politicians will take the stage to a rocking tune than to a thoughtful poem, if stirring up emotion is what they’re trying to do.
Music is powerful. It touches people in ways that mere words can’t. And I bring this up because as composers of music, we might forget just how powerful a tool we have at our disposal. We have the ability to give people who are hurting a dose of hope and courage – to motivate and inspire.
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Have you ever written a song that offers love and support to a friend or relative? Through a few chords, melody and lyrics, you can give people hope during a time of despair. And that is an amazing gift.
Sometimes songwriters write these powerful songs to themselves, to help them through their own pain (Eric Clapton, “Tears in Heaven“). Music history is full of songs that were written to give others hope at difficult times, or to encourage the downtrodden. Some are emotional, some are aggressive, but they all serve to encourage:
- “Man in the Mirror” (Siedah Garrett, Glen Ballard)
- “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Paul Simon)
- “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)“
- “Titanium” (David Guetta ft. Sia)
- “Beautiful Day” (U2)
This is not so much a post about how to write uplifting music. It’s more to point out that you have this amazing potential at your disposal to make others feel good.
And that’s something so many others wish they could do. As a songwriter, you’re doing something that many can’t do. If you have a friend going through dark days, you may worry that you can’t provide something “real” to help them. But for many, it’s not the something “real” they need. They need the less tangible support and love that a song specifically written for them can offer.
If you want to write a song that you hope might help someone who’s hurting, you might consider the following.
- Respect their privacy. People going through tough times have the right to deal with their difficulties in their own way, which means on their own, if that’s their choice. So if you write a song for them, you may need to keep the lyrics vague enough that you and the receiver of the song have something to share between you without broadcasting it openly. You’ll know when it feels right to be vague and when it feels right to be more direct.
- Don’t be preachy. Sometimes a friend’s difficulties can be the result of bad choices. Don’t use your lyrics to ponder how things got to this point. Be caring and supportive without being judgmental.
- Don’t use lyrics to dismiss a problem. It’s a fine line. You don’t want to be dismissive, but you also don’t want to help them wallow in their pain. There’s a way to say “things will get better” without making it sound like you’re making light of their situation.
- Think about how you want them to feel at the end of the song. In other words, if your friend’s situation is sad, see if there’s a way to develop a musical style that leaves them feeling happy and uplifted at the end. The perfect style might be something melancholy but hopeful: a mix of two styles. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” might be a good example here.
- Supportive music doesn’t need to address any one person. In”Man In the Mirror”, the singer (Michael Jackson) addresses the issue of insensitivity toward the downtrodden as his own personal issue. But the implication is that he is singing on everyone’s behalf. It’s not that difficult to look at our world today and see issues that can be addressed like this.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
As usual, another great post.
As an add-on, make sure that this isn’t about you. We see people doing things, purportedly for someone else, when it’s really meant to draw attention to themselves. Examine our own motivations and be sincere, in anything we do, not just songwriting.