How to write a song using movies PT.1: Choosing a song topic
Let’s talk about choosing a song topic. This can be a challenge for many people. So we’re going to try using TV series and movie scenes to get some inspiration. This is a creative approach that has helped me a lot when I struggle to find a topic for a song or if I just want to try something different and I believe it can help you too.
I want to lay down a sort of foundation with this post because I will be making more posts and videos covering this approach. However, this one’s going to be specifically about how to choose a song topic. The next one I make will go more in detail into the decisions that you can take specifically on the elements of the scene that you’re looking at, but for now let’s just focus on choosing a song topic first.
Let’s look at an example of a song specifically written for a movie so I can show you what I mean.
Tip #1: Use the main themes of the movie (Gambling – Life of a spy)
Example #1: Casino Royal – You know my name by Chris Cornell and David Arnold
Many of you might remember this song from Casino Royale, and if you don’t know, the theme was written by Chris Cornell and David Arnold (the soundtrack’s composer).
The first thing you’ll notice about this song is that it’s not a regular orchestra movie score. It’s a regular song with vocals, lyrics, and a traditional arrangement and song structure.
The lyrics have lines such as “if you take a life do you know what you’ll give” and “arm yourself because no one else here will save you”, which allude to the type of risks that spies go through.
Another thing they did with the lyrics was to compare the risks of gambling with the risks of being a spy and you can see that in lines like “the odds will betray you” and “you can’t deny the prize, it may never fulfill you”.
If we look at the visuals we can see this comparison more clearly because the images are all about gambling and being a spy. They also added a bit of James Bond’s personality in the lyrics as well. For example, you can see that in the lines “the coldest blood runs through my veins” and “if you think you’ve worn you never saw me change the game we’ve been playing”.
What they’re doing with those lyrics is alluding to James Bond’s personality, which is the epitome of a calculated risk taker that never loses his cool.
The topic of the song takes into account all elements of the movie in the lyrics.
So you can try asking yourself things like “what’s the movie about?”, “what are the main characters like?”, “what type of setting are they in?”
This helps because when you’re songwriting, it really helps to paint an image with your lyrics but you can also work backwards and write your lyrics based on images and the details of a movie scene.
Let’s check out another example.
Tip #2: Use the emotional context of the scene (Regret – Solitude)
Example #2: Westworld – Codex by Radiohead (SPOILER ALERT!!!)
This next one is a scene from the season two finale of Westworld so SPOLER ALERT if you haven’t seen it.
I want you to look at the screenshots above and think about what the song would sound like for a scene like this.
Look at the colors and I want you to consider what emotions these images are expressing. What do you think the music for a scene like this would be about?
The song they chose for this scene is Radiohead’s “Codex” off their King of Limbs album. This song wasn’t written for the scene, so why does that work so well?
The answer is because they’re both expressing similar things For example, at the end of season two Bernard betrays Dolores, then regrets his decision and decides to bring her back. The lyrics in Radiohead’s “Codex” make allusions to a “sleight of hand” and a desire to “jump off the end into a clear lake” and “fantasize that no one gets hurt” and this ties in with Bernard questioning his choices. We also have a line saying “the water’s clear and innocent” which makes reference to a washing away of mistakes and a return to innocence.
If we take a look at the melody and Instrumentation, the trumpets and the piano give a feeling of solitude. This ties in with the dialogue of the scene where we can hear Dolores telling Bernard “we each gave each other a beautiful gift, a choice. We are the authors of our stories now.”
The feeling of solitude in the background goes great with this message, as choosing the story that we want to make for ourselves is an individual choice that everyone makes on their own.
Tip #3: Consider the scene’s setting for the song (Party – Upbeat party song)
Example #3: Eurotrip – Scotty doesn’t know by Lustra
On a lighter note, our last example is a scene from Eurotrip and I wanted to include this one because I wanted to show you that even a comedy can be a great place to get some inspiration.
Eurotrip is a college comedy about a guy named Scotty who gets cheated on and dumped by his girlfriend, Fiona, and goes to Germany to meet a girl that he’s been falling in love with over email.
In the scene, Scotty’s at a party when a band comes on and starts singing a song called Scotty doesn’t know. It’s about how the singer has been sleeping with Fiona and Scotty has no idea and all of this while Scotty’s in the crowd watching the band play.
Even this song takes into account all elements in the scene. The song is an upbeat party song, in a major key, all about how Fiona sleeping with the singer and Scotty doesn’t know. It provides a backstory for the movie and I also think the song is great by itself even without the movie.
These three songs are great examples of how the elements in movies and music can overlap and it’s also a great way to practice visualizing the context and the mood of your songs.
Another big lesson to take away here is that, when you’re choosing a song topic, mood is very important. In the same way that you can look at film and you can look at music, both of them can have an underlying mood. It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. There’s always going to be an underlying mood behind the song, the same way that there is behind a movie scene, and sometimes what you say in lyrics isn’t exactly what the underlying mood or the undertone is. You can say it emotively, you can say it ironically, you can say it as a joke, and it’s all going to give it a different meaning. So lyrics are not always literal.
So, I’m going to leave you some homework. I want you to find a scene that you feel identifies with you as an artist. I want you to choose your next song topic based on what you learned here today and then put that topic down in the comments below.
That’s it for today and in the next one I’ll be going over how to write the actual song based on the elements of the scene. Stay tuned!