Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gifting yourself a song title

In his first Musical Hotspot post, Dan helps convert a plain offer into a great one.

They say that there "are no bad offers".

This is true. But there are some really, really good ones. There are offers that inspire. There are offers that make you or your partner's eyes light up with possibility. Being inspired by your offer is never more important than when you're making up a song. Every great Impro scene has some strong emotional relationship in it. This is the case for songs as well, but whereas in a basic scene you've got time to explore and discover this relationship, in a song you need to make your mind up immediately.

But that's okay, because sometimes you can give yourself this offer.

With this in mind you need to take your bland offer (for instance 'Cows') and turn it into something with an emotional attitude.

Think about what could be an emotional experience for a cow. If a cow cared about something, what would that be?
  • Giving birth to a calf?
  • Getting to grass?
  • Becoming a steak?

If nothing occurs to you, imagine an emotional response to the cow. Most songs are about love, but find any strong emotional state and you've instantly got your first verse.
  • I love you, cow.
  • I hate my cow.
  • Why did you leave me cow?
  • I don't need you anymore, Bessie.

The last trick is to use the offer as a metaphor. I tend to avoid turning an offer into a metaphor (or a simile) because there is an element of wimping there. You're not accepting the full impact of the offer, but a song is one of those games that can get away with it.
  • My love for you is like a gurnsey.
  • I'm not going to be your dairy cow anymore.

All of these ideas give a motivation. It's a shorthand that allows you to figure out why you're singing about the cow. There's nothing that inspires less confidence in a performer than one who starts their song "Once I met a cow...". It simply tells the audience "I don't know what to do". Of course, none of us know what to do, but the trick is to look like you do.

As an MC you can help your performers out by giving loaded offers. Natalie Bochenski stumbled onto the rather brilliant trick of giving offers for songs that read "My love is like a...". This instantly forces the performer to go down the metaphor route. Myself? I often provide odd relationships. It’s easier to sing from the point of view of a character because we're focusing on what they want rather than flailing for a clever storyline.

An offer of 'Bigfoot' might yield a song that begins "Bigfoot was walking through the snow".

An offer of 'Bigfoot and the Cryptozoologist' is much more likely to provide something like "All my life I've searched for you, there's an empty footprint on my heart". The offer is filled with motivation and purpose.


Selling these offers is about playing them seriously. If you want to make a funny song, you'd better be able to pump out the funny. You're much better off trying to emulate an emotional song. The ridiculous offer will carry you. You don't need to introduce any more wackiness if the song is from a cow's point of view about being in love with the grass it can't reach.

I think that's a situation we can all empathise with.

Dan Beeston started improvising in 1997 and hasn't stopped since. Well, I mean, he did when he went to Townsville for a couple of years, and then when he had a fight with the organisers, and of course he's not literally improvising all the time. He does sleep, and work, and stuff. Look, this has all gone off topic much faster than usual.

Photo by Terrance J. Sullivan

1 comment:

pantmonger said...

Just thought you might appreciate this song by Rasputina

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a song about an old man.
He had a cow.
He had but one cow, and the cow died.
He loved the cow better than his own child.
When the cow died, getting grieved by the cow was going no milk and butter.
At home.
So, here come this song.

If you mourn for Dickie, I'll tell you right now
He was an old man and he had but one cow
Over hedges and ditches and fields he had plowed
He ran for his life just to get to his cow

Oh, wicked Dickie done died


When the old man heard that his cow she was dead
over hedges and ditches you see he had fled
Over hedges and ditches and fields that were mown
he ran for his life just to get to his own

Oh, wicked Dickie done died

Now I sit down and I eat my dried meal
but I have no milk what to put in my pail
I have no butter to sop with my bread
now old wicked Dickie is dead

Oh, wicked Dickie done died

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