Album concepts or themes

33 posts / 0 new
Last post

Selecting a central topic or organizing theme can help spur song ideas. Especially in 5090 where we have more time to develop. In past years this approach has sent my songwriting in interesting directions. Post or discuss ideas or questions here.

Set a theme and proceed, or wait until a pattern develops and then tie it all together. Which one works for you?

I tried this one year and loved the results (that was the year of the Curry House Massive and their interstellar curry restaurant). Having the canon of the whole back story and subsequent adventures gave me loads of ideas to work with. And I think that was the only time I made it to the finish line. Smile

Tim Wille did the 10 EP concept one year. He created ten separate (and new) bands and wrote and recorded an EP for each of them during 50/90. I've been toying with that idea off and on for years.

I usually have an idea of the types of songs I want to write. Like Angry Rock and acoustic based etc. And I make sure I write some songs that fit that (or those) categories throughout 50/90. But the beauty is that you can do that and still have plenty of songs to do other challenges or explore other musical ideas.

And the idea of a theme can seem a little constrictive at first, but I like the idea. Theme can mean so many things. A genre, or a group of instruments, or a single instrument that has to be prominent in each song or subject matter, or anything that relates to an image or idea (no matter how tangentially) or... well, almost anything.

I like the idea too, and toss it around in my head almost every year. Only did a concept album once or twice, but it was very successful and helped narrow my focus.

I've written on themes before, it's fun (altho I invariably write stuff outside the theme lol), this year I've been playing around with the idea of writing the score to an imaginary movie. I want to work more on orchestration. Not sure if that would lead to 50 tracks, though... 50 tracks times 2 minutes equals 100 minutes of music for a 2 hour epic. Giggles.

I have a standard four themes that have helped keep me from getting stuck. Quotes, Story-Cubes, Children's Christian, and Journal-with-a-Tune. Beyond that then anything-goes (including cowbell solos). It is nice to have a slight path to follow.

I need a concept. When writing I always have a working title. I don't have one for this year. Help! Smile

@Hummingbird reminded me of a project over at that I participated in. A gentleman wrote a twelve sets of lyrics based on Picasso paintings that told a story. Kind of a rock opera, sort of. Then a different musician (or set of musicians) put each lyric to music and they put them together into one project. It turned out really well, I think.

Here is a jukebox playing all the songs. I co-wrote "self portrait.";sa=SuffMach

I did a theme album (Winter Sports) in FAWM which got me a huge kickstart in the right direction (and once started, I couldn't stop!). Still mulling about 2 or 3 different themes for 50/90; one of them is extremely ambitious (writing an entire "Passion of St Mark" including translating from Greek to English for setting my own libretto) and the others are decidedly less so.

@JamKar I do better to pick a theme(s) in advance. In past 5090's I have participated in album writing months with a theme for each. 2016 FAWM I stumbled into a theme that got me going strong. This year I have several concept ideas, one really strong on the concept of art/music therapy as a tool for introspection. Some ideas may only be EP in length like @tcelliott. I want to do more music first songs this year, so like @TomS I need a theme for that. @metalfoot @darcistrutt Smile I may even work in day job tangential themes. Is engineer rock a genre? LOL. Looking forward to hearing everyones ideas develop!

@tcelliott, inspiring input, thanks. I think I wiil chunk my concepts down to 5 songs each. This way I can hit different genre and moods throughout the challenge. Much of this could be planned out before we even start. Like right 5 songs about dogs. 5 songs about the one I love. 5 songs about ____.

I may do one 5 song concept album. Write a science fiction story, and see what songs I can pull out of it: Act 1, Two songs for Act 2, Climax, and Resolution. The story I'm working on now I keep procrastinating on it Smile

I usually keep a list of song ideas, but I've never written with a larger concept in mind. This year I got a couple of ideas along those lines. We'll see if I do them or not.

@jcollins I like the 5 songs chunk idea. Also that it lends itself to doing another 5 songs about the same or similar idea later on. As in, 5 about cows to start and then after exploring other ideas, maybe another 5 about things associated with cows that could end up being a ten song final product that may hold together thematically. Although, maybe that example isn't the best. I do already have a good cow tipping song from some years ago, though.

kc5's picture

I loved the concept of Billy Joel's "Allentown". I think writing on an attraction, feature, or local history for where you live or even elsewhere could make for an interesting topic.

@kc5 yes Allentown and local history is inspirational. @katpiercemusic I get a lot of mileage out of the larger concept. I may also mix and match with collaborations, skirmishs and challenges.
So far my concept ideas possibilities are:
- specifically, my interaction with former locally owned businesses or buildings now torn down is one of
- snap shots of my life at 5 (or less) year intervals
- writing for old tv shows/movies
- wildlife in our yard/neighborhood
- art/music therapy for introspection
- for/about friends and relatives

As always, I have too many thematic plans for the three months of 50/90. For the moment, I'm thinking of interspersing two song-cycles among all of the "one-off" songs, challenges and collaborations I very much also want to do.

First, a short cycle about the life and death of Toystory the bull.

Second, a longer cycle, called "Warriors of the Aftertouch," about a keytar-playing post-apocalyptic warrior using his super-synth power to battle mutants and rescue the beautiful scientist who holds they key to saving the world. I first explored the concept in a quick, sloppily produced one-off track for the weekly GYAWS challenge group many months (years?) ago, but I want to do more, and do it better.

Oh, and third, perhaps I should consider finishing my "dancing robot" two-act musical from three 50/90s ago (during which I completed Act I).

I'm excited to see which of these I decide to start (probably all) and which I actually see through to completion (always the trickier part). Smile

The only time I've really committed to a theme during 50/90 was in 2014 (I think) when I carried a fairly coherent concept through my SAWM album. Last year I created a sci-fi medley which carried a theme across a few songs and can definitely recommend giving it a go.

Generally, I end up with a couple of groups of 2-3 songs that share a lyrical link (like the pair of Telepath songs last year), but without the full 'concept album' approach.

Having a theme to work with definitely made coming up with lyrics easier.

This year I'm intending to have one multi-part song that runs through the first half of 50/90; the idea being that melodic and lyrical themes will carry through each part, but specific lyrics, tempo and instrumentation will be different. Given the theme, it's likely there'll be some spin-offs from that as well.

For a stretch of two months late last year, I took every songfight! title and turned it into a libertarian themed rock song. It's a cool way to get some odd/interesting angles and keep a theme. A couple of the titles were perfect... a couple... not so much.

With so much going on in the world of politics right now I probably will be writing some political rants. The problem is that some people won't like what I have to say. Like what? Like the truth about the government, candidates, ISIS, and refugees.

I tend to favor themes. From my first successful FAWM, which focused on children's songs, to my second FAWM that led to an album (with sheet music) which was a sci-fi art piece about copyright, to my first 50/90 (last year) when I was doing non-traditional holiday songs...

This past FAWM I sort of diverged wildly from my planned theme. I probably got enough for an EP, but I really hate EPs. I might revisit the "filky camp songs" theme for 50/90 just so it isn't an EP...

I'm also writing a song or two of thanks to some friends that helped me out of a jam.

Outside of that, I want to do some alarms and ringtones. Some of these will be short. Some of these will be atonal. I want enough of them to be good enough that I'm forced to remove something from my phone to make room. The notion of special ringtones for special people is one I want to explore, along with exploring what makes a person special.

I might also explore some improvised instrumentation and looping.

@yam655 said, "I might also explore some improvised instrumentation.."

I thought "Improvisation on improvised instruments". I might do that as a one-off, but unless it's super fun, I don't think I'll try to do a whole EP of it.

On the other hand, the story I was completely stalling on said "Don't write a new SF story. Just set me in an SF setting." I did, and have the basic plot sketched out. When 50/90 starts, I'll take that 20 line outline and try to develop it into 5 interesting songs.

I will probably collect the usual elements: loss, wonder, remembering, thanks, characters. Then connect the dots.

I'm going to try a country feel, maybe even some with a Sottish accent, not exclusively though, I'll take what I can get. If anyone feels they can help me with that country sound or even have a lyric that would suit I'd be happy to hear from you.

Seeing some awesome concepts here!

First time doing this challenge (after my first FAWM this year) and unlike my FAWM, I've got a general plan: writing some sort of poetry that consists of fifty song titles, but also stands alone as its own piece. I'm thinking a sonnet, so I'd have about 12-13 song titles per stanza (including the couplet). I'm looking forward to July 4 and seeing where my mind takes me for whatever poetry I end up writing.

I think that the framework/limitations imposed by a theme can be very good for creativity. It can even just be a specific style, sound, or genre. I read a recent interview with a favorite musician, and he said that he generally writes his albums during intense two-week periods. He's somewhat prolific, but each album is very cohesive.

I like the idea of diving deep into a theme/mood/tone for a limited amount of time and releasing the results. It could be a cool challenge to do that, as well as flexing other creative muscles and putting artwork together, and then releasing the finished result on Bandcamp throughout the next 90 days. I'm gonna give it a shot if there's content that fits together.

Looking forward to other folks' themes. Oh! When I have a certain pattern developing, I'm gonna tag my songs with something specific and unique for each 'project' so that they can be found in one place. Other folks should do the same so we can all find your collected works!

I plan to make 1-2 EPs or mini albums
-an EP of folk/ethnic music from imaginary European countries (like Tintin's Syldavia and Bourdoria, Marvel Universes Sovokia, Ruritania etc..)

I also really like this idea:
where a Japanese producer imagined, by reading reviews, finding the lyrics and checking out the samples, what Kanye Wests album would sound like without hearing it due to it being exclusive for the streaming service Tidal that's not available in Japan.

Would be cool to try to do something similar, with an otherwise famous artist I haven't really heard anything by.

@tcelliott - I remember your cow tipping song! I did a cover of it for Rocktoberfest. Years ago, I wrote a college entrance exam about cow tipping.
Last year, I did instrumentals I could play (the recording, not me performing!) during the yoga classes I teach, I wound up with 10 or so in 50/90 and added a couple during FAWM.
This year I'll probably do a few of those but not an album's worth. And I want to do some banjo instrumentals - my picking is not what it used to be, and I want to use 50/90 to regain my skill. Maybe an album of yoga/banjo instrumentals?

@Chip Withrow yoga/banjo instrumentals Biggrin [@mtmelodie] I have ancestors from imaginary European countries, that could work for our collab!

I've got my first 50/90 2016 album cover done, based on a photograph I took back in January, when I came across a stop-light in the absolute middle of nowhere:

The Wave Gilders: Signs and Portents

I've been throwing ideas around for a concept EP. Maybe 50/90 will give me a chance to get some of it done.

EP concept II:
I recently found a non working CD-R wrapped in a lyric sheet, with an 5 song EP I recorded back in 2001, when I was searching thru a box in the attic for something else. Had completely forgotten about it.
Guess I due to low self esteem issues never "released" it nor did I ever let anyone hear the music. So I'm thinking about doing a collaboration with my younger self, trying to reconstruct songs I haven't heard in 15 years by memory and even using the embarrassingly naive and pretentious lyrics.