Songwriting Challenge – Tips And Tricks With Composer Sam Willmott


Hi everybody! I’m Sam Willmott. I’m a musical theater writer in New York City and I’m so excited to be talking with you guys today about some tips and tricks for writing musical theatre songs in anticipation of you submitting your very own awesome musical theatre songs to this here song writing challenge. So without any further a do, let’s begin with Tip Number One. Tip Number One is make sure that your song is coming from a character’s point of view. How do we achieve that? Well first of all, the character should have an objective, the character should have something that they want and that should be super clear to your audience. It’s bonus points if we can understand what is precluding your character from being able to get that which they want. What is the obstacle? What’s standing in the way of this character achieving what they want? So for example, not to quote my own work or anything, but I written a song with a lyricist named Marcus Stevens, from a show called Yo Vikings, which is about a little girl who wants to be a Viking, but the problem is, she’s a little ten year old girl who lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. So she sings a song called “Emma the Red,” part of which goes like this, Fearless and defiant with a helmet on my head I’ll face any giant, and he’ll quiver and shiver with dread Every troll in a hole will be rolling with fear where I tread I’ll be mighty Emma, awesome Emma, the Red” So you see, she’s got this thing that she wants. She wants to be Emma the Red, but she’s got the enthusiasm for it, the spunk for it, but the problem is, she’s 10 and nobody understands her. So there’s sort a macro-conflict to a very
specific agenda objective Tip Number Two: Be specific in your lyrics. What does that mean? Counter to what you might actually think, the more specific and focused your lyrics are, the more universal your song will read to your audience. So instead of using big generalizations like, “I love you so much” Find out what actually this character loves, what actually makes this relationship particular to this character that’s gonna help bring your audience in in a really, really focused way. Remember also that when you’re using rhymes, rhymes pull the ear into an inevitability of hearing what you want to hear, creating meaning out of
these sentences that you’re writing, so make sure that those rhymes are also
tailored to their own high specificity. To talk about this song again,
let’s listen to this for a second “Fearless and defiant with a helmet on my head I’ll face any giant, and he’ll quiver and shiver with dread Every troll in a hole will be rolling with fear where I tread I’ll be mighty Emma, awesome Emma, the Red” So here we have four end rhymes,
and that creates this sense of, boom boom boom boom, every single time. We have all these oul rhymes, inside of the lines, which also create additional heightening of the language, and all of them are tailored to specific” parts of this character’s journey that all have to do with being a Viking. Tip Number 3: Musically be specific It’s the same note at before! The point of the note is what can your music be contributing to your storytelling that is unique from what your lyrics are saying. In many ways, your lyrics express
what your character is thinking, but your music expresses what your character is feeling. It’s totally different real-estate. It’s open for even more power of storytelling. To use “Emma the Red” again as an example, the choice was to create a fusion between the sounds of what Viking sound might be like, and also what sort of a 90s, Alan Menkin-y, childlike wonderment might sound like. So how do we accomplish that? We take this sort of a drone sound, so we don’t change the chord at all, it also doesn’t have a third in it, if you’re music people, so you don’t know if it’s major or minor, it’s just this sound. And it also has a flat seven, which is, gives it this really kind of model sound to it, but then later on in the song we get these raised fourths that give it that super 90s sound to it, right? So it’s the fusion of both of these sounds coming together where you get, oh! I get on the one hand, this girl is having these dreams, these aspirations of becoming this sort of like primitive Viking warrior, and on the other hand, her truth is that she lives in the 90s and she is a child and she’s watched a lot of Disney movies. That does it for me and my Three Tips. Don’t forget to submit your
songs right here by Jaunuary 5. We can’t wait to hear the amazing
magic that you come up with. Good luck! See ya later.