The primary goal of any song is to elicit emotion from the listener and convey a story. Throughout history, songwriters and lyricists have had to rely solely on the words and the chord or melodies of a song to convey their desired emotion. However, once film and television came into the picture, the rules for songwriting began to change. Although the objective for both songs written for listening and songs written specifically for film and television is still to create a feeling or atmosphere for the listeners, the ways they go about doing that and the type of emotion created varies.
When a song is written with the intent of only listening to it, the songwriters or lyricists tend to use more specific imagery and descriptors. They need to be able to conjure up a distinct picture in the audience members’ minds. Their only tools to achieve this are through their words and the chords or melodies chosen. Usually, they hope to convey a distinct emotion to their audience. The audience relies solely on their ears to understand and envision the tale being told by the musician. When singing about a daughter’s loving memory of dancing with her father, the details must be enough so that the listener can visualize the memory as it is depicted in the mind of the storyteller. The words and images painted by the artist must enable the listener to feel those same feelings of love for their fathers, creating a connection between them and the song.
However, songs written for film and television are more vague in their desired emotional response. Rather than attempt to convey a specific detailed memory, the songwriters must be able to evoke a more ubiquitous feeling for the audience. Most of these songs will use universal lyrics with non-specific imagery and emotion. They must try to convey an emotion that most people can relate to without being so specific in their word choice or imagery. These songs have the visual aid of the image on the screen to paint the picture for them. Although this visual aid makes it easier to step away from specific imagery and detailed lyrics, the writer must still be able to compose a song that delivers an emotional statement. They must be able to use less descriptive lyrics and yet still create a vibe that translates into a specific mood. Primarily, they hope to achieve a song that will support or enhance the message that is being portrayed on the screen. The song and the visual must be one cohesive piece for the audience to receive. The image on the screen might portray a child playing with her father and using the song that talks specifically about a daughter dancing with her father would not be as cohesive to the story line as a song about love in general. Although both instances are conveying a loving relationship, if the image on the screen is not a girl dancing with her father, there will be a sort of dissonance for the audience member as they listen to the lyrics of the song. Therefore, the song being played must evoke an overall feeling of love, but not a specific memory.
When writing for film or television, the overall goal must be assessed. Is the movie hoping to convey irony through a cheerful song during a sad moment on screen, or is the audience supposed to feel melancholy as they watch a couple break up? After determining the end all goal, the writers can then move forward to accurately convey the desired result. With that being said, it is important for any songwriter or lyricist to know whether or not they are writing for a recording artist or for film or television before they begin writing. Then they will be able to use the necessary tools to better convey their overall message and elicit an appropriate response from the audience.