The Big Picture

Where to start when you want to write a concept album 

Start with the big questions first, then narrow your vision and focus on the details.

Ask yourself: 

Why?

  • Why do you want to make a concept album?
  • Do you have a story to tell that can't be told in a single song?
  • Have you written larger story arcs that span more than one song?
  • Have you written trilogies, call and response pairs of songs, or revisited a theme again and again in your songwriting?
  • Why do you want to pull them together now?

What?

  • What is the story you want your album to tell?
  • What feelings do you want your listeners to feel when they listen to it from start to finish?
  • Will your concept translate to stand-alone songs, to a shuffle playlist of the album, or to a mixtape playlist of multiple artists?
  • What are your themes? 
  • What do you hope listeners will take away when they listen to your album?

Who?

  • Who is telling your story? You, your persona, fictional characters, historical characters, etc.
  • What is their background, culture, language, history, experience, trauma?
  • Which Voice(s) will your primary POV character use? What will they reveal, how much will they reveal, how do they sound, what do they want?
  • Are you telling your story from a first-person perspective or using a third-person narrative style? Will you switch between them?
  • If you're telling someone else's story, consider why and how you'll tell it carefully.

Where?

  • Where is your story set?
  • Where are you in your own head when you're telling it?
  • Where do you want others to be when they listen to it?
  • Do you need to research climate, geography, weather patterns? Mine your old photos? Talk to friends, relatives, partners, experts?
  • Have you been there before, literally or figuratively? What are your access points to bring yourself back there?

When?

  • Are you telling a story about now? About the past? About the future? 
  • Are you travelling, remembering, or transitioning? 
  • Is your story being told by someone who's been there before, experienced the same emotions, slept in the same bed?
  • Are you looking back at a previous incarnation of yourself or someone else?
  • Will your album stand the test of time? Is it a time-capsule? Does it show a chronology of your work?

How?

  • How are you going to make the story in your head come alive for your listeners?
  • How will you translate your story musically? Instrumentally? What arrangements will you use?
  • How will you choose the order of your tracks?
  • How will you run a thread of commonality through the songs on your album? Using motifs, lyrics, melodies, instruments?
  • How will you make many pieces feel whole in combination and in and of themselves?

Leave a comment

Add comment