“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill
In architecture there’s this great expression called parti. Parti basically means “the big idea” of a design. It comes from the french “prendre parti” meaning “to make a decision”. Love it!
When working with artists who’ve stagnated in their songwriting i’ve tried to bring out this parti-thinking. What’s the song about?
Usually I find that the problem is that we have these really general ideas that we want to work around. Let’s say you want to write about “Love”. Well, there’s a lot of different kinds of love. What kind of love do you want to write about? Puppy love, making love, losing love, looking for love or loving your family? Get specific! Make a decision!
Great, so now you’ve found a specific type of love to talk about. You could talk about it in several ways. You could have a serious tone, a playful tone, be ironic etc.
So how does architecture relate to music? Well, if you can visualize your music as being different elements of a house and how they kind of work together it might unlock some ways of thinking about your music when you’re trying to solve something that isn’t working like you feel it should.
The reason that the chorus feels too surprising might be solved by introducing an element from it in the intro. Give the listener something that feels familiar once the chorus comes in.
Just to clarify, DON’T do this while you’re being creative and trying stuff out. This is a part of the “analytical” process when you need to be critical and solve problems. Remember that you can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking you used when you created them. Big ups to my holmes Einstein for that one!
Let’s get hypothetical. You’re a songwriter and you’ve struck gold. You get a chance to write a song for Katy Perry. Jeepers creepers, wtf am I gonna do?!?
Usually there’s three things you’ll need to look at:
1. The Brief – You’ll probably get a brief about the project. Study it! What they’re looking for in terms of style etc.
2. The Environment – Take a look at the current musical climate. What kind of music is coming up? Are there any “trends”? Also, do this only if you feel that it’s something both you and the artist stands for. If not the listener will feel it coming through. You could look at what you think is missing out there. What would make it stick out and be memorable? The current #EVERYOTHERSONGTITLE is an example. Could make for a good retro-reference in 15-20 years though?
3. The Passion – What do you want to convey with and through this artist? What is your common story? What would you like to tell about her and yourself? Nile Rodgers uses what he calls “DHM”. It stands for Deep Hidden Meaning and is a core concept that we all should use to help us steer our music in the right direction. Check the video at the bottom for more on Nile’s philosophizin’!
So if you put these things into a kind of Venn Diagram you should have the essence of these in the middle! It’s not easy, but with a little work you’ll find the essence. The Parti!
I’m really into architecture right now so i’ll list a bunch of quotes and give my thoughts on how we can use them in music and other areas of our lives.
“Architecture has a strong link with the movies in terms of time progression, sequencing, framing, all of that.” – Christian de Portzamparc
Yes, and it’s true for music as well. It’s all about telling a story. Guiding the audience through the different parts and making them feel both tension and release, intimate and public, safe and excited.
“I call architecture frozen music.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
True dat! It’s also true for paintings and photographs. They’re a captured moment in time but have the same qualities as music in terms of harmony, structure and all the different elements.
“Less is more.” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Well, that’s just about the most one can say with the least amount of words possible. I don’t necessarily agree, sometimes it’s FUN to add sparkles and knick-knacks! There’s some truth though. If you’ve got these great ideas that you’ve put into your song and it needs 5 verses to convey your ideas it’s probably not going to sit well with a lot of people. Not that that’s wrong. But if you want to reach as many people as possible, slim it down!
Maybe you don’t need to list the 50 ways to leave your lover. Just say that there’s 50 ways to say goodbye, list a few and be done with it! By the way, great idea by Train to reuse the concept used by Paul Simon on “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”! These are the small things that make me happy!
“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” – Frank Gehry
Very much like music. If we can reflect a time, place and tell a good story that speaks to people 50 years from now, we’ve done a good job!
“Form follows function.” – Louis Sullivan
Function, the thing or feeling we want to convey. Form, the way in which we convey it. Function, make ’em dance. Form, 4 on the floor and a feel-good-hook that makes the world sing and the booties swing!
“The truth is more important than the facts.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
He exaggerated and lived larger-than-life, but his work really spoke the truth about humans, nature and beauty. If you get a chance, check out his story. It’s really interesting, might even give you an idea for a song or two!
“Space is the breath of art.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
Remember this when writing music, leave some space for the listener to breathe. Tension and release, baby!
“Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
This isn’t about ambition or drive. It’s about always giving your work your best. Even if you’ve just had a big hit on the latest Beyoncé-album and have to write for a “nobody” as a favor. Do it with pride and passion. Give it the same courtesy and passion you would if it was B! You never know, it might turn into an even bigger hit or a fruitful collaboration further down the road.
The creative process isn’t optional, it’s necessary!
And by the by, where’s the parti?
Nile Rodgers – The Hitmaker
How To Think Like An Architect