The Good Kind of Stupid
Want to get schooled in messaging? Write a country song!
In 2003 I took some time off from marketing to learn to be a songwriter. The West Coast Songwritersconference gave me my first chance to screen a song for a real live A & R guy. This was a big deal. Artist and Repertory people select songs for a record label’s artists. Remember record labels? They’re those companies that used to sell music!
The screenings were held in college classrooms. The guest of honor at the teacher’s desk with a boombox; the rest of us in scarred student chairs, foreshadowing the fact that we were about to get schooled. Our guy was from Nashville. Tall with a drawl. So cool that he didn’t NEED a hat. I’ll call him Clint.
I was not a country guy at all, but had written one sort of country song. I had always found the form of country songs kind of simple, and was dumb enough to think that simple meant easy. Boy was I wrong!
Clint shot down my song with courteous dispatch. He listened up to the first chorus, less than a minute, then offered kind but pointed comments that sent me scuttling back to the drawing board. Every song before and after got the same treatment.
What was missing from our group’s songs that was present in the country hits Clint had discovered? A hit song he said, especially in a style as sharply structured as country music, has to have “the good kind of stupid.”
Did he mean that hit songs are composed by idiots? Not at all. But a great country song has a hook in it that just grabs you and makes you want to sing along. It zips merrily past the frontal cortex and lodges somewhere deeper — the heart, the gut, the tapping toe, even the funnybone.
Just like in marketing, a hit songwriter picks one central idea and drives it home. Usually the writer makes that idea the song’s title. In fact the title is so important that it’s often written first! Listen to “I Need You Now” or “I Hope You Dance” just once, and you know exactly what the song is about. In fact, you can search and buy it on iTunes — because you heard the title three times in every chorus!
When you are developing messages for your business, your main point is your chorus. It needs to be short. It needs to catchy. And you need to repeat it often. Fill in too much detail too soon, and you’ll dilute your main point. Details and proof points of your story are your “verses”. They fill out the story. But keep them in service of the “chorus”, the main point you want people to remember.
As my songwriting mentor Bonnie Hayes says, “It’s called the chorus because everybody can sing along.” Is your marketing message that clear and infectious? Have you been smart enough to build in “the good kind of stupid”?