Writing a Mission Song – Music Connection Magazine


Sometimes the best way to tell a listener who you are and what you’re talking about is just to put it in a song.

(The following article is taken from Music, Words and Life: A Field Guide for the Aspiring Songwriteravailable everywhere, including: band camp (signed copies) | Library | books are magic |Amazon)

If you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan, you know he’s from New Jersey. If you’ve ever listened to Eminem, chances are you know he’s from Detroit. You may know that Kendrick Lamar is from Compton, Jennifer Lopez is from the Bronx, Pitbull is from Miami, and the North Mississippi Allstars are from . . . you get it.

How do you know where they come from? Because they’ve told you… a million times. Song after song, they have created a world by planting meaningful flags, both literal and metaphorical, in the hope that you will identify with their artistic journey and want to be part of it.

Let’s call these musical plantings of flags Mission Songs. If you’ve ever had to write a topic sentence for an article or read a school or company’s mission statement, you know the concept. Mission Songs tells the story of the artist: what he believes in, where he comes from, what he wants. They decode glasses.

Here is an example of a Mission Song success story, taken from the pages of music history. Have you heard of Kiss? With makeup, dragon boots, fire breathing and all that? Of course you have.

Imagine this as a song writing challenge: bassist Gene Simmons was a kabuki-inspired demon who popped blood capsules in his mouth and “bleeded” all over his axe-like bass; guitarist Ace Frehley was from “outer space”; singer-guitarist Paul Stanley was loosely described as a “star child”; and drummer Peter Criss was (checks notes) a cat? It was a band that needed a music decoder. But they didn’t just need a good song; they needed a song that tell listeners what they were talking about. Without it, they were just a blur of blood, fire, boots, space people, cat beaters – all great for a live show but confusing for a listener.

In 1974, Kiss’ label Casablanca Records pulled them from the road, where they were touring behind the commercially slow album, hotter than hell. Label head Neil Bogart pushed writers Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons to find a song with a central line that connected the many disparate dots. The template Bogart used was “I Want to Take You Higher,” a funky, roaring mission song by Sly & the Family Stone. Sly had a anthemand Kiss needed it too.

“I was a little surprised,” lead singer Paul Stanley told me over the phone. “’What do you mean by a hymn?’ And Neil said, ‘A song your fans can rally behind. A song that says what you stand for and what manifest is.’ I had seen Sly & the Family Stone in their early days, opening for Hendrix at the Fillmore East, and, you know, Sly was a game changer. The metamorphosis of so many bands was based on [them]. So I went back to our hotel and took my guitar.

While the goal was to write a missionary song, Paul explained, “I wanted to make sure the writing was never going to pontificate. It would be more celebrating and reflecting how I felt rather than telling people how they should feel. Like Sly, he used the first-person point of view to accomplish this while generating a similar kind of immediacy. “When you swear allegiance, it’s not ‘We swear allegiance’; it’s not ‘They pledge . . .’; his ‘I swear allegiance.’ So instinctively, and without much thought, I went, ‘I want to rock and roll all night and party every day. And [the chorus] I went back to it right away, it was incessant and insistent. And with that, I went and knocked on Gene’s door and said, “What do you think?” “[It] was perfect. The two got married without really any alterations. . . and then it was a question of, ‘How do you keep it concise?’

The result, “Rock and Roll All Nite”, still hasn’t climbed the charts until it was integrated into the show via their (fourth!) album, Living! At that point, the song, plus the crowd reaction, put the pieces together for the listeners. “What people have seen is this sense of rebellious empowerment and individuation. . . ‘I want to rock and roll all night and party every day’ sums up in one sentence what we let’s all feel… once this was adopted, the band took off.

I asked Paul how many of Kiss’ later songs became anthems the band couldn’t leave the arena without playing. He’s laughing. “All. What about that? »

Here is a writing prompt for you

Whether you’re into Kiss or not, a Mission Song answers a listener question: OWhat are you doing that i can also be sure?

In other words, how do you define yourself within a song that is both differentiating and attractive? How do you form a gang as a song? And how to invite others?

Try this: Tell us what your mission is, even if it’s your mission for the next five minutes. Plant a flag – authentic, sarcastic, metaphorical – and run with it. “I am ____.” “I want ____.” “I believe ____.” It may sound ridiculously easy to you, but engaging in a mission song is brave, and bravery is its own reward. The reward for the listener is that he can inhabit a desire and carry it publicly. Isn’t that an interesting part of this job: empowering people to express themselves?

So: If you wrote this song, what would it sound like? Drop your link in the comments and let’s hear them. •

For more examples of mission song types and how to write them, check out Music, Words and Life: A Field Guide for the Aspiring Songwriteravailable now: band camp (signed copies) | Library | books are magic |Amazon


MIKE ERRICO is an artist, author, and songwriting teacher at Yale, The New School, and NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Music, words and life is his first book.

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