Musicians often see live music or listen to an album to gain inspiration for current projects. Another place they can find a wealth of music is in films. A great soundtrack can take a gripping movie and turn it into Oscar-winning gold.
Popular music has always been a signature element in Martin Scorsese’s films, and his “Best Picture” winner The Departed is no exception. As turns The Departed ten, musicians can listen beyond the dialogue and hear each song. Within the variety of tracks, there are different lessons that a musician can learn if he or she pays enough attention.
1. “I’m Shipping up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys: Don’t Be Afraid to Start Small
Before the film’s release, Dropkick Murphys were a relatively small band with a dedicated cult following. The band made music that was specific and spoke to a niche audience. Although Irish punk is rarely in anyone’s top five favorite genres, the band built their following off of a core fanbase.
Initially, there may be a few die hard fans, but a wide audience can grow off of their passion. Soon those barroom songs can become anthems.
2. “Comfortably Numb” by Roger Waters featuring Van Morrison and The Band:
Let Other People Sing
Roger Waters wrote the lyrics for Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” years before Van Morrison accompanied him on stage, but both versions have become extremely memorable. This is a good thing.
A songwriter should never let ego get in the way of someone else performing a powerful version of his or her song. Many music fans would agree that Morrison has the more iconic voice. If a songwriter is lucky enough to have a great singer perform his or her song, it would be a missed opportunity to keep it from them.
3. “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones: Play Your Old Stuff
Too often music fans are let down by seeing a band with a plethora of hits that refuses to play them. If a musician makes songs that move people, it is up to them whether they want to give fans the satisfaction of hearing it or not.
The Rolling Stones have likely been placing “Gimme Shelter” on their setlist for more than three decades, but it works for them. They are still touring because they know what listeners connect with.
4. “Sail On, Sailor” by The Beach Boys: Keep the Fans Guessing
This lesson may seem to go against the previous one, but it is all about balance. If a band plays songs that fans recognize, there is more room for experimentation in other areas.
Despite the title, the sound of “Sail On, Sailor” is not a typical Beach Boys song, and it has developed a reputation as a cult favorite for that very reason. Sometimes it is okay to play something out of left field, even if it takes years for fans to realize that they like it.
5. “Baby Blue” by Badfinger: Don’t Be Afraid to Be Poppy
Embrace the beauty of the three-minute song. There must be a science to why most songs on the radio are around three minutes long. Realizing the basic structures of verses and choruses can only help songwriting.
“Baby Blue” has been used in The Departed, as well as the series finale of Breaking Bad because it is so accessible.
6. “Sweet Dreams” by Roy Buchanan: Cover Great Songs
Roy Buchanan’s instrumental cover of Patsy Cline’s country classic pays homage yet adds its own unique touch onto the song itself.
Find a song that can be spun into a direction that listeners may not have thought was possible. Whether that means creating an instrumental version of a well-known song or singing differently, covering songs from the past hold an endless amount of variations.
7. “One Way Out” by The Allman Brothers: Be Surrounded by Great Musicians
This live version of The Allman Brothers’ fiery track is full of moments when two guitarists have an on-stage duel. There is nothing wrong with a little showmanship, and if a musician is surrounded by other great musicians, they will constantly be challenged to get better.
One of the best ways to get better is improvising live in front of an audience. When a musician is encouraged by a peer, their potential can be unlocked.
8. “Let it Loose” by The Rolling Stones: Learn the Art of the Ballad
Playing delicate ballads is a great way for a band to vary their sounds from being just a straightforward rock band. Regardless of whether a musician is interested in blues, country, or folk, the ballad is a standard form of storytelling within songwriting.
Slow things down and take note from this classic from 1972’s Exile on Main St.
9. “Nobody But Me” by Human Beinz: Gain Success in Foreign Markets
Although this band is somewhat seen as a one hit wonder from the swinging 1960s, the single had enough popularity overseas for the band to tour elsewhere. Even after they broke up in 1969, the single was still so popular in Japan that the band was obligated to make the rounds before officially parting ways.
Never lose sight that playing music is a great way to see the world.
10. “Thief’s Theme” by Nas: Stay Relevant
Nas was ten years into his career as a rapper when he released “Thief’s Theme.” Although it was not as critically acclaimed as some of his earlier work, it is important to stay hungry in order to stay relevant.
Rather than becoming a memory of rap day’s past, Nas has fought to keep his name in the conversation of greatest rapper ever.
Whether it be creating a great film or a great Youtube channel, music is key. It is the universal language that people can all understand. It instantly enters our blood and enhances any situation. Fill the world with music, and more people will want to live in it.
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Will Randick is a blogger and educator working out of the Bay Area.