1. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Musical references in a scene....

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Wreybies, Jun 12, 2017.

    So, typically this the kind of thread that I roll my eyes at, so, the Universe being what it is, this is payback... I guess. o_O

    It goes like this:

    I have a scene in a piece of Urban Fantasy I've been working on and off. It takes place in a Berlin club in the very early 90's. It was a real place at one time, but that doesn't matter because I can't expect the reader to come to the story knowing that.

    I describe the place, and in describing the place I describe a bit of gestalt magic that is being worked by some dancers on the dance-floor. No one can see this happening save for the other magicals in the scene. To everyone else it's just guys dancing to some industrial music.

    It's FRONT242's Headhunter.

    I cut the the description of the dancy-dance mandala these guys are creating with their bodies on the circular dance-floor by mentioning the chorus.

    One you lock the target...

    (Description of dance magic)

    Two you bait the line...

    (More description of dance magic)

    Three you slowly spread the net...

    (Culmination of dance magic)

    And four you catch the man...

    Would you feel you need to know this song in order to get the feel of it? Would that matter to you one way or the other?
     
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  2. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    I doubt it would matter much to me. I like when things get specific, to an extent anyway, so having a specific song detailed out helps set the scene more than just saying "there was industrial music playing." Of course, this is assuming the viewpoint character knows the song--otherwise, just saying "there was industrial music playing" makes way more sense. So as long as the viewpoint character knows it, I'm good with it.

    Although I do feel the need to mention that using copyrighted lyrics without permission is usually a bad idea :)
     
  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, yes. Of course. Agreed. But if it doesn't even work, story-wise, then there's no point getting to that phase of things. :bigwink:
     
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  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    It would for me. I can't stand it when I see lyrics bracketed out for any song (real or imagined) because I can't "hear" them and it looks like a poem floating across the page. Even if it's a well known song that I like (Stephen King did this all the time) it still feels weird to me. That's just me though... others might not care a bit.

    Interestingly enough, this came up for me in a nearly identical scene (character walking into a nightclub). What I ended up doing--and I don't know if I'll keep it or not--was to blend the lyrics into the prose as it were a statement of fact. It went something like this:

    And then the Ohio Players announced to anyone who cared that love was like a rollercoaster, whipping your ass like a licorice twist.

    (I think i got the last part wrong here but correct in the scene...)

    ETA: And now I'm singing the song to my dog, who is barking at me as if I've lost my mind... which is quite possible.
     
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  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It didn't do anything for me because I didn't know the song.

    If the song isn't super-well-known, you might do just as well to write your own lyrics, totally customized to the dance magic, and avoid the copyright issues!
     
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  6. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Personally: I didn't feel the need to know exactly what the notes were "supposed to" sound like.

    The big issue that I ran into when I originally tried coming up with a system of magic for my UrFan series based on pop music (in addition to later realizing that I'd be running into copyright) was that copying the lyrics felt like a break in the narrative.

    And that copyright would be an issue, but:

    Would you believe me if I told you that one of my favorite personal revelations about one of my characters came about by scouring the internet for public domain music ;)

    ... We need a bigger Like button :)
     
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  7. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Honestly, I'm one of those people who will look up a song on Spotify or YouTube if I come across one in a story like this and I'm unfamiliar with it. I've actually found some great music that way! But if I were somewhere without internet access, the description of it as industrial music would be enough for me to imagine it in my head. So it wouldn't bother me a bit as a reader.
     
  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    It's well known among a certain kind of person. I think it's reasonable to say that if you know about EBM music then you know Headhunter even if you don't know anything else about Front 242. To a certain kind of tank boot wearing people they really are like the Stones; even if you don't really like them much you know them.

    I don't have a problem with the reference. Now, I'm clearly biased, but I think it works. You may need to do some work to establish the fashion and the culture in the club, and the sound in the room, but as long as it sounds like what the reader expects that music to sound like then it's fine to make the reference. It's ok for some readers not to get it as long as the scene works without having heard the song. That's important, obviously, but as long as you set it up to work you'll put abig smile on a few people's faces.

    Personally, if it was me I would go even more obscure, pick something by Painbastard or Sutcliffe Jugend and just see if anyone ever figured out if it's a real song. But that's just me. I'm puckish like that.
     
  9. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know the band or the song. I am, however, not a fan of industrial music (I am a hardcore, pedal-to-the-metal nonfan of industrial music), so it's unlikely for me to see industrial music as in any way magical. I suspect there would be many like me. There would, by the same token, be many militant nonfans of any kind of music your characters are dancing to, and mentioning that music as a path to magic might not work for them.

    I think it might be better if you didn't mention the style of music or the artist. Either that, or come up with your own, and imply that that kind of music is capable of magic. That way, I think, you're less likely to alienate a chunk of your audience.

    That is, of course, if you care. I often write things I'm sure would alienate a chunk of my audience, but I tend to dismiss those concerns ("Those guys aren't part of my audience, anyway, so screw'em."). I just write what I want, and if the readers come along with me, great, but if not, c'est la vie.
     
  10. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    This is important.

    I vote for not caring. Write what works and what feels good. Writing something that you have some real knowledge and passion for will show in the text and that'll matter so much more than the few people you turn off by setting it in a scene they don't like. You just can't write for people who are that picky, you end up with a very bland book if you try to avoid mentioning anything aesthetic that might upset people like that. I'm going to write the MC of my teen romance to have a metal head boyfriend because I can write him better, even though there's a good chance the girls I write for just can't relate to him at all. But I knew (and was) a kid like him and I get why the music speaks to him and I can really feel who he is in a way I couldn't with someone else.

    Normally things are better stories for having something real in them. And maybe that makes them less marketable and that sucks, but as a writer I think it's fundamentally wrong to shy away from writing the best book you can for any reason. If you don't think it's good no-one else will anyway. Suffice to say that no matter how much you compromise it's a hellishly long shot that your idea will make you money. So you may as well write what you think is best and hope that someone else can see that it's good, rather than hoping someone else is equally cynical enough to see that they can flog a second-rate product for a few bucks.
     
  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say if it's not important that this song is specifically THIS SONG—that it's the feel of the song that matters, not recognising it—I'd take @BayView's suggestion and just write something similar that's your own lyric. If using that particular song isn't what's important here, why not skip the copyright issue/mess altogether?

    Somebody standing up on a table and bellowing Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light... is going to have a different effect on the reader than somebody standing up on the table and bellowing out a lyric that nobody recognises, because the author just wrote it. Both may evoke patriotism, but they won't have the same effect.
     
  12. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I feel quite the other way.

    Writing lyrics that sound good is really, really hard. If you think it's easy to be critical of your prose, just wait until you try to write a song. I've never seen a fictional song in a book (a modern era song anyway) that isn't just utterly cringey. Don't get me wrong, plenty of pre-existing lyrics are pretty damn cringey too; but at least they are professionally cringey and it's not your fault if they don't work perfectly well in written form. As with most things; if it's worth putting in the book then it's worth doing a good job of it and, barring anyone who finds a real talent for writing songs, most writers aren't going to do a good job of making up their own stuff. Especially for a genre like industrial/ebm where there isn't really a common underlying theme and most of the good bands weren't native English speakers; there's something to the lyrics that's quite unique and hard to capture from a writers perspective.

    Part of this is to do with how we relate to music. Music is holistic. It's not just the lyrics that make the sung part work. It's pitch and timbre and passion and personality and tone and the music under them too. Lyrics that written down look just awful come to life when put in their proper context. And at least when you quote from a real song then the reader can, should they care to, go and look it up and go 'oh now I get it'. Or not, as the case may be. But at least they can actually hear the lyrics and the music together, hear the singers voice, see why it means something to you, and perhaps share that with you or not, but at least there's something there.

    As for copyright etc; you needn't worry. A book is pretty blatantly a tranformational work just per se. No-one in their right mind would try to suggest that their lyrics were the only reason why the book is a book that's worth buying. Unless you do something really egregious like saying their music causes teenagers to shoot up their school no-one is going to come knocking, and even if they do it'll be for libel not for copyright.

    Again; you need to be sure that quoting here is making the book better, but if it's how you want to do it just do it.
     
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  13. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, you've got a point. I guess I was just intimidated by the thought of seeking copyright. But you're right. Good songs aren't easy to write at all.

    I got lucky with my own MS because, while I quote lots of songs at different points in the story (a couple of my characters are traditional musicians, playing in the 1880s) the songs I quoted are carefully all in the public domain. I know I checked REALLY carefully first, to make sure I wasn't quoting one with a traceable author.
     
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  14. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    That's one reason why I personally eer towards the seriously obscure. Yes, it makes me really, really happy when other people do recognize the things I've quoted from, but generally tiny bands that no-one has heard of aren't ever going to sue you for name checking them. It's only the big, commercial bands that you'd ever really worry about. I can see why further back in time you might be more worried about it actually; because with the original musicians dead that leaves whatever rights in the hands of faceless, evil corporation rather than a bunch of musicians who really just want to get noticed. I suppose it depends on your point of view how obscure Front 242 are. Among my friends not in the slightest. Among the normal population, very obscure. An 80s band that wasn't even popular back then. So meh I guess.
     
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  15. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

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    The lyrics are significant to the scene, yes?

    Because if the song isn't chosen at random, like it has meaning beyond the notes (which we can't hear), it can work. I like industrial music, so even if I didn't know the song, I would substitute it with some generic music I imagine would be played in West Germany. Plus you can always describe the music to give the reader a stronger impression of the scene.

    I actually like it when songs and bands make "cameos" in books. For me it adds a tinge of realism, perhaps because I listen to music pretty much all the time myself. And since I enjoy these nods, there are references to bands/artists like Guns 'n' Roses, Sepultura, Metallica, Placebo, L7, Bomb Squad, and The Final Outlaw in my WIP. Although not always by the name, so they can be missed by the reader, plus I think I've quoted lyrics only once. But I like these bands or their music to have small roles and meanings in the story that aren't dependable on the reader knowing the artists. I guess the absence of music (or "music) in a book feels a little weird to me.
     
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  16. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I get the same thing. I just feels weird to me to have a character put on their headphones and not say what they are listening to because it does matter.

    Maybe this is a metalhead thing?

    Not to overly pontificate but... I suspect that people who see music as part of their identity, especially one of the more niche music forms, are more likely to be kinda into shouting it out when they can. I think to people like us (or me anyway) there's a lot of meaning in music, especially if you got in fights as a result of being in the wrong clique in your teens. I had my nose broken one time for that reason exclusively and, well, yeah I do kinda have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to a lot of things in my life that most people find to be an acquired taste. There will forever be a part of me that wants to say 'This is what I like and fuck you if you think that's wrong'. To me at least it feels very much like giving their taste in music really informs their character, I definitely feel that way about my taste in music, but I can see why fans of *ahem* tamer music might not feel the same.

    Maybe this is just a metalhead thing, maybe it's any niche group, maybe it's just me, but I still like to call out the things I like. And I see a lot of meaning in the background to have that music playing. Maybe that is purely metatexual in a way that's lost on other people but that's still how it reads to me. To me there is some communal, euphoric something to those environments and that to me extends well into something magical. I remember seeing Muse (who I don't even like that much) in the pissing rain at the end of the V festival years back but there was something genuinely euphoric about a whole crowd singing together and Matt Belamy playing off the crowd with lasers shooting everywhere. Same for going mosh pitting at a System Of A Down gig.

    It's just, well, that's stuff that means things to me. And maybe not to everyone. But I get it. And I think most readers will at least run with you for a page or two even if they don't quite get it.
     
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  17. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    I think this is the key--I have a hard time imagining a reader putting a book down because you referenced a song they either don't know or don't like.

    All in all, this is description. Which means it should follow the rules of any other description, musical reference or not: does it make sense given the context of the scene (someone running for their life isn't going to stop and notice Journey on the radio), does it make sense given the POV character (does that character know and care about this particular song enough to call it out), and does it add something to the scene (rather than just being filler)?
     
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  18. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I disagree on every count, but I think the first part is a totally valid opinion.

    On the copyright stuff, though, I'd want to see a citation. It's conventional wisdom in writer-land that you can't use lyrics without permission... I'd be happy to see the conventional wisdom overturned, but I'd like to see some sort of authority on it.

    I think self-publishers often get away with using lyrics, but one self-publisher I know of who was subsequently picked up by Big Five had to remove the song lyrics she'd used in the self-published version because the Big Five publisher wouldn't let her use them without permission. And it was a Rolling Stones song, so permission wouldn't have been cheap! I don't know what Wreybies' plans are for publication, but if they include a publisher, he'll probably run into this issue. At least as I understand the situation.
     
  19. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I've been running into this conundrum on my WIP Gravity - music is central to the storyline (bass player from a Modern Rock band in recovery and the personal trainer hired to keep him on the straight and narrow fall in love), and it's been really challenging coming up with my own lyrics for my MC's fictional band. Luckily my husband has been in multiple bands and has been writing songs for years, so I've been able to tap him as a resource from time to time. I try to use them sparingly throughout the MS since I know it's not my strong suit, but sometimes the scene seems to call for it - well, in this first draft at least.

    I do have some real-life song lyrics in a couple of places, and my thought was to reach out to my publisher in advance when I get to revising the first draft and see if they'd prefer I take them out before submitting. I have a feeling they'll want me too, but I'm going to leave them in for now as a placeholder if nothing else.
     
  20. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. I do all this. And I'm not usually one to describe clothing or appearance in great detail, but in this case it's a big part of why these guys work magic in a gestalt mode rather than individually. At the time and in the place it was oxblood red bovver boots, Witboy jeans, and a two-stripe Fred Perry polo in either white, blue, or red. Hair was shorn to a severe high & tight flat-top, with a modified front that came to a point like the prow of a boat. That was the de rigueur uniform of the Linientreu circa 1992.
     
  21. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I went through the whole shall I shan't I think writing the latest chapter of the darkest storm .... I wanted music to establish the scene that its a dive bar full of rednecks and bikers .... I went through several itterations of mentioning different bands but in the end settled on

    "A juke box to my left was hammering out some sort of hard rock, the sort where the singer screams profanity over the howl of a guitar being mutilated by a chimpanzee "
     
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  22. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I will defer to your greater knowledge on such things; I can't say I've looked into it deeply. I have my doubts if anyone could make a case stick in the present climate, but I can understand why anyone would want to avoid the possibility of being sued even if they were really confident in winning. Your book isn't going to make them more money than getting into a fight with another giant conglomerate. The cynic in me wonders how keen to control their intellectual property they'd be if there was Harry Potter And The Rolling Stones, even without being asked first.

    That said; I still think that if it makes a better book you should write it how you want it and wait until someone tells you to change it.
     
  23. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

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    Yeah, I know what you're talking about. :) When you're a metalhead, it's your identity and every facet of your life is affected. Granted, I don't nowadays hoist my colors the same way I used to apart from the odd Iron Maiden or Opeth shirt I might wear to the office, so usually people can't tell by my appearance I enjoy metal music or getting knocked around in a pit... Not just the "nice" stuff like the above mentioned Metallica or Sepultura that appear in the story in the form of t-shirts one character wears, but black metal and grindcore as well. It makes you into sort of an outcast, and when you meet another person who doesn't balk at Pig Destroyer, a rapport is formed. Maybe, on some level, I'm seeking that rapport through the fiction I write as well. I mean, it's not on the nose, I hope, 'cause I'm not writing specifically to the 1 %, but it's hard not to include music in some shape or form.

    Wow, I'm sorry to hear you got your nose broken for listening to metal. :eek: When I was a teenager, metal blew up (the whole Gothenburg wave with Arch Enemy and such) and became so mainstream I actually fit in quite nicely. Nowadays it's back on the fringe, so I rarely meet like-minded people e.g. at work, but that's fine. I have Dog Fashion Disco's 'Baby Satan' as my ringtone, so I think most of the people in my team know by now radio pop is not my cup of tea. :D
     
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  24. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    My eyes skip right over song lyrics in books. And poetry, and dates as headers. I don't know why that is but I do know I'm not the only one.

    And I'm a metalhead. :)
     
  25. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    And more than anything, this is my concern. Dealing with copyright is a known known, but if this falls into the category of things my eyes skim past, then why bother. You know? I feel the same way about alien or elven gobbledygook language, and I'm a language dork! I'm like, sorry, I don't care how many hours you slaved over creating your half inflected, half agglutinative language. It's meaningless to me. Clutch your pearls all you like, but I'm not reading it, and whatever you think it "adds", it doesn't. Good day.

    So... I go to lengths in this scene do describe the spleen-throbbing nature of the music and the club and the sunken dance floor and the stadium seating around the dance floor and the beautiful Berliner youths caught in a moment of time and place and that feeling that no one has ever been this young and this beautiful in this epic of a club, ever, since the beginning of the universe (you know the feeling). This extra bit of icing on the cake may just be more trouble than it's worth.
     
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