There’s a role we all play in our lives, even if we don’t realize we’re playing it. The fact is, most of us do realize we’re playing it. We may hate our jobs and just want to break into a spontaneous David Allan Coe session and tell our boss to take this job and shove it! But we instead play the role of a good employee and hold those curse words under our tongue. Our significant others often drive us through the roof, but we keep those emotions tamed down to present a good face. This is acting. We all do it. We all play a role. And for a lot of today’s country music singers and songwriters, they’re also sometimes playing a role.
What does that mean? Well, a songwriter might be happily married and really enjoying their relationship, but they may step into the role of someone who’s unhappy and lonely in order to deliver a good song about heartbreak. More often than not, those emotions actually do exist inside of that person, as they were once in that state, but going there to write a song is just role-play. There is nothing wrong with that at all.
One of the biggest names in the history of hit country music, George Strait, never wrote a hit song himself. While the man is a shoo-in for the Country Music Hall of Fame, and you can find a wide range of graphic music t-shirts that have his name and face on them, Mr. Strait is not a songwriter. He sings other people’s songs. So while a songwriter is writing about their personal experience as a bronc rodeo rider, or a heartbroken Oklahoman just trying to pick up the pieces, George is taking on an acting role in singing those songs as if they were his own.
All the World Is a Stage
Why is this important for a country music songwriter? Well, before anyone has graphic music t-shirts with your name and face on them, you first have to get your music out there and become a success. There’s a school of thought that says a writer can only write from his or her own experiences. But that’s not only short-sighted; it’s outright incorrect. Did Shakespear really fall in love with a woman and then commit suicide? Of course not. He stepped into a role and allowed himself to write fiction, and that fiction is some of the best writing in the history of this planet.
“Country music is 3 chords and the truth,” a lot of people will say. Well, that’s true, but it’s also not true. Heartbreak and partying songs and redemption songs – sure, they’re all true. These are all things that happen to people. But do they have to happen to you personally? Not at all. As a songwriter in the country music genre, it might even be beneficial for you to get out of your own personal diary and to write songs and stories about things that aren’t about you and don’t affect you.
Stepping back outside of music for a minute, we see that some of the most popular writing in history is fantasy writing. J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin, with Middle Earth and ASOIAF respectively; these are fictional stories that use real elements of humanity to draw people in. Your songs can be the same. You can play another role to write something fictional, while also using those truthful elements to really make them hit home.
Country music that’s successful is 100% based on true things. Those things just don’t have to have happened to you.