Musically Speaking – storytelling on a musical framework

musically

Since we started our own production company last spring (feel free to visit us here and sign up for the newsletter 🙂 ) we’ve been working on a number of different projects, ranging from creating marketing campaigns to assisting with though leadership projects, from TV-series about YouTubers to GPS-based storytelling in a city-setting.

Although few of these would satisfy critical analysts as “true” transmedia projects, I find myself utilising transmedia storytelling and development methods at many turns, simply to get different pieces to fall into place in a logical and engaging fashion. Increasingly I’ve also been looking at other creative fields to find better analogies and better tools for creating and producing content, but also to explain my methods, my thinking and the end result to collaborators, clients and partners.

One area I have found extremely fruitful is that of music. It’s been touted – back in the days – that developing and producing a transmedia project is like conducting a symphony orchestra, where the producer is the conductor and the different instruments combine to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. While this still makes absolute sense, there are a lot of other musical terms that have a clear connection to multiplatform and transmedia development and production and can be used to jog ones creative nodes and. Allow me to exemplify with ten of them:

Beat

The unit of musical rhythm.

If there is anything that is essential for a well executed project that spans different media and strives to foster engagement, it’s the beat. Well planned and produced content with logical, well working calls to action and a rewarding scheme for people who engage in the intended way, can’t help but attract the desired attention. The beat is everything though; release too soon and people can be overwhelmed, release too infrequent and interest wanes.

But unlike classical music, there is one element here that has the possibility to act different. Since the audience’s role is to be engaged and active, they can influence the beat as well. Stories are legio of producers with a hit on their hands, having engaged audience members run through clues and mysteries in a fraction of the time expected. Said producers struggle to release new content and new mysteries to keep up with demand and try to stay the course, time wise. It might be better to stay with the intended beat, and instead plan for the creation of ancillary content or calls to action, that deliver engagement points but do not affect the general pacing.

Canon

 A musical form where the melody or tune is imitated by individual parts at regular intervals. The individual parts may enter at different measures and pitches. The tune may also be played at different speeds, backwards, or inverted.

With an engaging story and well produced content, we’ll have many people engaging, and not all at the same time. Thinking in terms of canon, how can we plan our content so that no matter who jumps into the narrative (or starts from the beginning while others are already way ahead) their experience and their voices add to the harmony instead of creating disharmony? One way is to foster and support an active community, which welcomes and integrates new members, helping them up to speed as necessary. Another way is to offer easy ways to grasp the narrative so far, with added points for further involvement as necessary.

Clef

In sheet music, a symbol at the beginning of the staff defining the pitch of the notes found in that particular staff.

Most people approach your content with some pre-conceived notions of what kind of experience they should be having. This is good, as long as those notions are not the completely wrong ones. While it sometimes might pay off to create something that offers the audience a shock treatment by deceiving them at the beginning of their experience, then revealing the true nature of the content, this is most of the time not something worth creating. Hoaxing has a tendency to backfire. So for most project, a clear indication prior to experiencing it, of what it is and how it is intended to be experienced, can’t but help the overall impression of the project.

Conductor

One who directs a group of performers. The conductor indicates the tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and style by gestures and facial expressions.

While the conductor could be considered to be you, the producer, the conductor could also be an inserted model participant, helping and guiding the audience along. At times you want to set the participating audience free, give them the control over the narrative. Many times, though, it is advisable to at least have a point of reference, some sort of guidance, to help the story and the experience along in the intended manner – or as a tool to help navigate unknown waters, should the overall project derail due to an overly engaged audience.

Encore

A piece of music played at the end of a recital responding to the audiences enthusiastic reaction to the performance, shown by continuous applause.

The long tail is a known figure of speech and a known way to engage the audience (and new audiences) in the long run. But the same goes for the experience itself; when the appreciating audience demands more, will you have anything for them? Can you at least lay out some rudimentary plans for how to evolve and prolong the experience; plans that make this prolonged experience feel logical and natural, and not as something that has been hastened along “due to popular demand”?

 

Fermata

To hold a tone or rest held beyond the written value at the discretion of the performer.

How much are you willing to let your performers – i.e. your audience – influence what’s going on? Ideally, they will take your project and the overall experience to heart fully, encompass your intentions for it and build upon it in a way that will purely add to the total of the experience for everyone. But opening up for total freedom will also mean you run the risk of being the target of deliberate troll attacks, and perhaps even more malicious ones than trolls. Now, this can be approached as merely a flattery – they care enough to troll you – or as a nuisance. One way to address this is to create the so called “sand boxes”, i.e. parts of the narrative where creativity and engagement are encouraged and the limitations are few or non-existent. Within these sand boxes, your performers can sing their hearts out or do whatever other creative thing they’d like.

Harmony

Pleasing combination of two or three tones played together in the background while a melody is being played. Harmony also refers to the study of chord progressions.

There are few things more challenging in storytelling or in content production than trying to get the narrative, the experience, to fully gel between different platforms. All platforms should support each other, every platform added to the experience should enhance it… but at the same time, simply experiencing ONE platform should be enough to get a fulfilling experience. The harmony can be achieved by experience, gut feeling, knowledge and extensive testing on the target audience.

 

Interlude

Piece of instrumental music played between scenes in a play or opera.

What is your interlude? What can your audience experience in the spaces between your installments? How are the interludes shaped, can they offer your audience a chance to create something themselves or interact with either characters, other audience members or someone else? How do they begin and more importantly how do they end – how do they build in a logical and engaging way towards the next installment of your content?

Polyphony

Combining a number of individual but harmonising melodies. Also known as counterpoint.

What you do NOT want is cacophony; that jarring experience of a multitude of pieces that do not fit together at all. Instead, while designing and producing, try to identify which parts of content could fit together in ways your audience might not expect. It could be the narrative of a side character that starts somewhere off grid, before anyone even knows it is a side character, but that is engaging and interesting in its own ways. It could be User Generated Content, contributions from fans or viewers, that offer a totally different view point (and based in Real Life) but still with a clear connection to the original narrative. Key is – they should all fit together.

 

Scordatura

The retuning of a stringed instrument in order to play notes below the ordinary range of the instrument or to produce an usual tone color.

How creative can you get? How can you use platforms and techniques in new ways that will give your audiences unexpected experiences? Can Periscope be used to tell a long form novel in “me” form? Can YouTube be used merely to create a soundscape for the overall experience? The sky’s the limit – retune your palette and your tool box as necessary (and if it sounds like crap, no worries; just tune it back and say “oops!”)

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