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thefate
PostPosted: Sat May 07, 2011 8:10 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 13 Apr 2011
Posts: 11
Location: UK

Dear fellow Protofans. Listen to my heartwrenching story:

(If you're lazy, you can just skip to the last few paragraphs. I'll haunt you in your sleep though.)

When I were a wee lad, I discovered Pink Floyd - and through them, Roger Waters. His concept album stuff was amazing to me in college, it made me realise that there are no limitations to music, and that an album based on a disabled kid pretending to blow up a radio station can actually be amazing.

Years passed. I discovered The Protomen.

Act II blew me away. I spent hours watching footage on my PC of them playing live. I lapped up every song, piece of plot I could grab at. I cursed those that had such pleasures to see them, whilst I was holed away the UK. I watched the PAX footage and cried manly tears of men because it was so brilliant.

I scoured the country far and wide to see if we had anything similar over here. Works out, most similar bands from abroad had toured over here briefly and didn't plan to do it again. One band about an hour away had apparently done something similar, but broke up last year. Nothing else was out there.

I fell into a depressive state. I drank. I gambled. I got cheap hookers. I did drugs. I watched the Disney channel. I broke down at the train station when I wasn't even waiting for the train. I'd wake up in strange places and not know how I got there. I'd hurt in places I didn't even know could hurt. The world was so grey to me. Why did we not have anything similar for me to enjoy?

Then one day, the clouds opened up.

"DO IT YOURSELF YOU LAZY BASTARD."

Before I had a chance to ask why, they closed again. I shook my fists at the sky and screamed. Was I good enough? Talented enough?

I went into training. There was a crazy montage of me working at the gym and studying at the library. Five minutes passed. I was ready.

I called out to the UK for friends to join me on my quest. For months I screamed loud to every corner of the country.

Nobody answered my online ads. Those that did were usually offereing me viagra.

This is where my story finishes so far. Right now Protofans, I stand witha wad of cash, a producer who conveniently lives down the road and has done countless rock operas (meryful act of God, surely) and a whole bunch of songs that I'm going to do by myself and then get a band in afterwards.

A here is where you stop thinking "What is this post even about? Crazy, crazy man."

My album, so far, is a failure. It's abysmal. The plot is there, a not-very-original-and-proud tribute to most elements of my childhood. I've got one amazing song on it. The rest are either unrealised or just don't fit thematically.

As fellow Protomen fans, I'm posing you this question to ponder and answer so I can use it for brainfood: what makes a concept album brilliant to you?

I've listened to some in my time and halfway through the plot just seems to go in irrelevant directions and I stop caring, like they pad it out with stupid backplot compared to the fact that the first half of the album is centered around the same thing. I don't want to fall into that. I'll cry. And you don't want to see a grown man cry (or do you?). And it isn't always just because the music is subpar too, sometimes the music's still great, but it just doesn't seem focused.

Basically, any advise on what you think makes a good concept album will help me. Any time I try to write anything that isn't some sort of mid-tempo rocker I find myself asking "Will anyone care about this song other than me? And if not, what'll make them care?"

Maybe I'm better off asking what ruins a concept album for you? Then I'll have a good idea what pitfalls to avoid. Yeah that's good, answer that one instead.

(And if this post makes no sense, I'm sorry. I've been writing this thing for months now and I genuinely believe I'm losing my mind.I feel like some of the questions I've asked are crazy obvious, but the fact that I've undertaken this whole thing by myself is making me paranoid or something.)
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dual-class Aussie
PostPosted: Sun May 08, 2011 7:28 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 15 Jan 2010
Posts: 275

My favorite concept album before the Protomen was Poe's Haunted. And the main thing I loved about it was that in the end, it was something deeply personal for the artist. The album feels like it was made to express something personal as best as she could, rather than trying to take something personal and shape it into something as marketable as she could.

There's a lot of things there to analyze, references between the songs and between the album and the book. But there's probably a lot more "references" in it that no one could ever get or notice, because they're idiosyncratic things that would only make sense in her head, or in-jokes between her and her brother who wrote House of Leaves. But even if I won't notice these things, the overall feeling behind it comes through clearly, that it's about her using these recordings of her dead father to look back over the course of her family life and their relationships.

I guess what I'm trying to get across is something like the iceberg theory. I think the really important thing is for the structure of the concept to make sense to you most of all. Tons of people won't ever care about some of the stuff in there besides you, but if you can make something that's really powerful and rings true to you, at least the little tip at the top that other people can see and get will hint at the shape of the genuine depths beneath.

And as for what would ruin a concept album for me... well, there's a couple songs or bits in Haunted where I don't care for the style as much, but that still didn't ruin the album for me. I just focus on the parts that I do like more, or that make more sense to me. Even Act II took a little while to grow on me with the big shift in style, but it was easy to keep coming back to it and let it grow on me since I could at least tell from the start that it was something real.

So overall, for me at least, when it comes to concept albums, all particulars of style or genre or structure or pretty much anything are completely irrelevant, it's just a question of whether I get the feeling that I can trust the artist. Is it something real? Does the artist actually mean it? That's all that matters. As long as that's there, that's what gives me a reason to want to look into it more, even if the music isn't matched to my usual taste.

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thefate
PostPosted: Sun May 08, 2011 8:20 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 13 Apr 2011
Posts: 11
Location: UK

That's pretty interesting. I went onto a musician forum and posed the same question and they said the exact opposite - try and not make it too personal because nobody will know what the hell you're on about. I don't know if you're a musician - if not that makes sense to me a little bit, it's only natural the crafter should worry about how well it'll be distributed. Personally this has been an aim I've had for years, the reason I'm doing it now is because it's dawned on me that no band I can form has had the commitment to write an entire album, so I guess with that in mind it's only right it should be personal.

I think now that you've said that, I'm gonna take a step back and rewrite certain parts of the plot that just feel like they're there for the sake of rounding it out. I'd say the bulk of it is pretty genuine - the actual plot is probably the most unoriginal thing I've ever written, but the actual themes are really the driving force for it all so everything should relate back to that in some way otherwise it has no right to be bundled with the rest of the songs.

You've just saved the album for a potentially horrific robot\human love song. I thank you eternally.
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dual-class Aussie
PostPosted: Sun May 08, 2011 9:33 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 15 Jan 2010
Posts: 275

thefate wrote:
I don't know if you're a musician - if not that makes sense to me a little bit, it's only natural the crafter should worry about how well it'll be distributed.


Huh, that is interesting, since I play a lot of music, but it's never been my profession at all. (Apart from a couple years where I had a regular job as a church pianist) So I've never had to have those kind of worries.

Quote:
You've just saved the album for a potentially horrific robot\human love song. I thank you eternally.


I don't have anything against robot/human love songs, but I do have something against love subplots being shoehorned into absolutely everything even when there's no reason, so I hope that's a good thing. Wink

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Onslaught Six
PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2011 1:17 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 27 Feb 2010
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I've only written one true concept album that plays as a story--beyond that, everything else just has a vague general theme so far that propogates itself among the songs, whether aesthetically (they all sound similar) or lyrically (similar themes/words/etc).

But I'll tell you how I wrote Lamda Ecks, my concept album about a man who becomes a cyborg so that he won't feel pain anymore, only it turns out he can still feel pain anyway and the robot half of him is some fucked up rapist murderer guy so he goes into space and kills God (represented by Zeus on the planet Jupiter) and then crashes back onto Earth to find that the Rapture has happened and all that's left are the sinners (which includes his girlfriend!) so he tries to say to his girlfriend that he's sorry he fucked up so bad and he can make it up to her and everything will work out because God damn it I'm willing to try. She rejects him so he turns into the robot half again and destroys the Earth and then he kills himself and writes a song onto his spaceship wall that "It's probably not a good idea to become a robot so that you don't feel pain anymore but even if that happens if you try really hard you can make everything work probably."

How did I come up with that shit? Well, the album wasn't going to be a concept album when I started writing it. It was just...the next album after Tidal Wave. (Which isn't conceptual at all, it's just nine songs I liked enough to put out.) Instead I grabbed a bunch of old lyrics--because I write all my lyrics first. I know that's a little messed up, a lot of people tell me that's backwards, but it's the way it works for me--I start writing the lyrics and the entire structure of the song appears right there with it, including melody and key and everything. So, the lyrical content--arguably the most important part--was already there, in parts.

I'd written a few of those songs a couple 'years' before--Generator and Virus and Destroyer. A friend of mine wrote Isolation years back and I'd recorded a really bad demo of it, and I thought it could work. Then, while recording Generator and (re)recording Virus, I started writing these other songs--ostensibly all related to the theme of failure and redemption, making up for past mistakes. (This is because I had just dropped out of school, wrecked my car, lost my license, and basically fucked up my entire life.) Anomaly, Future and Message To No One were all written at about the same time.

At that point, I sat down and said, "I have five or six really good songs here; I think twelve would be a good number." Twelve was only four more than eight (the number of songs on my last album, before I added another one) and also Act II is twelve songs long (and NIN's The Downward Spiral, another great concept album, is thirteen) so I said, "Twelve songs."

So I wrote down the name of every song I'd written for it so far, and a short description of what 'narrative action' the song was about. Some of them are vaguer than others because of when they were written--Generator is ostensibly 'about' nothing but it's got some cool lyrics and it's generally about Something Controlling You, and it fit in with the theme I was going for. I wanted to do The Downward Spiral or Fight Club's I Have Multiple Personalities thing, because that's always fun. Future is about forgiving your past imperfections and mistakes and moving forward with your life--not giving up.

I wrote all these down (and drew a little picture for each because I had a lot of free time on my hands, what with no college or job) and started seeing a narrative structure form. Man becomes machine. Man is alone. Man asks woman for forgiveness. Machine destroys the world. Man kills self while writing final message. After that, I decided to fill in the blanks.

But even when I had ideas of what "needed" to happen between those songs, I didn't let that stop me. I still did what I always do--I sat down to write some lyrics, and whatever came out, that was the song. I mean, I'd come up with a few lines, and then whatever the song was actually about would reveal itself--and then I'd built off that to create the rest. If the song didn't fit in with the rest of what I wrote, I filed it away for later use. (This is good because now I have basically half the album I'm working on now finished.)

So, tj;dr I wrote twelve songs that I thought were really good, and 'then' I figured out what kind of story they told after the fact. Really, the only song that relies on narrative for itself is Serotonin, because it's a Quiet Instrumental.

But that's what worked for me. Maybe something else will work for you.

LATE EDIT: Also, this is pretty much how Act I was written. Due Vendetta and Hope Rides Alone were first, and then they just kind of filled in other songs around that.

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thefate
PostPosted: Thu May 12, 2011 10:48 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 13 Apr 2011
Posts: 11
Location: UK

dual-class Aussie wrote:
I don't have anything against robot/human love songs, but I do have something against love subplots being shoehorned into absolutely everything even when there's no reason, so I hope that's a good thing. Wink


Bleh, it was some crazy subplot where the woman was his creator\mother figure and he couldn't quite work out his feelings for her (the whole album is his quest to become "human" inside and rid himself of the duty he was created for, not the most original plot but definately one I feel happy writing about). I liked the premise, but I think the complexity of incorporating it into the plot was making it less enjoyable for me.

Onslaught Six wrote:
I write all my lyrics first. I know that's a little messed up, a lot of people tell me that's backwards, but it's the way it works for me.


I think you're pretty much the first person I've ever heard this working for. Personally, whenever I try it the whole song just sounds forced so I try to warn others from doing it whenever they ask, so its pretty cool that it works for someone out there! Just out of interest, have you ever written music first and if so did you notice any difference?

Onslaught Six wrote:
I wrote down the name of every song I'd written for it so far, and a short description of what 'narrative action' the song was about.


This is what I've been doing so far and it's worked out pretty well for me. It's given me a good sense of direction and focus when I get a bit lost. Right now I'm just concentrating on writing the best songs I can, then running down the list and deciding at what plot point they reflect musically (if any).

Another odd thing that I've been focusing on is the album front cover. I was just pondering it at work one day, but because the cover has to encompass the 'feel' of an album in a picture, it's quite handy to play what I've got whilst staring at the cover and asking myself "does this music belong to this world?" Totally unintentional process that has worked quite well so far.
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Onslaught Six
PostPosted: Thu May 12, 2011 4:25 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 27 Feb 2010
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thefate wrote:
Onslaught Six wrote:
I write all my lyrics first. I know that's a little messed up, a lot of people tell me that's backwards, but it's the way it works for me.


I think you're pretty much the first person I've ever heard this working for. Personally, whenever I try it the whole song just sounds forced so I try to warn others from doing it whenever they ask, so its pretty cool that it works for someone out there! Just out of interest, have you ever written music first and if so did you notice any difference?


Well, it's a strange process. Sometimes when I do write the lyrics, 'no' music comes with it. And I have, before, started simply writing the music first. Tidal Wave, for example, started with its intro part and it 'sat there' for like two or three months. Then I finally came up with the verse parts, musically, and then I pulled out the lyrics I'd written ages back and went, "Yes, This."

Digital Omega from Lamda Ecks is kind of similar--I wrote the lyrics, was trying to come up with music for it, and Couldn't. Then I listened to an old instrumental song I'd done (with the intent of adding a different set of lyrics to it; this never panned out because the music didn't fit the mood of the lyrics) and the two meshed together really well. So it's a little bit of both, but I definitely write the lyrics seperately from anything else, and in a lot of the cases, I've written the lyrics long before the music.

Sometimes, the lyrics I've written don't work out with the music I have and I have to redo the whole song. It happens. Some of the project files on my computer are labelled "Deicide 2," "Seizure 3," etc. I know that's because of my unorthodox methods, but hey.

It also helps that when I write lyrics to a song, I generally do it in one sitting. I will come up with a line (or a few lines) and then if I don't finish the entire song, usually I consider it a dud and file it away, never to be seen again. (Not to say that I don't revise lyrics during the process, but you know.)

Quote:
This is what I've been doing so far and it's worked out pretty well for me. It's given me a good sense of direction and focus when I get a bit lost. Right now I'm just concentrating on writing the best songs I can, then running down the list and deciding at what plot point they reflect musically (if any).


This is the way I did it, yeah. A lot of the songs that didn't fit onto Lamda Ecks quickly became fodder for my current work, which is less concept-based.

Quote:
Another odd thing that I've been focusing on is the album front cover. I was just pondering it at work one day, but because the cover has to encompass the 'feel' of an album in a picture, it's quite handy to play what I've got whilst staring at the cover and asking myself "does this music belong to this world?" Totally unintentional process that has worked quite well so far.


I went through a lot of different ideas for the Lamda Ecks cover, and eventually I just went to a college friend of mine (she wants to get into doing album art as a profession) and said, "Hey, draw me This," and the did and it was awesome.

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Errornix
PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2011 8:39 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 05 Jan 2010
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Onslaught Six wrote:
But I'll tell you how I wrote Lamda Ecks, my concept album about a man who becomes a cyborg so that he won't feel pain anymore, only it turns out he can still feel pain anyway and the robot half of him is some fucked up rapist murderer guy so he goes into space and kills God (represented by Zeus on the planet Jupiter) and then crashes back onto Earth to find that the Rapture has happened and all that's left are the sinners (which includes his girlfriend!) so he tries to say to his girlfriend that he's sorry he fucked up so bad and he can make it up to her and everything will work out because God damn it I'm willing to try. She rejects him so he turns into the robot half again and destroys the Earth and then he kills himself and writes a song onto his spaceship wall that "It's probably not a good idea to become a robot so that you don't feel pain anymore but even if that happens if you try really hard you can make everything work probably."


This needs to be a movie... or at the very least an indie comic. We need to find an artist!

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Onslaught Six
PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2011 2:24 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 27 Feb 2010
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I think I'd prefer something like The Wall or NIN's Broken Movie for it.

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thefate
PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2011 8:49 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 13 Apr 2011
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As much as I like The Wall, when the credits start to roll I can't help but feel like it shouldn't be over. Not just yet.
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Aireos
PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2011 12:18 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 30 Nov 2009
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Just keep in mind, the difference between Concept album, and Rock opera. A concept album, would be a bunch of songs that have the same concept (hence the name) but don't necessarily play out like the Protomen. For example, My Chemical Romance. Their new album, Danger Days, is a concept album, because the songs follow a basic concept, but there isn't that much of a clear story, other than the concept.

On the other hand. Queensryche's Mindcrime album (orgasms over) would be a rock opera. The story is constant from one song to the next. As if it were an audio movie. Our heroes, the Protomen, have written both albums as rock operas.

Keep in mind: Every rock opera is a concept album, but not all concept albums are rock operas.


Other References:

Kilroy was Here - Styx

Kezia - Protest the Hero

Cybion - Kalisia

2112 - Rush

Anything by Coheed & Cambria

Invisible Circles - After Forever

And much much more!
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Onslaught Six
PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2011 4:12 pm  Reply with quote



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Also this isn't really a requirement but leaving certain elements vague within the actual music to be explained (or not explained) by supplementary materials (video, interviews etc.) is also a pretty common thing. For example, in the aformentioned Operation Mindcrime, a main character dies and it's not necessarily clear who killed her.

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thefate
PostPosted: Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:00 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 13 Apr 2011
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Location: UK

Cheers guys! I've been writing like mad since starting this post and the album is pretty much near completion structure wise, I've just been adding various polish to it. Probably spend a couple of months sitting on it, making sure I love it, until I head to the studio.

I think originally it was just going to be a concept album, but when I started adding a few more moments influenced by personal experiences a story soon started to form and now the whole thing has somehow shifted into rock opera territory (including an Escape From New York theme inspired opening track which really helps set the mood).

I'm very happy with how it's panned out. It's not original, but I don't really care. I've thrown aside any elitism I'm happily wearing my influences with pride. As such, it's pretty obvious the first half is Protomen inspired and the second half collapses into some sort of really stripped down depressive rant about everything I find wrong with the people who surround me day to day (I may or may not have been on a massive Roger Waters binge for a few months there). It's currently clocking in at 30mins exact, so it means live I can play it in its entirety too.

Having massive trouble with the first track though. Wrote an amazing buildup, but I can't write a song awesome enough to follow it up :\
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