Storytelling inspiration: how music shows us how to break the rules when it comes to creating narratives

It’s no secret that, here at Triggers, we’re big fans of a good “What if?” question. In our experience, asking the right questions in relation to story structures and narratives (or any craft, task or project requiring creativity for that matter!) is a great way to unlock some of the doors behind which hide some great brainstorming ideas for campaigns, social media strategy, or video.

Having said that, we don’t believe that generating ideas is something that should be reserved for designers, entrepreneurs, and creative agencies. This is one of the main motivations for the design of our series of ideation card decks. Some of the most innovative storytelling we’ve read, heard or seen can actually be found in music.

IMG_0814.PNG

Using some of the questions from trigger cards in our Storytelling Deck, we thought we’d share some of our favourite examples of musical ideas that not reinforce the idea that there are many different ways to tell a story.


Green Day – American Idiot (2004)

green-day-storytelling-inspiration.jpg

For their fifth studio album, American punk-rock trio Green Day wanted to push the boundaries that made them a household name and mainstay in rock music. After a four-year break following the release of their 2000 album Warning, they released American Idiot, a concept album inspired by political events in America (‘Holiday’), the presidency of George W. Bush (‘American Idiot’) and the propaganda related to the war in Iraq (‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’).

The brilliantly-written album records the essence of what it feels like to be disappointed by the state of America, something hip-hop artist Childish Gambino recently repeated with his 2018 viral hit This Is America. Having been described as a “punk rock opera”, American Idiot eventually became the inspiration for a Broadway musical of the same name that went on to win two Tony Awards and the award for ‘Best Musical Show Album’ at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards. There’s talk about a feature film being made, too.

The Roots – Undun (2011)

roots-undun-storytelling-example.jpg

On December of 2011, on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the house band The Roots released undun, which became their 13th studio release and first concept album. On undun, The Roots tell the tragic story of a fictional drug dealer called Redford Stephens (the name is inspired by this Sufjan Stevens song.

Here’s the cool part: instead of telling Redford’s tragic story in a typical, beginning-middle-and-end storytelling format, The Roots decided to go for a reverse-chronological narrative. The album starts with the flatline sound of a heart monitor that announces Redford’s premature death and then continues, track by track, to tell the back-to-front story of the character’s life, the choices he made, and the circumstances that led to the beginning of the end.  

David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” – (1977-1979)

bowie-pack-inspiration-storytelling.png

When it came to serious themes, visions and adventure, rock star David Bowie was never afraid to express himself. On the 14th of January, 1977, Bowie released an experimental album called ‘Low. It was his eleventh studio album and the first of his “Berlin Trilogy”, which was followed by “Heroes” later that year and “Lodger” in 1979. These three albums are referred to as the “Berlin” trilogy because they were written and recorded during Bowie’s time in the German capital in the late 70s.

Bowie moved there in 1976 with his close friend and collaborator Iggy Pop to escape the drug-crazed lifestyle in Los Angeles. These three albums show a big change in Bowie’s signature rock sound towards more progressive — and sometimes quite dark — sounds like electronic and ambient music. In an interview, he referred to the Berlin Trilogy as his “DNA”. We think of it as a great example of how to tell a story in chapters, which is a method also successfully used by our friends over at Netflix to keep us stuck to our sofas.

Conclusion

We hope this post shows you two things:

  • How to look beyond typical or obvious sources to find inspiration for your own ideas

  • Different ways of doing storytelling, whether it’s starting from the end or breaking your narrative down

In our Storytelling Deck, you’ll find a whole bunch of questions like the ones above that will help trigger your imagination. Combine these with your own research: look to movies or series that have inspired you, songs that tell a story or even theatre shows and podcasts and we’re pretty certain you’ll be surprised by how your tale comes to life.

Remember: creative ideas are meant to be shared, and if there’s one thing we love at Triggers, it’s a good story. If you do use the Storytelling Deck, please feel free to share some of your resultant stories, presentations, movie scripts (or even song lyrics) with us — we’d love to see them!