How To Write A Concept Album
(Part 1 - Planning Your Concept)

My introduction to this series, Why Lyric Writing Is So Tedious, introduces concept albums as an excellent way to write lyrics, music, and avoid writers block.

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There are many different types of concepts that you can come up with to write a song about. You might have a concept that relates to:

  • An emotion (Sadness, Anger, Frustration, Grief)
  • An element (Fire, Earth, Wind, etc. See "The Alchemy Index" by Thrice)
  • An event that happened.
  • A social commentary on the way people see things (Try "The Incident" album by Porcupine Tree), or just satire in general.
  • A fictional world that you've created (in the same way that a novel writer would create their own fictional world).
  • And any other idea's or concepts that you can come up with.

This series is going to mainly address creating your own fictional world in the same way that The Mars Volta did for Deloused In The Comatorium.

But if you want to try a different type of concept, then by all means do it! Just keep in mind that I'm not going to be addressing them in this specific series.

Planning For Your Story Concept

Imagine the world that JRR Tolkien created for Lord of the Rings. There were maps, untold back-stories, ancient folklore (that the characters remembered even if they were never told to the reader), and even unique languages.

An example of The Elven language created for Lord of The Rings

He created a world that existed in idea's, and there were many parts of that world that were not even written about. These intricate facts about the world made it much more believable, and much more capturing for the reader. There's a reason people consider that story to be a masterpiece (and why it's one of my favorite movies ever made).

A map of Middle Earth created for the fictional story from LOTR

For your story, you will want to do a similar type of planning. You might not create something as intricate as LOTR, but it certainly should be deep enough that your listeners will feel the depth, and be emotionally captured by it.

Based on your skills, there are a few different ways that you can plan for your story. Here are just a few examples of planning tools that you can use to get your idea's out.

#1 - Visual Story-boarding

If you are skilled in art, or just prefer a mainly visual medium, then try story-boarding to plan your story.

This involves creating images that represents scenes, events, and characters in your story to help you plan. It's kind of like writing the comic-book version of your story!

If you come up with a cool idea for a place, you can draw it out and store it for future use. The same goes for any idea you come up with that you want in your story.

But why is this useful for writing lyrics? How will this be helpful for the end result of hearing my music?

Here's an example for a song that I did. I created a picture in my mind of a concept. I then took that scene, and I wrote lyrics simply describing what the scene looked like when you examined the art.

Because the art I came up with was so intricate, the lyrics ended up being really fantastic, and I'm still very happy with them. And all they were doing was describing a scene that I had created using interesting metaphors.

You can listen to that song titled "The Ternative" here.

I'm definitely not suggesting that you need to take this approach, I'm just showing you that no matter how useless you think it is to come up with intricate details, you're wrong!

#2 - Mind Map

A mind map is where you put your main concept in the middle of a blank sheet of paper, and from there you branch up different idea's for your concept.

A good piece of software to help organize your mindmap is Freemind, though I find that using the old "pen & paper" approach can often spur more creativity. The computer has a tendency to mechanize your idea's, rather than emotionalizing them, as it can force you to be more organized than you should be at this point in time.

An example of a mind-map about health.

Take a look at this more in-depth article on creating mind-maps. That article is referring to coming up with money-making idea's, but you can just as easily apply those concepts to writing a story.

For some extra idea's to spur on your creativity, I recommend 25 useful brainstorming techniques.

#3 - Keep A Journal - (I do this)

Every time you think of an idea, write it down. After a few weeks you will start to have an world developed.

I keep my Journal beside my bed, and try to write at least 1 page worth of ideas before I go to sleep every night. Sometimes I will think of images, and creatures to go along with my story (more on this in part 2 of the series).

I do my best to draw in my journal too, despite my awfully smelly drawing skills.

It's the consistent writing every day that really makes the difference. Because I only have to write a little bit each day, it's a really goal to have! Then if I'm taking my time, I can look back on it after a year of writing, and see that I've come up with a thousand intricate idea's!

What an advantage I have because of this patience. I recommend you adopt a similar attitude, unless you feel that you can write for hours on end. Slow and steady is how I choose to go though.

After You've Chosen...

Whichever brainstorming technique you choose, you need to make a point to take your time creating your story.

This should take weeks, if not months or years to create, depending on how in-depth you want your story to be.

After you spend the time creating the....background....no....creating your world, you will be ready to turn it into music.

Of course, this process of creating a world is much more complicated than I am letting on, and I will cover more aspects of it further on in the series.

Let's head on to Part 2 of this series, which is about creating the characters in your story.

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.