What is documentary songwriting?

Documentary Songwriting is a unique, step-by-step method of co-writing music that fosters empathy, boosts self-confidence and strengthens community. It demystifies creativity and allows someone with no musical background to express themselves through high-quality songs.

Documentary Songwriting has been used to enhance understanding between Turkish and Greek Cypriots at the UN Buffer Zone on Cyprus, to tell the stories of refugees from the Middle East seeking asylum in Belgium, and to tell women’s #MeToo stories. Our projects have been featured on TEDx and on NPR’s Morning Edition

Participants in Documentary Songwriting gain self-esteem when they can turn their experiences into song. A participant says of the process: “It was a glimpse into real human experience and emotion, unfettered by script and censorship. It was one of the precious moments in life that I truly felt I was witnessing (and a part of) something real.”

“It is a fascinating process to see one of my very personal stories transformed into a song. For my refrain, every time I sing it, I become more grateful. Hearing other people sing along with me makes me feel more connected to them.”

Meiyue Liu, Camden, Maine

What is a documentary song?

A documentary song is a song that comes from a person’s spoken words about an actual, lived experience. The song documents the emotions of the experience through music.

Three qualities of a docsong:

  • Authenticity: The song arises from the spoken words of an individual’s lived experience.
  • Accessibility: The melody and words can be sung by people without trained voices.
  • Artistry: The song expresses a shared exploration of ideas and suggestions from its Story Source and Teaching Artist.

Two Roles:

The Story Source:

  • recounts a personal experience
  • generates the very beginnings of a melody
  • contributes ideas and feedback throughout the complete writing and arranging proces
  • helps ensure that the song that emerges conveys the emotions of their story

The Teaching Artist:

  • listens deeply to the story source
  • leads them along the docsong process
  • contributes ideas and feedback throughout the complete writing and arranging process
  • provides songwriting expertise and perspective to ensure that the general listener might understand and feel the emotional message of the song

Both the Story Source and the Teaching Artist provide ideas and collaborate. Together, they explore different ways to shape the song and give it an identity that is authentic to the story source and accessible to future listeners.