This is about why lectures never work, poetry is powerful, even instrumental music can make you cry and the humble, silly music video can be one of the most devastating weapons of persuasion and change on this little rock orbiting a ginormous burning ball of nuclear fusion and fire.
1) Lectures never work
If you have a toddler, or a teenager, or are married, you are well aware of this fact.
Lectures are basically journalism, writing or speaking to inform. If your purpose is to persuade, journalism and lectures won’t do the job.
It’s common to hear, “If I just had more TIME to explain the facts, they’d understand and agree with me.”
No. The longer you stretch out a lecture or bit of journalism, the more bored and hostile your audience will become. Because structurally, writing and speaking to inform is a horrible format for anything of length and not designed to persuade at all. (Related: Why the Inverted Pyramid must DIE)
2) Speeches are at half power
What about speeches? Those are based in the art and science of rhetoric. They’re designed, start to finish, to persuade.
And they do. The structure is right. I love rhetoric and speeches. Could devote this silly blog to nothing else.
But today’s audiences are hard targets. Harder than Jean Claude van Damme with a fake Cajun accent.
In the 1970s, the average person got exposed to 500 commercial messages a day. Had to say no to 99+ percent of them or they’d fill their garage full of stuff they didn’t need and couldn’t afford.
Today, you’re exposed to 5,000 messages every single day. Let’s do the math: that’s 4.58 bazillion attempts to persuade you every day, and we’re not counting your kids, husband, neighbors or your cousin Jerry who always needs to borrow your lawnmower and maybe twenty bucks for gas.
If you weren’t saying no, reflexively, to 99.9 percent of all that, you’d be buried in junk and your credit card bills would dwarf the gross domestic product of Paraguay. (Why is it always Paraguay? I don’t know. I like the way it sounds. Alliteration. Also, it segues to No. 3.
3) Poetry is necessary
I don’t mean pretentious, obtuse lit-rah-sure poetry along the lines of Gertrude Stein. (Related: Gertrude Stein is a literary TRAIN WRECK)
How many great speeches do you remember? MLK’s “I have a dream.” JFK’s “Ask not what you can do.” Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg address” because teachers made you memorize it in sixth grade. Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” in Berlin.
We all know those speeches as in sure, we know about them, and those famous lines. Very few people know every line of any great speech. I specialize in speeches and have written entire shebangs dissecting those examples, and even I can’t remember every line. Or half the lines.
Yet we do remember silly poems, and we all know the lyrics to hundreds of songs.
When a speech is poetic, and does it right, the words are burned into your brain.
4) Music alone evokes emotion
This isn’t anecdotal. Music wonks and real scientists in real lab coats have hooked people up to electrodes and figured out certain musical notes can make you happy or sad.
Just the notes. Zero words.
Combine poetry with music and you have a song.
5) Film is the ultimate medium
Who do we talk about? People on television and in the movies. They’re at the top of the pyramid. Because film is king of all media.
When you’re driving to work in the morning, radio jocks are talking about the news a little, they’re mostly gossiping about shows they watched last night and the latest on talentless souls like Snooki and the Kardashians, simply because they’re on television, even if they shouldn’t be.
(Note: They bleeped out most swear words, but a couple may have slipped through this Jersey Shore compilation, which is hilarious, well done … and put to music.)
Buy a gallon of milk at Safeway and what do the magazines put on the cover: more gossip about actors, soap opera actors, politicians, reality TV stars and other people WHO ARE ALL ON TELEVISION OR MOVIES.
Get on film and you automatically get press down the chain. It’s automatic, because film rules.
6) Storytelling is the strongest structure
Plato worried about this. A lot.
Here’s a Greek master of rhetoric, a genius, and even he said stories and plays needed to be watched carefully because they were so powerful. Think about that. Writing to inform (journalism) and writing to persuade (rhetoric) are not as powerful as storytelling. And that’s from Plato.
The best stories stick with you. They characters and scenes linger in your brain forever. And unlike a lecture, the message, when done right, doesn’t beat you over the head at all. It’s buried in the subtext and never said out loud.
7) Music videos combine ALL OF THOSE POWERS
Each of those things—poetry, music, film, storytelling—is strong by itself. Mix them together right and you’ve got something even more awesomesauce than Voltron.
Now, it’s easy to do music videos wrong. I’ve spilled a ton of ink making fun of horrible music videos. Most pop songs have terrible lyrics, with no poetry and zero storytelling. The videos are often (a) dance numbers or (b) the band on stage, pretending to play their guitars while the singer lip-synchs.
What music has great lyrics and actual stories instead of Justin Bieber singing, “Baby, baby, baby?” Country music and hip-hop. Here are two great examples.
SAME LOVE by Macklemore
GOODBYE EARL by the Dixie Chicks
Do these lecture style and they don’t persuade at all.
Also, it’s not a stretch to say Obama won the nomination in 2008 after losing New Hampshire, when he looked toast, because a bunch of talented musicians and actors got together and turned one of his speeches into an amazing music video.
So yeah, music videos are often silly and insipid. Yet when they are done right, a music video can be more than a collection of words, notes and images. They can tell stories. They can make you laugh or cry. And they can change things.
Bonus: two songs with amazing lyrics that don’t actually have official music videos, though fans have tried. Somebody dropped the ball here. Go back and shoot real videos to these things, folks, because these beautifully crafted songs deserve serious film to do them justice.