Questions need answers.
Don’t underestimate the power of curiosity. Once you get people to start asking questions, they need to know the answers.
In the book Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert did an experiment:
- He handed out a short quiz on common-life topics.
- Before taking the quiz, everyone was asked whether they would prefer a candy bar at the end, or to know the answers.
- Everyone chose to receive the candy bar.
- Then they took the quiz.
- After the quiz was done, they were given the choice again: candy bar, or know the answers?
- Everyone chose to know the answers, instead Giving up the free candy bar.
Conclusion of the experiment? Once people have asked themselves a question, they can’t stand not-knowing the answer.
Two brilliant Brian Eno quotes:
What was the first music you heard? Do you remember the mystery?
My first album, when I was 10 years old, was The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”. The crazy psychedelic sounds of “Only a Northern Song” and “It’s All Too Much”. The weird lyrics of “Hey Bulldog”. So freaky. I listened to it over and over before getting “The White Album”, “Revolver”, and “Sgt. Pepper’s”.
Late-period Beatles were quite a lot of mystery for a 10-year old. (Imagine at 10, trying to understand the lyrics to “I Am the Walrus”.) After that I got into Led Zeppelin, a bunch of Birmingham heavy metal like Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and plenty of others that were such a big dark mystery to a kid from Hinsdale, Illinois.
I still remember that as one of the most fascinating times in my life. I was completely obsessed with this mysterious music, spending hours a day, for years, wanting more, trying to figure it all out.
Keith Richards’ technique for being less obvious
Keith Richards, talking about songwriting, said lyrics are best when they’re mysterious - like listening in to someone else’s phone conversation. You don’t know the history or context. You don’t understand the references. So it draws you in even deeper, trying to understand. If you’re too obvious and explain everything in your lyrics, you don’t get that mystery.
So what Keith recommended is this: Write out everything you’re thinking, everything you want to say, but then cross out every other line, and write the song using only what’s left, even though it doesn’t make total sense.
Are you making mystery?
- Can you create music that’s even strange and mysterious to yourself?
- Can you make a song title (or band name, or album title) that’s irresistably clickable?
- Does the first line of one of your songs ask a question that the listener needs to know the answer to?
- Does your music seduce people to the point where they start searching?
- Not just the music itself, but your images/artwork/communication around it?
- Can you make your listeners actually ask themselves a question about you, trying to figure you out?