What We Can Learn About Songwriting From Auto Tuned TED Talks and NASCAR Prayers

For a few years now, mischievous Internet hooligans have been editing video footage of celebrities and political leaders—and Auto Tuning them.

  • Ever wanted to see Barack Obama sing about the BP oil spill?
  • Ever suspected that setting a Charlie Sheen interview to a vocal melody would sound fantastic?
  • Ever thought a NASCAR pre-race prayer would make a killer country single?
    Me neither. Read on.

    Songify Everything

    The Gregory Brothers choose promising video clips, slice up the footage into pieces, and rearrange those pieces to form rhyming verses and choruses.  Then they compose backing tracks and set the spoken “vocal” to a melody using auto tune.

Their musical adaptation of a notorious Charlie Sheen interview has nearly 50 million Youtube views as of this writing—enough to rival any mainstream hit single.


Let’s break down exactly what The Gregory Brothers have done here:

  • Chose promising source material (the vice-loving, vividly loquacious Charlie Sheen)
  • Broke it into pieces
  • Rearranged the pieces to form rhyming verses and choruses
  • Used parts of the text as refrains (in this case, “Winning”)
  • Wrote backing tracks and planned out a song structure
  • Set the source material to an expressive vocal melody

The result is only about two minutes long—long enough to develop the idea, but not so long that the joke loses its flavor.

Here’s another Auto Tune original, this one created by John Boswell. The source material: TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks. It’s less funny, more expansive in tone.

As a songwriter I’m fascinated by these creative applications of Auto Tune—as far as I’m concerned, this is the best possible use for that software.

The Gregory Brothers call their series of videos “Songify This”. I think those two words make a fine suggestion. Form the habit of asking yourself throughout the day:

“How can I songify this?”

Bobby McFerrin wrote the classic “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by singing a line he found in the newspaper. Composer Franz Schubert songified some 600 written poems in the early 1800’s.

Every day dozens of song ideas slip by you because gems worth songifying get tuned out amid the rest of the noise. Whenever you hear vivid language like “violent love,” “The miracle of your mind,” or “Boogity Boogity Boogity, Amen”, pause and ask yourself:

“How can I songify this?”

Songify anything

  • Choose interesting sources for lyric material
  • Break the material into lines and phrases
  • Arrange and rearrange the pieces to form rhyming verses and choruses
    • Keep an ear out for lines that would make good refrains
    • Write backing tracks and plan out a song structure
    • Set the source material to an expressive vocal melody

Go forth and songify, my friends.

Posted on March 18, 2012
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