The Song Stories of Our Lives

This is the second part in a two-part series about “Song Stories” and author Kyle Bylin.

We all have those songs that speak to us. They may be the songs we listened to most during a difficult time, or the songs that were on the radio when something amazing happened. Either way, we all have a song story.

North Dakota native Kyle Bylin, a music industry professional and author, sought to bring these stories to live in his latest novel, “Song Stories.”

The following is a conversation I had with Bylin about the inspiration for his book and the process behind the idea.

Paige Johnson: What was the inspiration for “Song Stories?”
Kyle Bylin: Many songs in my music library have developed a personal or deeper meaning. When I listen to these songs, I don’t just hear the sound of the music or the words in the lyrics. I remember the people and moments that they became associated with in my life. I feel the emotions that I felt. These songs aren’t just attached to a string of memories. They are the thread that runs through the story. The soundtrack that plays during the movie. I knew that I had stories about songs. But I wanted to read other people’s stories, too. That is what inspired and motivated me to edit this book.
PJ: How did you find the people you wanted to feature in your book?
KB: I asked people that I met in the music business if they had a song that meant something special to them and if they’d be willing to share the associated memories and emotions. Many of them told me intimate stories about songs from their personal lives. I made tough calls about which stories to include in the book. Each story had to be significant. It had to be relatable to a wide audience. It had to reveal how the song makes the person feel.
PJ: You’ve written books before. What was different about writing this book?
KB: “Song Stories” focuses on emotions. My previous books centered on ideas. They investigated how technology is changing the way that people listen to music, and what those developments could mean for the artists that create those songs. The writing styles couldn’t be more different. An argumentative essay needs to convince you of the writer’s view. It needs to weave a series of facts and opinions together. A personal essay needs to interest you in the writer’s story. It must connect you to them in a personal and intimate way. I had to encourage my contributors to share important details about sensitive moments. It wasn’t easy. I had to trust in my ability to edit this book.
PJ: What was the biggest challenge writing this book? Biggest success?
KB: My biggest challenge was that I learned everything as I went. Each book project is a new obstacle course. I have to fall down and get back up many times in order to figure out how to successfully navigate each part. One day, I’m a writer and editor. The next, I’m a publisher and marketer. Each day reveals new barriers to overcome. Publishing a book is like founding a startup. Writing is the product. It’s my job to find the book an audience.
PJ: How has music shaped your life?
KB: Music has shaped my identity and changed my life in many ways. My discovery of Linkin Park in high school catalyzed one of the biggest shifts. That band inspired me to listen to heavy metal and hard rock. They got me interested in writing my own lyrics, which grew into a desire to become a songwriter. I wanted to write songs that would help me understand my life, and that another person could relate back to their own struggles. My desire to write lyrics motivated me to pursue a career in music. My love for lyrics helped me find my passion for words.
PJ: What is your major goal for “Song Stories?”
KB: I hope the stories will remind people of the songs that have impacted their own lives. Most people understand how powerful a specific song can be — especially one that expresses complex thoughts and feelings in a simple way — but they’ve never had the opportunity to read about others’ experiences. This is a personal relationship with music that we all have, but we rarely share with other people. Readers will enjoy discovering stories and songs that will relate to them on a personal level. In the book’s final pages, I encourage them to share their own stories for future collections through the book’s website, www.songstories.org.
PJ: Did you always know you wanted music to be a part of your life, both personally and professionally?
KB: Loving music doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy working in the business. It’s tempting to turn your personal passions into professional pursuits. People tell you that what you passionately worked on in high school will guide you to success and happiness in life. That isn’t always the case. Real life is always different from how you imagine things in your mind. I created this book to remind myself of why I love music and the power that it has to impact people’s lives. Technology has changed how people listen to music, but it hasn’t changed how songs make us feel when we relate to their lyrics. That is part of what I’m trying to get across with this book. Pandora and Spotify are great music services, but they’re only the delivery mechanism for the songs. The music is still what matters the most to people.
PJ: Where did you go to school and what for?
KB: I went to the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I studied music and entertainment business. It’s tough to study the music industry because it changes so rapidly. Almost everything that teachers considered to be an important topic back then has since changed. Books that debuted with incredible investigative journalism now read like antiquated history tomes. I’m glad that I got a music industry degree because it revealed paths that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. However, I’ve learned most of what I know today through reading books and working on projects. I’m one of those people who learns the theory and gets to work.
PJ: What advice would you have for someone who wants to go into music as a profession or as a hobby but doesn’t know how?
KB: I’d encourage them to read news stories about the music industry as much as possible. When they come across a company or executive’s name, they should look them up in Google and read everything they can find about that specific business or person. Each rabbit hole they dig will uncover new companies and people to research. They’ll see what news outlets and journalists most frequently cover the music business. They’ll sign up for the newsletters and follow the writers on Twitter. They’ll set Google alerts for the companies and people that interest them the most. They’ll read every new thing that’s written about them. Soon, they’ll feel the day-to-day pulse of the music industry and see trends in the news coverage. This is a way for anyone to teach themselves about an occupation or hobby.
For more information on “Song Stories,” visit songstories.org. To read a review of the book, visit ndsuspectrum.com.

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