Three chords and the truth

Photo by Vincent Thuet -
Photo by Vincent Thuet –

At one of our Wordstock workshops, leading copywriter Simon Prichard explored what country music can teach us about business writing. Sophie Gordon went along and shares all of the tips she picked up on the day.


My annual dilemma – which Wordstock workshop to sign up for? This time (fuelled by coffee and a pain au chocolat) I seized the marker pen and opted for Simon Prichard’s offering: ‘a workshop exploring what country music can teach us about business writing’. Why not?

It was only as I walked away from the flipchart that a small, perhaps irrational, jolt of fear zinged down my spine. We weren’t going to have to sing, were we?

The horror.

But my fears were unfounded. After jokingly asking us why no one had thought to bring an instrument along with them, Simon adjusted his Stetson and reassured the room that his workshop wasn’t a mass singalong in disguise. It was actually a witty look at what we can learn from good country music and how we can apply the same techniques to writing of all kinds – without a hint of double denim.

Still lost? Well, let’s start with Simon’s choice of title ‘Three chords and the truth’. The musical structure of most country songs is actually very simple – based on a progression of three chords. Where else is structure pretty important? You guessed it – in writing.

Another ingredient that makes a great country song? Telling a decent story. And we know this can also be key to great business writing, but the story’s got to be believable. Whether you’re writing a song or a company’s founding story, make your story authentic and true to the person or brand. Simon’s example of Café Nero’s reference to ‘authentically Italian… premium espresso-based coffee’ summed this up perfectly. ‘Espresso-based’ kills the authentic Italian vibe. Take note.

Simon took us through examples of evocative writing, memorable writing, surprising writing – in country music and business writing forms. The parallels just kept on coming. And so did the laughs. Saddleback Leather’s strapline: ‘They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.’ had me in stitches for its darkly humorous honesty. And the following lyric led to a ripple of chuckling recognition throughout the room:

Pour me somethin’ tall an’ strong,

Make it a ‘Hurricane’ before I go insane.

It’s only half past twelve but I don’t care.

It’s five o’clock somewhere.

We ended the session with a quick group effort at writing our own country song. Simon started us off: ‘Sometimes it’s hard to be a writer…’

Stand by your pen, my friends. Stand by your pen.

By Sophie Gordon

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