There’s an electric undercurrent in the world of music, a harmony of creativity and business colluding to produce masterpieces. One such harmony breathed life into the enigmatic anthem, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, a performance that catapulted Aretha Franklin into global stardom. Her rendition of the song was so intimate, so bursting with fervor, it felt like a borderline painful explosion of joy. Revered by Dave Marsh as the preeminent anthem of female sexuality, it has been hailed as an ode to women, especially black women.
But an interesting twist to this beautiful narrative is that the soul of this song didn’t emerge from Franklin’s life experience. Instead, it was the craft of two seasoned songwriters, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Goffin, a white man, penned the emotion-filled lyrics while the gospel-tinged music was composed by King, a Jewish woman.
The establishment of this song is a true testament to professional songwriting. The tale unravels in 1967, when King and Goffin encountered Jerry Wexler, co-head of Atlantic Records, in an off-the-cuff meeting on Broadway. As Wexler voiced his need for a smashing hit for Franklin, he also gave them an intriguing title, “Natural Woman”. Intrigued by Wexler’s proposition, Goffin and King undefended it with thrill, spinning a narrative in their music room later that night.
Helped along by a gospel soundtrack from a local radio station and the anticipation of creating something powerful, King conceived a mesmerizing progression of gospel chords to marry with Goffin’s heartfelt words. In less than 24 hours, they presented a demo that got immediate approval from Wexler and shortly after, from Franklin. The final rendition of the song became a wondrous mix of Franklin’s powerful voice, the enchanting backing vocals by her sisters, and a perfect arrangement of instruments.
The beauty of this musical masterpiece lies not just in its soul-wrenching rendition but also in the mundane and businesslike encounter that initiated it. Wexler’s ask, a business pitch, morphed into an unparalleled song by two music savants. It stands as arguably one of the best creative briefs, exposing a refreshing outlook at how projects ensue from a brief.
In the world of advertising, as well as many other disciplines, a creative brief is the distillation of a client’s needs. It’s what the business team presents to the creative team, aiming to ignite innovative ideas. Wexler’s brief, though verbal and concise, captured the essence of what he wanted – big hit, Aretha Franklin, and the title – leaving the ‘how’ up to Goffin and King to interpret.
The art of writing a brief lies in maintaining a perfect balance between confinement and freedom. Too wide, it lacks direction; too narrow, it thwarts ahead-of-time insights. Wexler’s brief turned out to be an excellently calibrated example.
By drawing parallels between creative projects and these principles, one can apply ‘brief writing’ as a tool in personal projects as well. Confronting the questions, ‘Am I being clear enough about what I want?’ and ‘Am I being too clear about what I want?’ can help pave a nuanced perspective in achieving our creative pursuits.
From defining objectives to self-imposed audacious challenges, productive constraints have vital roles in shaping the final outcome. Like Robert Caro who decides the last sentence first or the Beatles who created an entire song with a single chord, these strategies can trigger new paths of creativity. The goal is to provide a sense of direction without dampening the fire of imagination.