Sting on songwriting. Art is about taking a risk


In 2021, Sting released the album The Bridge. It was autumn, I was on the road, riding the bus, looking out the window at the gray trees and clouds. I listened to that album on repeat many times that day. It got right into my mood, which is hard to describe in words. This album is now the number one album for me of all of Sting’s work. I always get excited when a musician releases the next album better than all the previous ones, especially when the bar is set high. I think Sting has succeeded once again. Let’s try to understand, just a little bit, how he does it.

Sting on songwriting. Music should surprise

Since Sting is very popular, he gets interviewed a lot, but as a representative of show business. So they don’t ask the questions that I would ask. So I was very happy when I saw that Sting was interviewed by Rick Beato. And I didn’t miss a beat. Rick asked questions as a musician and producer, about songwriting techniques and methods. Sting on songwriting speaks a lot

The essence of all music is surprise


Sting says music should surprise you in the first eight bars. As an example, he refers to the works of J.S. Bach, which know how to continually surprise. The right composition should not be predictable. However, Sting does not use this rule as a musical theory, it is more on the level of instinct. 

Also in his bass lines. He doesn’t repeat the pattern exactly from verse to verse. He makes changes to it. Always trying to surprise.

The process of making a song

Rick Beato tries to find out if there are any patterns or rules when composing. But Sting rather does everything subconsciously. Only at a higher level there are some general rules:

  • They start with a jam of an idea or a cadence. The fingers can suggest something.  
  • Then they move on to the structure of the song. This is very important. Traditional structure: Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Key Change – Coda. That’s the ideal for Sting. The structure tells a story. He sees the characters and situations. The music tells him a story. The riff just can’t do it.  

The bridge is therapy. For example, a song about a girl leaving me. I’m lonely – chorus and verse. But at the bridge different chord comes in, another key, and things aren’t so bad anymore. 

Sting uses different methods to write his lyrics. For example, he puts an instrumental into his headphones and goes for a walk in nature. This is how he came up with the concept for the lyrics of Shape of my heart

I’m looking for solutions, I’m not looking to just reiterate my problem.


It’s the meaning of the songs that counts. And it is very nourishing for a songwriter to hear that your songs have a utility beyond just their own solace it actually helps other people. For Sting, it’s the story of The Soul Cages (1991). He lost both parents that year. There are many crises in the world and music should show the way out of them. 

Sting likes the 3/4 and 6/8 time signatures. Uses them often because he likes them and has the opportunity to use them.

Playing a musical instrument and composing music are different skills. Sting recalls many musicians who were great at playing but didn’t write anything. Apparently different parts of the brain are responsible for this. 

Sting has a high register voice. It’s his tool to cut through the mix. The way he speaks. 

You can’t be a baritone with a rock band.


Sting is both a singer and a bass player. He control the harmony and also he’s controlling the top line because he’s singing. So the band literally is operating within his bandwidth. It’s a subtle way of leading band. 

Song is an organism, it’s not a museum piece. You can make changes to a song when you play it. You can breathe oxygen into it.

Leaving The Police

So I needed to take another risk with my life.

Art is always about taking a risk. 


Sting is leaving the Police at the height of their success. It reminds me a lot of an event not so far back when Steven Wilson stops Porcupine Tree, too, at its peak. Musicians usually end projects when there is creative stagnation. Sting says it’s very hard to leave the band, because band is like a teenage street gang. But you want to be in a street gang for the rest of your life. 

Sting’s theory of creativity

Creativity is like fishing. You go to the river throw a line in and you don’t catch anything. Next day same, next day same. Maybe by Thursday you catch a fish. Unless you go to the river with a line ain’t going to catch a fish. If you do something with musicians, something will happen not immediately, but will. Art is about taking a risk.

Sting’s playing bass with thumb and pick

Why did Sting go from playing bass with a pick to playing with thumb?

Sting always play with his fingers well, but for the Police he started play with a pick, because it was a punk time. It gave an edgy sound. He have been playing jazz before that and never use a pick. Now he went back to plucking with his thumb and use technique called apoyando. He hasn’t played a pick for a while. 

Sting still practicing playing bass and singing together. You can play anything if you slow it down. He says. He also practices J.S.Bach.

Sting about modern songwriting

There are some great musicians and songwriters. Structure is slightly simpler now, the bridge disappeared. 

Music for me is a common language


There are so many good things about the way you can stream anything, you can access almost immediately. That’s a wonderful tool. At a same time it reduce music into a commodity, like coffee.

Who influenced Sting as a musician

In the early years it was

  • Irish folk music
  • Hank Williams 
  • Johnny Cash
  • Elvis Presley
  • Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Little Richard
  • Frank Sinatra

Highlights from Beatles songs Blackbird, Penny Lane.


Music should surprise

Art is about taking a risk

The structure of the song is important

The bridge in the song is important

Let’s get solutions through songs, not just emotions

Don’t be afraid to use any signatures, If you like


List of Sources

The Sting Interview – Rick Beato, Nov 18, 2021.

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