Gambling has a long, noble history of being romanticised by musicians. Every tumble of the dice and flip of the card has been immortalised in song countless times; from Elvis Presley to Kenny Rogers and bluesman B.B. King, there have been numerous attempts to capture the spirit of gambling, although some of them are more overtly concerned with the subject than others.
If you want to add your own voice to this chorus of chance, you’ll need to bring your A game. It’s not easy to write a song about gambling without it coming across as hackneyed or overly sentimental, so you’ll need to make sure not to fall into the common pitfalls. Here’s our guide on how you can write your perfect gambling song and really embody the spirit of Vegas cool.
Do some gambling yourself
One of the best ways to write a song about being a gambler is to become one yourself! They say you should write what you know when you’re a songwriter, so what better way to get into the spirit of the gambler than to try out some casino games yourself? We’d recommend checking out casimba.com for the best selection of casino games 2021 has to offer; from blackjack to poker and everything in between, that site should have everything you need to give you inspiration.
Tell a story
First and foremost, when you’re writing a song about gambling, you should be telling a story. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a protagonist and a series of events; rather, you can encapsulate a snapshot in someone’s life, or a moment in yours that felt triumphant or particularly crushing. Songwriting is all about stories, and the more you can tell about your gambler – whether that’s you or a character you invent – the better.
Focus on the details
The rush of gambling is in the chatter as the dice land, the soft swish of cards being dealt, and the glitz and glamour of a Vegas casino. It’s details like this you should be bringing across in your songwriting. If you can transport your listener to a casino at midnight as a high roller makes one last sweep for everything they’ve got, then you’ve succeeded at writing the ultimate gambling song. It’s all about creating an atmosphere and making your listener believe they’re really there.
Link genre to lyrics
Whatever type of song you’re writing, it’s important that you consider the way in which the lyrics work with the music. You can intentionally juxtapose the lyrics with the song to create a dissonant effect; see Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for a great example of this. In a gambling song, this would probably mean writing an intentionally glitzy, glamorous song to disguise lyrics about heartbreak or a losing streak. You can also go for the straight angle (see Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas” for an example).
Build in some sound effects
In Pink Floyd’s “Money”, we hear the sound of cash registers opening, money being counted, and general sound effects that have to do with banking and money. You could use this technique in your song about gambling. Why not use sound effects from casinos like roulette tables spinning or blackjack dealers calling out numbers and cards? This can help you to build atmosphere and create a sense of place, and it’s also a fun way to increase the amount going on in your song.
Try to stay away from cliche
Gambling songs are rife with cliches. Whether it’s using gambling as a metaphor for losing love or phrases like “aces high” or “the joker”, you need to make sure that your gambling song avoids these cliches wherever possible. Try to find something new to say about the glitzy but dangerous world of Las Vegas rather than simply regurgitating ideas that other gambling songs have already used. Look at gambling as a jumping-off point for a new story about characters or ideas we haven’t heard before.
Use orchestration and big band instrumentation
That timeless, classic sense of Vegas glitz goes perfectly with big band instrumentation. That’s lots of brass, jazz drumming, and a string section for when things get syrupy. If you want the full effect of a Vegas residency, try a full orchestra. You don’t even need to hire an actual orchestra if you want that sound; there are plenty of patches and VSTs available for digital audio workstations that simulate orchestral instruments with incredible accuracy.
Write a concept album
We’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit here, but if the concept of a gambler really appeals to you that much, you may even want to write a concept album. To do this, you’ll need to plan out the narrative of the album just like you would with a novel, and make sure all of the narrative beats work within the overall structure. This isn’t a project for the faint of heart, but it could yield real dividends if you’re dedicated and you pay attention to the finer details.
Go to Las Vegas
If it’s safe for you to travel, you may even want to consider a trip to Las Vegas. After all, gambling can only get you so far; you’ll need to go and have the authentic in person experience if you want to know what Vegas is really like. Immerse yourself in the local culture, take some friends, and have a fun trip. When you get back, think about the craziest or most outlandish things you experienced, and write songs using those as a basis.