Written by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
• Follow Gary on Twitter
• Check out “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book bundle
If you want lyrics that really connect with listeners, you’ll want to choose a universal theme such as love, politics, social justice, etc. These are issues that speak to almost everyone on the planet. Love, not surprisingly, easily wins out as the most popular song topic. But love songs can turn to lugubrious mush if you do nothing but moan about the state of your love life.
You’ll find that the worst love songs out there are the ones that try to tell the listener how miserable the singer feels. Take this as a basic love song rule: keep belly-aching to a minimum. Rather than singing “I feel so awful since you’ve gone away/ My life is crap, day after day…”, you need to set something up that gives some background. Pull the audience into your situation without being morose.
Or if your song is about love that’s working, gushing constantly about it for 4 minutes can have a brain-deadening effect.
What I’m getting at is this: give the listener some credit for the brain that’s in their head. They need more than emotion. In most songs, the “more” will usually be some sort of lyrical metaphor, something that makes the listener think.
And in the balance between describing a situation and describing an emotion, your lyrics should be balanced toward describing a situation. In other words, describing situations properly will allow the listener to create their own emotional response.
Here’s a quintessential great example of a great love song lyric that demonstrates the proper balance between situation and emotion:
MAYBE I’M AMAZED (Paul McCartney)
Maybe I’m amazed at the way you love me all the time
Maybe I’m afraid of the way I love you
Maybe I’m amazed at the way you pulled me out of time
And hung me on a line
Maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you
Baby I’m a man maybe I’m a lonely man
Who’s in the middle of something
That he doesn’t really understand
Baby I’m a man and maybe you’re the only woman
Who could ever help me
Baby won’t you help me understand…
The balance is perfect, because it doesn’t use phrases like, “I feel so…” or “I’m just so…” The word “amazed” is a curious choice for a love song because it pulls subtle emotions out of the listener. There’s not too many writers who talk about being “amazed” by their love for someone, and it works brilliantly.
And who knows what “hung me on a line” really means in this song, but the image this metaphor conjures up is one where the singer feels pleasantly helpless by the grip of love.
So if you’re finding it difficult to pull listeners into your love songs, be sure you haven’t just spent 4 minutes emoting. The listener needs something situational. Rather than constantly telling the world how you feel, explain the situation and trust the listener to create their own emotional response.
And give the audience credit for the brains they have, and try to create clever analogies and metaphors that make them think. That thinking will result in respect, and will make your song lyric more successful.
Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book bundle. Now is the time to FIX YOUR SONGS and build your audience base.