There are at least 3 different kinds of lyrics in any one song, and there’s a right way to organize them.
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The verse-chorus format is still the most common design used in popular songwriting today, and it’s quite likely that at least 4 of the last 5 songs you wrote used verse-chorus as its blueprint . That’s because when it comes to making an emotional impact, it’s so successful. The verse sets the listener up with a story or description of something or someone, and the chorus follows up with emotional zingers intended to speak directly to the audience’s heart. Like I say, it’s a very effective way to design a song.
But your attempts at the verse-chorus design can fall flat if you don’t remember that order: describe first, emote second. It’s surprising to me how many songwriters still need reminding of this.
Getting the order wrong makes for a whiny song the sounds more like a rant than anything else. There’s an obvious reason for this. Songs are intended to elicit an emotional response from the listener, and uses the singer (and the song) to do this.
If your song starts off by bemoaning the miserable state of your love life, it feels self-centred, and pushes your audience away. Rather than being involved in a story, they’re reduced to being a sideline observer, and usually reluctantly so.
It helps to take a good look at an example of a lyric done well, and there are lots of examples to choose from.
“All Your Life“, by The Band Perry, is currently #8 on the Country Charts. Country music is a great genre to turn to when it comes to learning about proper lyric placement. That’s because country tunes tend to cling strongly to standard verse-chorus-bridge formats, with little innovation on that form. That’s not a criticism, of course. And in the case of lyrical study, it makes it easy to identify what kind of lyrics belong where.
What we learn from one genre, particularly regarding lyrics, is usually transplantable to whatever your genre of choice is.
And in “All Your Life”, we see that the verse sets up situations and describes scenarios without adding a lot of emotion-filled responses:
Would you walk to the edge of the ocean
Just to fill my jar with sand
Just in case I get the notion
To let it run through my hand
Let it run through my hand
To be sure, the ideas are being presented in a poetic way, but it’s not until the chorus that we see what we would call an emotional response:
Well, I don’t want the whole world
The sun, the moon, and all their light
I just want to be the only girl
You love all your life…
Remember, good songs work by creating an emotional connection to the listener. They do this by allowing the audience to easily picture themselves as the one singing that song.
So in order to get the job done, you need to use common everyday language and expressions, and you need to describe situations, circumstances and people first. Once you’ve done that, the emotional reaction that follows feels normal, natural and welcome.
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