It’s not just emotion that makes a lyric connect. It’s alternating emotions that really do the trick.
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When a lyric is good, it makes you want to listen to a song over and over again in much the same way that a good painting makes you want to keep looking at it time and time again. You usually don’t tire of a well-written lyric. There’s something about it that touches all the right nerve endings in our musical brain. How does it do that?
For any lyric that we think of as good, we can often point to one or two lines that really work well for us, but it usually takes more than that to make it ultimately enticing. A good lyric pulls us along relentlessly, changing as it goes, and it’s how it changes that makes it so successful.
How do lyrics change? Here are the main song sections, and what each section in a verse-chorus-bridge song needs to do:
- Verse lyric. It needs to set up situations quickly, describing the people and related circumstances in imaginative ways. It’s not a problem to resort to some emotional descriptions, but remember that setting the stage is the primary goal. The stage, more than your emotional reaction to it, is key.
- Chorus lyric. It needs to describe your own personal emotional response to the plot. It needs to do that in a way that allows the listeners to place themselves in the story, as if they could or would be the ones to sing those words.
- Bridge lyric. In most cases, the bridge lyric will be the last new lyric that gets sung, so this is where a storyline gets completed. Most bridge lyrics will heighten the emotional level of a song, often alternating back and forth quickly between narrative-style and emotive-style.
What makes bridge lyrics interesting — and in fact why they often intensify the emotional level of a song — is that they do what the verse and chorus lyric does in combination. Songs usually have at least two verses, and two run-throughs of a chorus. That’s a kind of “machine”: low-level emotion in a verse, then high-level emotion in the chorus, moving immediately back to the verse. It’s a bit like an emotion pump, where there is an intensification of emotion followed by a lessening of emotion. Then the bridge does the same thing, but more intensely, often line-by-line rather than section-by-section.
And that’s what makes audiences want to listen. It’s not so much that they need to hear another love song. What audiences crave is that narrative-emotion pump, that moving back and forth between descriptive lyrics and emotional lyrics. That’s what makes you want to keep listening to them.
If you find that your song lyric is saying everything you want it to say, but can’t put your finger on why it lacks the ability to entice, try the following two simple steps:
- Write your lyric out.
- For each line of lyric, assign a number that represents the level of emotion you think an audience would feel from that line. 1= practically none (“I looked at her and said…“), 10= every emotive (“You’re the love of my life…“).
You should see lower numbers in a verse than in a chorus. You can still use this method for songs that are verse only: You want to see an alternating between more and less emotion by seeing higher numbers toward the end of a verse, reverting to lower numbers for the start of the next verse.