Even if a song is supposed to be “emotional”, it works best if the emotional levels move up and down.
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One way you know that your songs are working is if they touch the audience on an emotional level. But you’ll notice, as a song progresses from beginning to end, that the emotional content of a song ebbs and flows. And you want it that way.
The lyrics play a huge role in achieving the ideal sense of emotional ups and downs. As a song moves from verse to chorus to bridge, and whichever other sections your song might have, the nature of the lyrics change. And the changing nature of your lyrics plays a large role in the emotional level of your music.
A song that demonstrates the way lyrics and their emotional power change over time is John Newman’s song from 2013,”Losing Sleep” (John Newman, Steve Booker, Benny Blanco). As you listen to that song and read the lyric, you’ll see how emotional power is directly tied to the way the lyric unfolds, and the kinds of things he’s singing about at any given moment.
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How It Works
Verse lyrics are typically narrative in style. That means that their main job is to describe things. They describe people, situations and circumstances, and it’s best if they do this without being overly emotional.
So in the verse of “Losing Sleep”, you get this:
It’s 3 AM, I’m calling in to tell you that without you here
I’m losing sleep…
There’s a sound around this lonely house that’s leaving me filled with fear…
There’s an emotional component here, to be sure, but its main task here is to set the scene.
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Chorus lyrics are where you want to let it all out, and react to the situations described in the verse. In “Losing Sleep”, that’s exactly what you get:
Please don’t stop loving me, loving me
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh
Wanting me, wanting me like you do
Please don’t stop caring now, caring now
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh…
As you can see, it’s all out emotion, a reaction to the verse, and not meant specifically to add to the story.
Bridge lyrics tend to toggle back and forth quickly between adding bits to (i.e., finishing) the story, and then giving a quick emotional reaction:
Running from the dark but I just can’t hide
Dreading sundown, yeah I’m dreading the night
Need you back here ‘cause it feels so wrong yeah…
If there’s anything unusual about “Losing Sleep”, it’s the quietness of the bridge. Bridges often power the music up even more, raising the volume and moving melodies even higher. But there’s a logical reason why the writers did the opposite with this song, lowering melodies and making the bridge much quieter: both the verse and the chorus are energetic in their own way, and the bridge allows everything to come back down a bit. It’s an attempt to provide contrast.
But even though the music powers down, you still get the same approach to bridge lyrics that you see in most songs: a quick back and forth from narrative statements to emotional reaction.
Why Song Lyrics Need to Do This
If your song is one long constant outpouring of emotion, it tends to dull its own effect. Emotional power in a song is much more effective if it moves up and down.
It’s the up and down of emotion that compels listeners to keep listening. It has a way of making emotion an even more enticing component of the song.
If you find that your own songs feel that they aren’t making a connection to your audience, take a look at how the nature of your lyrics change over the length of the song. If you find that with regard to the emotional power of you song it’s all up (or all down, for that matter), it’s time to examine the lyrics, and possible do a bit of restructuring.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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Great stuff as always! I’ve learnt so much through this blog, thought I’d stop being a lurker and say that all of your insights are much appreciated. Thank you!!
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