Songwriting and emotion

Songwriting, Emotion and Relevance

Good songs are efficient communication devices. But not particularly of facts and figures: if you want to educate your audience about the history of your town, for example, a song is a poor choice for doing so. Unless your song lyric is 80,000 words long, a book will more efficiently convey facts and figures.

But if you want your audience to feel something about some aspect of your town’s history, a song would be a brilliant way to do it.

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A song is all about emotion. If your audience hasn’t felt anything when your song is done, something’s gone wrong.

Audiences will be patient through a verse, because it’s during a verse that they’ll hear the specifics of some person, situation or circumstance.

But if the chorus isn’t touching the emotional soul of the listener in any way, your song will be ineffective and unsuccessful. And it doesn’t matter how brilliant your verse is. We judge the effectiveness and success of a song based on the effectiveness and success of its chorus.

I judge choruses by using one very simple metric: how relevant was the emotional content to me? You can write a song about the death of a bug, and I’ll probably feel very little, unless the verse set the stage in a very powerful way (unlikely).

But if you write a song about the death of a loved one, you’ve got a much better chance of grabbing my heart. Why? Because I have loved ones, too. And your song is now relevant.

When you look at your own finished songs, the question you need to ask yourself is: Is my chorus emoting in a way that can be easily felt by my audience? But it’s more than that: Is that chorus emotion relevant to them?

The best way to get yourself on track for writing powerful songs is to find the songs from your past that you have found to be powerful and enticing. If you’ve always loved “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” it’s time to figure out why  you love it so much.

Does Maroon 5’s “Payphone” holds a lot of meaning for you? What about Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire?” Or Adele’s “Hello”?

As a songwriter, it’s not enough for you to simply appreciate our culture’s best songs. If you really want to write something that keeps bringing audiences back, you need to:

  1. Look at the choruses or refrains of your favourite songs, and figure out what you love about them.
  2. Look at the verses, and try to understand how they prepare the chorus.
  3. Try to determine what the songwriter has done to make the emotion of the song relevant to you.

Because once you’ve finished your song, if you haven’t made your topic and its related emotions relevant to your listener, they’ll listen once, but probably not twice.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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