Lorde - Writer in the Dark

Balancing the Unique With the Heartfelt

Every songwriter I know wants to write something unique, and you don’t even need to wonder why. Simply put, uniqueness means it hasn’t been done before, and there’s no better way to set yourself apart from other songwriters than to write something that hasn’t been done quite that way before.

While that may be true, consider this: the good old-fashioned love song still sells. Love songs still grab attention, and it’s hard to find a unique angle available when it comes to love songs. Everything you can write about when it comes to love has been written about.

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And yet… love songs still sell. When it comes to love songs, the search for uniqueness isn’t going to yield much.

So it’s not uniqueness that’s making a love song successful. But what is it? It’s this: if you write something that can be felt in the heart of the listener, you’ve done something more powerful than uniqueness will ever do for you. If you write a song that taps into the experience (real or imagined) of the audience, that’s what sells.

So when you’ve written a song about some angle of love, the fact that your song is your own is all the uniqueness you probably need. To make it successful, you need the following:

  1. A lyric that speaks to a universal emotion. “I’ve never loved anyone like I’ve love you” is practically always going to work to at least some degree, because every single listener can relate to the enthusiasm of that emotion.
  2. A lyric that uses simple, conversational expressions of love. In Chicago’s “Your Are My Love and My Life”, the bridge section ends with the line, “Loving you girl is so damn easy!” That line raises the emotional content of the bridge to its highest point, and expresses what everyone has felt at some point in their life.
  3. An up-and-down pattern to the emotion of the song. By using verses to describe situations and choruses to express emotion, listeners go on a rather pleasant “roller coaster” ride of emotions, and they love it that way. Just listen to Lorde’s “Writer in the Dark” (lyrics here) and you’ll hear how she pulls you around emotionally with powerful lyric partnered carefully with an unbelievably expressive melody and clever production.

In that Lorde song, it’s the musical arrangement that stands out as the unique element. The intelligent approach to the vocal sound and style, along with the instrumentation, set this song apart and give it the uniqueness it needs.

But underneath it all, the lyrics speak to something far more common: “Did my best to exist just for you…”; “I’ll find a way to be with out you, babe…”;  “I still feel you, now and then…” These are all emotions that are simple and germane to the human experience. That’s what grabs our emotional attention.

And when all’s said and done, the simplicity of emotion — writing something truly heartfelt — will stand out and matter more than a song’s uniqueness.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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