Many songwriters find chorus hooks easier to write than verses. That’s because you can tell right away if a hook is working. It needs to be short, catchy, strong and simple.
But verses are more complex structures within a song. It’s sometimes hard to get the lyric just right. You know that it needs to lead somewhat effortlessly into the chorus, but it’s often hard to know if the verse is doing its job.
In particular, verse lyrics, especially verse 1 lyrics, are tricky. You’ve got to get an audience interested right away, because today it’s just too easy to click away from a song and move on to something else.
So here’s a tip for you: write a lot of verses, and don’t worry (yet) about which verse is going to be the first one.
If you’re writing a story song, you’re pretty limited in the subject matter for the first verse: it’s going to be the start of the story. But if it’s a situational kind of song, where you’re setting up the emotions that occur in the chorus, you’ve got a lot of options for what that first verse might be.
Having a lot of options doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, though. It can be hard to get things in the right order. Take a song like “Born in the U.S.A.”, and you’ll see what I mean. Springsteen presents the somewhat negative side of what it meant to some to be born in the U.S.A., focusing on guns and war.
Each verse has a similar mood, so if you were the one to write “Born in the U.S.A.’, how would you decide what verse 1 should be?
There’s probably no one good answer, but there are principles involved. Here’s one possible way to do it:
- Write a chorus hook that captures what you want the audience to feel and take away from your song.
- Once you’ve done that, write a verse without thinking about or worrying about lyrics yet. Just get the feel right.
- Now start composing verse lyrics. I always recommend word lists to help you with this part of the process. Whatever it takes to get some basic vocabulary and phrasing started for you.
- Write lots of verses, knowing that you’ll use one or two of them, and you’ll probably toss the others.
You’ll notice that the more you write, the better things likely will get. Don’t be surprised if your first one or two verses sound lame. The more you write, the better idea you’ll get of what this song is really about.
I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but that’s exactly what George Harrison did when he wrote “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” He wrote a ton of verses that he wound up not using, but once he had all those verses, he had a lot of options for what would eventually make it to the final recorded version of the song.
When you get to the stage where you’re performing your song for others, it will become apparent right away if you’ve chosen your first verse well. It needs to be something that connects quickly and clearly to your audience.
And it needs to be a verse that makes the chorus or refrain sound like a logical follower. And if you’re performing your own song, you’ll know right away if everything is working.
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