Jonathan Groff

Telling People What You’re Feeling Is Tricky in Songwriting

To say it the way Barry Gibb of Bee Gees fame has said it: “Songs are about feelings.” If you aren’t causing your listeners to feel something when they hear your song, you’ve probably missed the main point of what good songwriting is all about.

But there are many ways to deal with feelings in your songwriting. If you simply tell people what you’re feeling, you run the risk of having written a song that sounds a bit whiny.

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It’s a far better approach to structure a song lyric where the chorus expresses emotions, but those emotions are all set up by the verse lyric. In that verse lyric, you need to give people some background, some reason for why the chorus is expressing those emotions.

Because this is how most good songs are constructed, you could probably point to any song as being a model for this. But I’ll just mention one right now that shows this progression of “here’s what’s happening” to “so this is what I’m feeling” in a really clear way.

Lost in the Woods” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez) is a power ballad, done as a bit of a parody of 80s-style, from Disney’s “Frozen 2” movie. If you were a young person in the 1980s, you’ll hear a mixture of Peter Cetera, David Foster, Chicago, and a bunch of other acts.

Take a look at the verse lyric, and you’ll see that even though you pick up a very obvious tender nostalgic feel, and the lyric is dealing clearly with feelings (“But is this what it feels like/ To be growing apart?”), it’s not until the chorus that we get a clearer description of the emotions:

Now, I turn around and find
I am lost in the woods
North is South, right is left
When you’re gone

That chorus lyric would make little sense, and would definitely lose its impact, if the verse didn’t give us the reason for those emotions:

Again, you’re gone
Off on a different path than mine
I’m left behind
Wondering if I should follow
You had to go
And, of course, it’s always fine
I probably could catch up with you tomorrow…

As you write your songs, particularly ones where the lyric deals with lost love or other tender emotions, do these two important things:

  1. Take a look at your verse lyric and make sure that more than describing emotions, you’re describing circumstances and situations.
  2. Take a look at your chorus lyric and make sure that the emotions you’re describing are a direct result of whatever you were talking about in the verse.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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