When we listen to music on a most basic level, it needs to do one of either two things, evoke an emotion or give us an experience. If it does neither, we just simply won’t care. As a songwriter this puts a lot of pressure on you. To give an experience, you either need to be at a live concert, or something in the song needs to grab the listener to get up and dance, or transport them somewhere in their mind. To evoke emotion you need to do two things, you need to feel it and to be able to describe it.
To feel it does not mean you need to literally break with your partner every time you want to write a breakup love song. A good songwriter can imagine how it would feel like to experience something, bit like a good actor needs to do to deliver a convincing performance. You need to put your self in the characters position, and describe how you would feel. And I mean really describe. If you just say he was sad, that does not really evoke any emotion. You are just stating a fact. But if you say “his heart was heavy in his chest” you connect a physical feeling to the character’s emotion. This already is easier for the listener to imagine. Now let’s expand on that, “his heart was heavy in his chest, he knocked back a whiskey to drive down that breath”. Now we know he was hurt (or having a heart attach…), but we all have been in that crushed love situation where you find it hard to breath, and all we want to do is drink to forget and numb the pain…
So now we are poking at the painful feelings we all have experienced, and if you describe it well enough, you can make the listener imagine the whole scene. The thing is, that first line need to be catchy, original and still familiar sounding as well for the listener to even focus on it in the first place. Otherwise your song ends up just being background noise.
The little details are what create the scene and help you to make those feelings real, but also remember to tell the story well enough that the listener knows why the character is sad. Never assume they will figure it out by them self. You are there to tell a story, so make sure you will tell the full story.
And of course no one will come back to the song without the hook. This (most of the time) is in the chorus. The hook need to have catchy melody and rhythmic, but still meaningful vocals. Nothing drives me more crazy than lyrics for the sake of lyrics! Make sure they mean something, sum up your story, and even better evoke emotion. Happy songwriting 🙂
The author J.P. Kallio is a singer songwriter
To get EIGHT of his songs for free go HERE