FREE Songwriting Workshop: Roadblock #2 – You’re Keeping Your Options Open

So, hopefully you’ve completed part one of this FREE songwriting workshop, and so far you think it’s worth at least twice what you paid. Let’s take another look at your song, and talk about the next roadblock that’s probably stopping your song from reaching its potential.

Too many songs – even songs that you’re hearing on radio – fail to live up to their potential because the songwriters aren’t committed to making decisions and sticking to them.  This is no place for “keeping your options open”.  You can take your songs from good to great by making decisions and staying focused.

Point Of View – You?  Me?  Her?

One important decision to make involves the Point Of View of the singer.  As the singer, are you singing to me, or to someone else?  Are you singing about your own experience, or narrating a story?  Most importantly, as the listener, WHERE DO I FIT IN?  I absolutely must be able to discern where I fit in the story.  Whether you’re singing to me, or maybe about me, whether I’m observing you singing to someone else, or whether we are together observing the story of someone else, this point of view has a dramatic impact on my emotional response to the song.

And what if you haven’t decided?

Imagine what impact it has on me, your audience, when your song establishes that you are singing to me about your favourite person, about how she makes everything better (“every night she walks right in my dreams”).  As your listener, I understand that my relationship with you, the singer, is one in which I am observing a relationship between characters.  I am not involved.  So, when your song changes Point of View, and you start singing TO the love of your life, using the pronoun YOU (“I love you endlessly”), suddenly my relationship to you, the singer, becomes unclear (even if only for a moment).  You’re now apparently singing about how much you love ME, not HER.  That is a jarring change of POV, which changes the relationship between audience and singer, and it takes away the emotional power of your song when I experience it.  It takes me away from FEELING your song, forcing me to THINK instead to figure things out.  Imagine this further complication – what if you are singing to a “YOU” throughout the song, but you switch back and forth between two different YOU’s?  (“One day you’ll discover, that she’s my girl forever and ever”, and then later “I love you endlessly”).  Emotional strength diluted, right before our ears.

Emotion – what ARE you feeling?

Let’s stop for a moment and ask ourselves, what’s the fundamental goal of songwriting? You, in the back row, wearing the tiara – “it’s my therapy”. Well, not exactly… anyone else? How about you, in the spacesuit – “get girls to like me”. Umm, still not there. I’ll have to throw you this one. What we want from our listener is an emotional response to whatever it is we’re trying to say. We write songs to communicate the way we’re feeling about something, and the best response from a listener will be for them to feel something about our song. Most likely, we want the listener to feel the same emotion that we’re feeling when we sing it. Happy, sad, angry, elated, empowered, lustful, frustrated, anxious – it doesn’t matter which one you’re going for, but you’ll know because you felt it yourself when you wrote the song. The most powerful, enduring songs all have something in common – the ability to make a listener FEEL something.  Sure, there are “clever” songs, and there are songs built on memorable musical bits, but the greatest power lies in the ability to tap into a human emotion.  Your song has one job – make us FEEL something.

The emotional response I’m talking about is the one we experience when you deliver the message of your song, usually involving the song’s title, and usually landing in the chorus or refrain. This is the reason for the song to exist: for you to deliver your message and evoke an emotional response within me.

And what if you haven’t decided?

When your song tells us, in one line, that you “know” something, and then in another line that you “hope” it, you’re changing the emotion that we feel, and weakening the response.  When part of your songs says “we’re gonna be together forever”, and then another part says “baby, please don’t go”, you’re confusing us and blocking an emotional response.  If your song’s story is truly one that has both of those elements at different points in time, tell the story that way – that “we thought we’d be together forever” but now “baby, please don’t go”, to keep a consistency in your emotion.  Or, “we’re gonna be together forever, there’s no more ‘baby, please don’t go’”.  Make a decision about the emotion that we’re living in, during the song, and stick to it.

Tense – Stuck in the Moment with You

A song is NOT meant to move in time – it is meant to be an experience in a fixed moment of time.  You might argue that your song can be whatever you want it to be, but here’s the crux – we should be talking about what your AUDIENCE wants it to be, and our experience with popular songs is one of describing a moment in time.  Of course, the past, present and future are all invited onto the stage – you can tell a complete life story in a song – but the emotional experience of the song happens within a single moment.  Reflections on the past, and predictions of the future, are all from within that single moment.

And what if you haven’t decided?

When your songs travels through time, you’re leaving your audience behind – there just aren’t enough plutonium-fuelled DeLoreans for us all.  You’re forced to re-establish the setting at each point, and that is a big RESET for your listener, one which takes your listener out of the emotional moment that you were building up to that point.  Pick your moment, stay in that moment, and tell the story from that moment.

There’s No Downside Here

Don’t get caught in thinking that, because it’s hard to make the decision, your song can be the exception and will be its best despite jumping around POV, Emotional Message, or Tense.  Do the work, help your song reach deeper into your listeners, and if there’s something that you need to cut out of your song, you can save it for your next song!

If you like what you read above, maybe you'd like to work with Allister at Tilted White Shed? Reach out through the Contact Us page.

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