Every song is trying to communicate something – telling a story, capturing an emotion, ultimately making the audience experience an emotional reaction.
But Who Am I and Where Do I Fit In?
Before that audience can experience an emotional reaction to your lyric, however, it’s crucial that they understand what relationship they have to the singer and the song. How do we do that? With the almighty Point of View (POV).
No, I’m not talking about an opinion (a definite point of view). Point of View literally identifies the position from which the story is told. This ultimately reveals the players in a story, sometimes including the audience in the action.
Who’s On First
If the singer is to be a character in the story, it makes sense to use the First Person POV – “I, Me, Myself” – to sing the story (“I was seven years old when I broke my leg”). This tells the audience that they’re in the presence of a character in the story. BEWARE the first person if the character is someone the audience is unlikely to find likeable or sympathetic.
What’s On Second
Use the Second Person POV to sing the song to someone, using the pronoun “You”. – can be used in two ways:
- Generic (or Universal) – if it’s time to say “you get what you pay for”, this doesn’t speak to a particular person, it speaks universally. The audience understands that they’re not personally involved as a character in the story.
- Direct Address – this is for those times when your story needs someone to listen. The audience is now an active participant (“have you ever seen a Malibu sunset?”). OR ARE THEY? It’s possible to present a song in which it’s implied that the audience is observing an interaction without being involved themselves – like when the singer is singing directly to someone, but the audience is merely observing that interaction (“you were seven years old when you broke your leg”). Respect your audience and make sure it’s obvious to them where they stand.
On Third? I Don’t Know
You can sing about characters without being a part of the story, by referring to the characters in the Third Person POV. Sing about “he/she/him/her/they/them” and you’ve accomplished third person (“He was seven years old when he broke his leg”).
Which One Do I Choose?
This is the golden question. It’s possible to write the same song from all different points of view, and while you’re writing, you should try them all out to see which one feels most effective.
There are several strategies for using POV to your advantage:
- Unlikeable characters – If the character in the song is unlikeable to the audience, you may choose to avoid First Person, because that points the audience’s distrust/dislike at the singer. If that’s the intention for the song, by all means stick to it.
- Nobody called for a preacher – perhaps the biggest reason to avoid Second Person POV is when you want to point a finger, suggest responsibility, encourage change in behaviour. Singing “You” to your audience is an easy way to fall into “preaching”, which is very likely to build an uncomfortable relationship with your audience. TIP: If you want to sing about making change or pointing a finger, use First Person to present your dedication to making change (to which your audience is free to agree or disagree without being “on the spot”); if you want to point a finger, try Third Person to allow the audience to join you in observing some OTHER character who might be “in the wrong”.
- Go for Distance – if you want to sing about someone and diminish their emotional importance to you, try Third Person rather than Second Person. For example, using “he never loved me” rather than “you never loved me” creates a greater emotional distance. If you’d rather heighten the depth of that emotion, “you never loved me” puts the other character close enough for conversation. Hopefully the audience knows that you’re not singing about them!
Get To The Point (of View)
Being aware of POV will allow you to manipulate the emotional distance, position your characters properly for storytelling, and most importantly let your audience know where they fit in the picture. Be sure to try them all on for size.
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