Compliments of Cliff Goldmacher, who will be attending the WCS Annual Conference - come and meet him and hear what he has to say in person.
I thought I’d start this article with an analogy. Verses are to a song as vegetables are to a meal. And, just as we should all eat our vegetables, we should make sure our songs have interesting, well-balanced verses. To that end, I’ve put down a few things to keep in mind if you’d like to improve your verse lyrics.
1. GRAB PEOPLE’S ATTENTION RIGHT AWAY WITH A KILLER OPENING LINE
Never underestimate the power of a great opening line. It’s often the first time listeners will hear the singer’s voice and it goes a long way towards setting the tone of the entire song. See how much information you can pack into those first few words. Never assume you have time to build up slowly to the “good stuff” in your verse. Plan on grabbing your listener right away and not letting them go until the song is over.
2. USE CONCRETE DETAILS IN YOUR VERSES/”SHOW ’EM, DON’T TELL ‘EM”
The old expression that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is never truer than in your verses. Let concrete imagery and details do your heavy lifting in terms of setting the mood and telling the story. My favorite example is where you can either talk about a beautiful, sexy woman who is evil or you can simply describe her as “a black heart in a green dress.” Hopefully you get my point.
3. BE CERTAIN EVERY LINE OF YOUR VERSES FURTHERS THE STORY LINE
One of the common mistakes we make as songwriters is to cover the same material line after line in our verses. The danger in doing this is that you’ve spent way too much time saying the same thing in the only area where you can actually advance the story. My recommendation is that once you’ve written your song, go back to your verses and ruthlessly ask the question “Does this line provide new information or just re-state what the lines before have said?” I think you’ll find that this approach will make your verses more interesting and your songs more expressive as a whole.
4. MAKE SURE YOUR PHRASING AND RHYME SCHEME MATCH FROM VERSE TO VERSE
A big part of what makes a song memorable (and learnable if you’re hoping to have it cut) is symmetry. It’s worth going out of your way to make sure your phrasing and rhyme scheme is the same in each of your verses. In other words, the lines should have similar numbers of syllables and the way you choose to rhyme your verse’s lines (first and second vs. first and third for example) should be the same. This way you’ve given your listener (often without them knowing it) another way to remember your song’s lyrics. The easier a song is to remember/learn, the better. It’s a big part of what makes a song catchy.
The wonderful/stressful thing about songs is that you’ve only got around three minutes to create a world, invite people in and then – just like that – it’s over. Well-written verses can do a lot to make your song’s story both interesting and memorable. Hopefully the above tips will help you bring your verses to the next level.