From Ed Skibbe :
Keep it simple. We are writing popular (we hope!) songs, not great American
novels. When songs get too complex, especially lyrically, the listener finds
it harder to relate to your song and understand what you are saying.
This is profoundly true if you are trying to write "hit" songs, but
it also applies even to you "true artists." Simpler songs have more
impact and a longer life than complicated songs. Whenever possible:
- Write in the first person and second person ("I" and "you").
- Focus on one central idea and ruthlessly weed out anything superfluous to
that idea. Subplots, back stories, details, extensive character development?
There is almost never time for it unless it is essential to telling your main
story. If those secondary ideas are compelling, perhaps you can write additional
- Limit the number of characters. (This relates to #1.) When you mention yourself,
the person to whom you are speaking and one or two other he's and she's, the
listener loses track of the cast of characters and the story line.
- You don't have to be a slave to formula, but keep your song structure simple.
You rarely need one bridge. I've yet to hear a song that needs two. If you use
a basic, conventional structure that supports your song, your listener will
have a much easier time getting involved in what you are saying.
- Keep it brief. I enjoy a good Dylan ballad or "Wreck of the Edmund
Fitzgerald" now and again, but you had better have something incredibly
compelling to say and an engaging way to say it if you want anyone to listen
to that third verse, much less the fourth or fifth. I don't recall hearing a
song locally here that could not be improved by editing it down to no more than
From Chuck Cannon:
- Learn to write simply.
- When you are stuck, think to yourself, 'What is the emotion I want people to feel?'
- Winnow away the stuff around the concept to get to the emotion.
From John McVey
- Listeners, especially in the country genre, want to know what's going to happen next, a verse, a chorus, a bridge, but they also like to be surprised.
- Economy counts in a song when you only have a short period of time to get across the emotion you want to convey.
- From an inspiration point of view, a song is a moment.
From Steve Seskin:
- Part of what you write in lyrics is what you don't write.
- When we
write a song or a poem,
create a piece of art
... we don't really
finish it. The
reader, the listener,
the viewer finishes it.
"You never want to lose a word or a phrase, yet every one should count." — Ben Harper
"If a song’s good, don’t
overdo it." — Chris Isaak
"I think the best pop music writers are the ones that can communicate
complex emotional things in very simplistic terms, and in a very direct
way, that gets across in the restricted format of a pop song. You don't
have 86 words. You've got four words, and in those four words, every
word has to count." —
John Oates, quoted by Ken Sharp in "Soul
Survivors Hall and Oates," American Songwriter, January/February
"The melodies were melodies that anybody could sing or hum
or whistle. And the words were just about that simple."
— Don Helms, quoted by Michael Kosser in "And
Some Steel Guitar! Don Helms and the Songwriting of Hank Williams,"
American Songwriter, January/February 2009
"Songs ... are only simple on the outside, typically verse, chorus,
verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. Add a hook, which can be musical ...
or lyrical.... But songs live or die on their ability to hit some deeper
chord. Then they work, they're a lot more than pick-ups and whiskey;
they're about the meaning of life.
"Like poems, the best country songs are short and powerful.
When you've got so few words to deliver the emotional punch, each
word must be laden with meaning." — Elaine Glusac
"Funny how song writers can squeeze a novel into a few verses.
I suppose that's why poets are the ones who make us feel what we can't
say." — Patrick
A good song should tell a story in as few words as
possible. Self-editing includes the elimination of
unnecessary words, lines, verses. If you don't know how to do that, check
out 'Not Quite What I Was Planning' a collection of 6-word
memoirs by Smith Magazine, and Ridley Scott's global film making
competition, 'Tell It Your Way,' which limits films to 3 minutes
and 6 lines of dialog.
Thanks for visiting AcousticByLines.