Create a Song Path

My Songwriting Coach

by Robin Frederick
Does this ever happen to you? In a flash of inspiration, you write a monster first verse. Then you work for hours or days on a chorus until you have something you think might work. Then… nothing. You’re stuck; you have no idea what to write in your second verse or bridge! And now you notice there’s a disconnect between your first verse and the chorus you worked so hard on. Even these two sections aren’t working together.

This happens to every songwriter at one time or another. Sometimes it happens A LOT! So here’s a simple song craft technique that will keep your song on track and ideas flowing: Create a “song path.”

WHAT IS A SONG PATH?
Every good song takes the listener on a journey. We are not in the same place at the end of a song as we were at the beginning. By the end of a song, we know more about the singer, we feel or understand the situation more deeply, and we identify with what the singer is saying. Sure, there are listeners who won’t stick around for the whole trip. But the ones who do, will want to hear that song again and again.

BE A GUIDE
As a songwriter, your job is to lead your listener along a path from the beginning of the song to the end. You act as the listener’s guide. They have no idea where the song is taking them but they trust that YOU do. So it’s crucial that you know where you are and where the song is going.

Think of it this way: If you’re standing on a corner in the center of a town you know well and someone asks you for directions, you could tell them how to get there without breaking a sweat. But if you’re in a place you don’t know well, or you’re not sure where you are, then you certainly can’t tell someone else which way to go.

It’s the same with songwriting. If YOU’RE not sure where you are, then you can’t give the listener a clear path from the beginning of the song to the end. So, the first thing you need to know is what your song is about and what you want to say. In other words, get to know the place!

FIND YOUR SONG PATH
Take a step back and look at what you’re trying to write about. Write it down. Don’t worry about writing a lyric, just get your ideas down. Get it clear in your mind. Then answer these questions:

  • 1. What is the main emotion in your song?
  • 2. What is the singer feeling at the beginning of the song? Are the singer’s feelings  different at the end?
  • 3. Is the singer willing or able to do something about it?
  • 4. What does the singer realize during the song?

 

SONG PATH EXAMPLE
Let’s say the main emotion in your song is “longing.” The singer is yearning for someone. Your song path might look like this…

1st Verse: Tell us who the singer is longing for –  a lost love or someone she hasn’t met yet? Give us some idea why the singer feels this way. What’s so special about this person? Why is the bond so strong?

Chorus: This is where you make listeners feel it! Tell us what longing feels like. Describe it in images and physical sensations. Does it feel like an emptiness that needs to be filled? Is it dark or light? Is it heavy, does it drag the singer down? Is there a specific detail, object, or action that represents this emotion. This is how you write about emotions. Make them concrete!

2nd Verse: What will the singer do about it? Maybe she discovers that she can meet her lover in dreams. Tell us about these dreams. Then…

Chorus: The chorus makes us feel the emotion again.

Bridge: Tell us what the singer realizes: Maybe dreams are almost as good as having the real thing. or maybe they just make the longing more intense.

Chorus: The chorus makes us feel the emotion again.

Now go back to the song you were working on – the one where you got stuck. Answer the questions listed above. Then look to see what information is not in your song. You should able to figure out what you need to say in each of your verses, bridge, and chorus. Once you know that, you can work on putting those ideas into lyric form.

STAY FOCUSED
Now, here’s something that might sound odd: Ask yourself if you’re trying to say TOO MUCH in one song! That can stop a song just a easily as having nothing to say. Songs work best when they focus tightly on a single idea or emotion: “I love you.” “I’m hurt.” “I need more freedom.” Any one of these ideas can be turned into a great song. But if you try to put more than one big idea into your song, it can get confusing.

by Robin Frederick

Robin's Songwriting BooksThis post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. Each book includes over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to write songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Reprints by permission.

Author: Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick is the author of Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. She has written and produced more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records and Executive Producer of 60 albums. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com and www.MySongCoach.com.