Imagery...paint the picture!! Help the listener "see the song"!!! To me this is what I strive to have my songs do for the listener. To transport him/her into the song so they can actually see, feel, hear, taste and even touch it...in other words to actually "live it". I'm not sure who shared this advice with me many years ago but it is some of the best advice I've ever gotten for songwriting and I use it in EVERY song I've ever written. It is a 4-word question:
WHAT DO YOU SEE???
I was told..."don't make it harder than it is...write what you see!!" There is a fine line in songwriting between getting a song too personal to your own life where others may not be able to relate and also on the other end be to vague to bring people "into" the song. If I write a song about "home" and sing that song, I want EVERY listener to be envisioning "THEIR" home! Every listener is taking their own journey in their mind back to what "they" know. If I get too specific about MY home then I may lose the listener and they no longer can "relate" to the song.
So back to "WHAT DO YOU SEE??? I am going to use an example of using "what do you see?". I sat down to write a song one day and had not a clue what to write about. One of my techniques for breaking this "block" is to put myself in a place or situation and close my eyes...look around...what do I see???? This particular day I imagined myself up in my grandmother's attic (why I'm not sure LOL) and I started looking around in my mind. WHAT DO I SEE? Well I saw cobwebs, old rafters, dusty magazines, old boxes, etc. And then I saw AN OLD ARMY UNIFORM!!!!! At that point I had my "AHA" moment for this song. I figured there was a story in that old army uniform. So I began to tell the story starting with what I saw in my head. Remember, songs are 3 minute movies and the lyrics are the camera lens allowing the listener to SEE the song. So I started:
"One day in grandma's attic...I came across a dusty box
Laying on a wrinkled uniform and some old brown army socks
The words were worn and faded...it said 'old Havana brand'
The rubber band was brittle...and it broke right in my hand."
I tried hard to describe what I saw in my grandma's attic. WHAT DID I SEE??? the box was dusty, the uniform was wrinkled, old brown army socks, faded cigar box...I didn't have to say cigar box because I just described the box and it hopefully is obvious what it is by the description. You can also help by asking "WHAT DO I FEEL?" WHAT DO I SMELL?", WHAT DO I TASTE?" I try to incorporate as many "senses" as possible to help the listener experience the scene!! I felt that there would be an old rubber band around the box and most people have touched and old rubber band that just disintegrates when you touch it. (this turned out to be one of my favorite lines of the song).
Back to the next verse:
"My body started shakin'...as I saw what lay inside
It was a letter from my grandpa...the day before he died
I had heard the stories...grandma told us 'bout the war
The postmark just said 'Normandy, 1944'. "
What do you feel, what do you see??? JUST WRITE THAT DOWN!!! You see words by themselves don't bring out emotion. IT IS THE PICTURE THAT THE WORDS PAINT THAT BRINGS OUT THE EMOTION!!!! When you sing of your mother who has passed away there are NO words that can describe the feeling of sadness etc...BUT... it is the picture the words paint that will cause the tears to come.
Back to the song: Once I got to this part of the song and had written 2 verses and hopefully brought the lens of the camera (words) in the attic, to the box, and now IN the box to the letter it just followed that the chorus HAD to be what the letter said. Again, I closed my eyes and tried to picture the letter and what it might have said. Tried to picture Normandy and what would I write back to my family. Here is the chorus:
"It read, "I will always love you...I miss you more and more
But freedom for our children...is a thing worth fighting for
So if I should die tomorrow...please don't weep for me
Just tell our children's children...why we're living free
With love from Normandy."
Paint the picture....WHAT DO YOU SEE?? Write it down. Don't get too clever or try to enhance things too much....describe what you see for the listener and it will go a long way in writing songs that hopefully bring the listener into the song so they can see, hear, feel, and touch the song!!
Have a listen to my recording of "With Love From Normandy"...but be forewarned!!...grab a tissue :) There is a 3rd verse and bridge to bring the song into the present but won't lay that out here...I'll let you listen to how the song came together from a blank page to a final song by just asking the questions "WHAT DO YOU SEE???". Give it a try :)
Have a great day and remember: Write more and whine less!!!