Why Imagery Matters

Man vs Row

Brent is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ray Stevens, and more.  He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

Imagery is a very important part of your lyric- especially in country music. The saying in Nashville is, “Show me, don’t tell me.” There are a few reasons we’d rather you show us your song than tell us.

Images engage the heart, not just the brain.

You can tell me you’re sad. You can just say, “I’m sad now that you’re gone.” I will hear that and understand it. But I will only understand that with my head, not my heart. My head says, “Yes. The singer is sad. I understand what sadness is.” But that’s just information, and it stays in my head without moving to my heart.

However, when you show me what the sadness looks like- when I see the emptiness in your heart through the empty 2nd coffee cup you set out through habit and don’t have the heart to put back in the cupboard just yet- I FEEL your sadness. If I see you hugging his pillow at night because it smells like him, then I don’t just KNOW you’re sad, I FEEL your sadness.

Imagery is what gets your song through the head and into the heart.

Imagery makes it easy on your listener.

You can ask listeners to picture a lonely night AND be moved by whatever it is they imagine. Or you can SHOW your listeners a lonely night and ask them to be moved. Which one requires more from your listener? Exactly.

People are busy. They’re probably listening to your song while doing something else- driving, eating, working, hanging out with friends, etc. If the listener doesn’t have enough mental bandwidth left to process your lyric, they may either just hear the melody only (which isn’t the worst thing in the world) or they ignore your song altogether (which IS the worst thing- love my song or hate my song, but don’t ignore it).

Painting the picture for your listeners is often an easier path to their hearts- which is directly connected to their wallets, by the way.

Imagery helps you be unique.

Let’s face it, there are only so many emotions that show up in songs. New love, old love, new heartache, old heartache, anger, hope, nostalgia, etc. Since we really just sing about a handful of emotions, our lyrics are going to be pretty bland and boring if we only write in emotional terms. After all, how many ways can you say, “I miss you” without imagery?

The use of fresh imagery allows you to talk about the same old emotions in a new way. So it’s really in your best interest (and you’ll be more likely to keep your listener’s interest) if you use fresh, believable images to tell your story.

People are visual.

Visuals impact us deeply. There’s a reason radio dramas were made obsolete by movies and television- people respond more strongly to visuals! If you can paint pictures with your lyrics, you can give the listener something to see in his or her mind.

So there you have it. Four reasons why imagery matters. If you’ve been a very emotional, non-imagery based writer, I encourage you to try incorporating images into your lyrics. I think it will serve you well.

God Bless,

Brent

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6 thoughts on “Why Imagery Matters”

  1. HI I CANT SHOE ME SINGING MY SONG BEFOR ACCIDENT BUT THIS IS 1 OF MY 9 SO PLEASE LET ME KNOW ANYONE THAT CAN SING IT IT COULD BE A VIG TV JINGLE THAT WAS MY PLAN BEFOR THE BOTTOM FELL OUT SO PLEASE EMAIL ME IV GOT ALL CWS MY SONGS THANKS TERRY NALL IM NO LONGER SINGING OR WALKING LIKE I WAS SENCE 91 injoy

  2. Two things came to mind as soon as I saw the title of this post:

    Jackson Browne’s “Sky Blue & Black” (AMAZING imagery. It’s like you’re on the beach with him; hearing the crashing waves and watching the sky turn.)

    and

    “Cottonwood fallin’ like snow in July” I just love this line from “Drunk on You.” It’s a great opener; picturesque and gives you a feeling of place. Plus, reminds me of the first time I was near cottonwood. I was really confused. It was May but it looked like it was snowing. Took me and my dad a minute to figure out it was coming from the trees. I try to think of lines like this when deciding what I want the listener to see or feel in a song I’m writing.

    Had an English professor in college that gave us an essay assignment on this same topic of “show don’t tell.” We had to write one of our personal “family legends” (ie. the time grandma accidentally stole the neighbor’s cat, the Christmas Day brawl of 2012, the time Uncle Timmy shot the neighbor kids eye out…something like that.) Great exercise.

    As always, thank you for the post!

    1. The first line seems to tell the listener see what I’m saying like Ramble On by Lead Zepplin. The 60’s were famous I think for significant imagery what is short-cutted today with music videos was once a mark of excellance that blistered through the lyrics of rock, folk and even phycadellic and gospel music. I’m an old-time religon kind of guy and enjoy and appreciate the fullness of musical styles.

  3. Brent,
    Thank you for writing and sharing this truly helpful, wonderful article. Writers need to take notice, lots of valuable info they can benefit from just by reading this great blog of yours!! Wishing you the very best always.

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