Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.
There is power in finding images that go deeper than the obvious or cliche images.
I had a publisher tell me once, “write about the truck from the INSIDE THE CAB, not from the OUTSIDE.”
Too many writers (and I was obviously guilty of this) write about “the truck”- the situation in the song- from the outside. They describe it using imagery and details that anyone who isn’t IN that situation could use. It’s the obvious ones. And, usually, it’s the cliche ones.
Our job is to dig deeper.
We need to use our memory, our imagination, research, and whatever we have at our disposal (including our cowriters), to write from the inside of the truck.
That’s what I tried to do with my Alan Jackson cut, “Monday Morning Church,” and it made a big difference.
Once the situation was decided- the man had lost his wife, who was the more spiritual of the two and his anchor- the trick was to figure out “what does this look like from the inside?” The results were the opening lines:
You left your Bible on the dresser
So I put it in the drawer
‘Cuz I can’t seem to talk to God
Without yelling anymore
Yes, the part about yelling at God is a bold, raw, and real way to start off a song. But the first two lines are really important, too. They balance the big, bold statement by giving the listener something small, real and believable. It also sets up “God” in line three.
Use inside details, but be sure and use details that make sense to the listener. Be inside but not too inside. In our truck analogy, write from inside the cab, which people can understand. Don’t write from so far inside the truck that you’re in the carburetor and only a mechanic knows what you’re talking about.
Also, keep the images relevant. They should add to our understanding of the characters or story, not just be filler. In our “Monday Morning Church” example, the fact that she left her Bible on the dresser is very telling. It’s HER Bible. She reads it often enough that she keeps it out where it’s handy. The next lines show the listener, in pictures, that he’s putting it out of his sight because he’s too angry at God.
So next time you write, take your time. Close your eyes and imagine the situation. Then climb into the truck.
What are some other songs that do a good job of writing from inside the “truck?” Do you find that this comes naturally to you, or is it a struggle?
Knowing simple things like this is how you write stronger songs- and market-smart songs (songs that have a competitive advantage in the market). If you want to learn more about how to write market-smart songs, check out my ebook, “Cut/able: Lessons In Market Smart Songwriting.” Click on the image below or click here to write market-smart songs.