Are you having a hard time getting your songs to resonate with your listeners emotionally? You can tell they’re hearing you, maybe even giving you their full attention, but you can tell their hearts aren’t in it. Are your songs leaving your listener unmoved and unchanged? Are they crying at your sad songs or getting all dreamy-eyed at your love songs or pumping their fists in the air during your rebel songs? If not, you’re probably making at least one of the following seven mistakes.
But there’s good news- if you can identify these mistakes, you can fix ‘em!
1. Your song has too many characters.
If your song has too many characters, your listener won’t have enough time to get to know them or care about them. You, your girl, your ex, your best friend, her BFF, her ex, her mom… I’m lost. And now I don’t care.
2. Your song has too much story.
Songs can tell amazing stories, but you have to keep them simple enough that the facts don’t crowd out the emotion. Too much story will turn you into a bland reporter, busily relaying facts just so the listener gets from point A to point B. “This happened then that happened. Two years later in a different town, this other thing happened.” Give enough space in your story for the emotion to come through.
3. Your song is too cliche.
If your song is just a regurgitation of the same old stories told with the same old rhymes and cliched phrases, stuck in the same old melody… why would the listener get excited or moved? It’s like telling the same joke with the same punchline with the same delivery to a crowd that’s already heard it a hundred times. Don’t expect a big laugh. It’s just not going to happen.
4. Your song is too “inside.”
It’s great for a song to be very personal to you. But if you write it in a way that only you understand it, your audience will not be moved. You might know what you’re talking about, but if there’s not enough there for a listener to engage with and latch onto, they’ll just be frustrated, lost, or bored. Let the listener in on your inside joke!
5. Your song tells but doesn’t show.
Don’t just tell the listener you’re sad and expect them to be sad. Even if you show them tears in your eyes, don’t expect them to cry any of their own. Paint a picture of what made you so sad, and it’ll give the listener context and maybe something to relate to. And then they may be reaching for their own Kleenexes.
6. Your song’s melody doesn’t support its emotion.
If your song is supposed to be angry or resentful, but your melody, production, etc. is smooth and poppy… I’m not buying it (literally or figuratively). If your singer is singing about regret and heartache, but the melody feels like happy good times, I’m not buying it. It’s like mumbling a half-hearted, “I love you” or yelling “I’m sorry! Will you forgive me!?!?!?!” in an angry tone of voice. Or when a woman says, “nothing’s wrong, I’m FINE, okay?” in a tone of voice that tells you the opposite. You’re sending mixed emotional signals that cancel each other out or confuse the listener.
7. Your song idea is not emotional enough.
Is your song too “head” and not enough “heart?” Is your topic too trivial or just an interesting (but un-emotional) thought? You can write a song about how the square root of 49 is 7. That’s fine. But don’t expect anyone to laugh or cry when they hear it. Unless they REALLY hate math. So… me in 7th grade. Yep, 7th grade me would cry about a square root song, but that’s not a real big market.
If your songs don’t connect emotionally with the listener, the listener won’t connect financially with you. The heart is connected to the wallet.
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.
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.