In 2002, I was an unknown lyricist who had just moved to Nashville from Little Rock, Arkansas. Almost zero contacts in the music business. No cowrites with pro songwriters.
Fast forward 3 1/2 years. In 2005, I’m standing on stage at the NSAI Awards receiving one of only 12 “Songs I Wish I’d Written” awards given that year. The next night was the ASCAP Awards, where I’d be receiving an airplay award for a top 5 single. I now had a publishing deal at Major Bob Music and wrote regularly with other pro songwriters.
So what got me from point A to point B? What got me from waiting tables at Cracker Barrel with a name tag that said, “Hello, my name is Brent” to having people introduce me as “This is Brent, he wrote ‘Monday Morning Church’ for Alan Jackson?” Well… God took me from A to B, really. God gets all the credit, because it certainly wasn’t because of my songwriting skills at the time.
Looking back now, it’s almost embarrassing how green I was.
And it wasn’t about my networking skills. I still knew almost no one in the music business. I was at an industry party talking to some guy. This was in 2004 after the song got cut but before it was a single. We were chatting about the song, and he said, “Man, I love that song.” I said, “Oh, you know it?” He said, “Yeah. I cut it on Alan.” It was Keith Stegall, Alan’s producer. A legend in the biz and I didn’t recognize him because I’d never actually seen him in person before. I was so embarrassed. So, no…
I was not a networking genius.
And my success wasn’t about my cowriter’s political pull in the biz. It was her first cut, too. She was still in college at MTSU! She did have a well-established publisher pitching the song, though. But our names had nothing to do with the cut.
What God used more than anything else to take me from unknown lyricist to hit songwriter… was 6 little words I ran across in a poem my mother wrote:
“Empty as a Monday morning church.”
An image. A really great image became the core of my first cut and changed my life.
If you’re like me and want to write songs that get on records and radio and compete for the big money, you’re stepping into a very, very competitive business. There are only a few spots available on the album of a major artist. And there are even less slots available on radio.
In a business this competitive, you need every advantage you can get. Small advantages can bring big results. Adding great images to your songs can give you that advantage. It can make you more attractive and valued as a cowriter. It can get you that second publisher meeting. It can make a record label go from “what else do you have” to “let me keep a copy of that.” Likewise, better imagery can take your song from “let me keep a copy of that” to “put that on hold- I want to play it for my artist.” Or maybe great imagery will even take your song from “I want to put that on hold” to “we want to record your song.”
Great imagery can even make the difference between getting a $300 album cut or a $300,000 hit single.
In a business this competitive, the opposite is also true. Your song that’s being held for an artist might not get cut because they decide to record a song that’s just a little better. Or even if they do cut your song, they might single a different song instead. And the difference between an album cut and a hit single is huge. It’s not just a huge money difference, getting a hit single will boost your status and prestige much more than an album cut ever will.
Don’t settle for images that work. Strive for the BEST images you can get into your songs. It’ll make a big difference in your songwriting. And that big difference might just give you that small edge that turns you pro.
Think you can’t write great images? Think you either have to be born with the “imagery-gene” or you’re just out of luck? Put those thoughts away. You CAN learn to get a lot better with imagery-writing. My first songs didn’t have nearly the level of imagery I can write now. What made the difference?
Time, education and practice. Now, I can’t do much about “time,” but I can help you with education. Here’s a video clip that you might find helpful.
What about you? What are some of your favorite images from song lyrics? Please share in the comments!
Since strong imagery is such an important part of professional-level songwriting, I’ve put together a course on imagery. It’s called, “Use Imagery To Supercharge Your Songwriting (Like The Pros Do)” and it’s available now. By the end of the course, you’ll have the basic skills to:
- Effectively use both literal and figurative imagery.
- Make your story come to life using imagery.
- Prove your character’s personality using imagery.
- Make your listener connect to your character’s emotions using imagery.
- Hook your listener in the song’s first few lines using imagery.
- And to begin more songs (more easily) using imagery exercises as the start of your songwriting process.
God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,
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.