Every time you use a cliche in your song, you miss an opportunity to do something great.
Cliches get used so much because they’re so easy. They are the first things that come to mind when we want to communicate certain things.
For example, it’s a lot easier to just say we’re “raising hell” or “painting the town” than it is to dig deeper and say we’re “filling Friday night full of empty cans” or “trying to make the Barhopper’s Hall of Fame.”
The cliche gives the listener information, but it’s forgettable because the listener has heard it a thousand times. There’s no emotion left in it. (Unless you somehow set up the cliche in a way that makes it fresh.)
When you go beyond the cliche, you have a chance to wow the listener with something they haven’t heard before.
A great example of this is “Summertime,” recorded by Kenny Chesney and written by Craig Wiseman and Steve McEwen. It’s about being young in the summertime, and there’s a part in the chorus where they reference driving around.
Young + summertime + driving = radio up + windows down. Right? Yes, and that’s why it’s a worn out, cliche image. Sure, it’s true- we’ve all lived that line many times. But there’s nothing memorable or “wow” about it.
Instead, these hit writers reference a Yoohoo bottle on the floorboard. So much better!
It’s believable- I can totally picture young guys leaving a Yoohoo on the floorboard.
It’s fresh- I’ve never “seen” that image in a song before.
Bonus: It provides a fun melodic moment when Chesney sings, “Yoohoo!”
The writers took a cliche moment and made it a hit moment by using a fresh, believable image. It’s our job to do the same.
What do you think? What’s your take on this topic? I’d love to hear your comments. And if there are some lyrics where the songwriter make a cliche moment a hit moment, share those in the comments, too!
Since strong imagery is such an important part of turning a cliche moment into a hit moment, 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.
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.