What’s In It For The Listener?


I was leading one of Songwriting Pro’s online workshops the few weeks ago when a question came along that really hit me upside the head.

The group was sharing song ideas as part of a workshop exercise.  We were brainstorming and helping each other (it was a lot of fun).  Anyway, while we were discussing one particular idea, Jonathan (one of the awesome workshop members) asked a simple but hugely profound question:

What’s in it for the listener?

For the listener

If you want to get cuts, your song better have a good answer to that question.  Why should your listener care about your song?  What about your song will bring them back for more?  What does your song have going for it that will motivate the listener to stream the song 10 times a day or to (brace yourself…) actually BUY YOUR SONG?

It’s not about you.  It’s about the listener.

all about the listener

Do you have a friend who bores you to death with pointless stories or who drones on about some topic that doesn’t interest you in the least?  Your eyes glaze over and you can’t recall anything he/she said 2 minutes later?  Is there any way you’d want to put that conversation on repeat?  Of course not!

But what about your other friend?  You know- the one you actually like?  He/she talks about things that interest you, things you can relate to, or they just plain know how to tell an entertaining story.  Or maybe… they talk about YOU.  Your conversations with the friend actually have something in it for you.

So if you want to get cuts, make sure each song has something in it for the listener.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be diving into some of the specific ways you can build something “in it for the listener.”

In the meantime, here’s your homework.  Turn on the radio or your favorite playlist.  For the next 10 songs, ask yourself, “What’s in it for the listener?”  Please leave a comment and let me know what you discovered!

Also, if you think this post might be helpful for your songwriting friends, please share it through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, however you want.  I want to help as many songwriters as possible!

If you want to become a songwriting pro (in how you think, write songs or do business), then a great place to start is RIGHT HERE.  I want to help you on your songwriting journey.  I’ve been in the music business for years, and I’m here to help you get the cuts – and avoid the bruises.  CLICK HERE TO START HERE.

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.


11 thoughts on “What’s In It For The Listener?”

  1. Challenge accepted although I was listening to radio with a pretty darn successful songwriter as the DJ.. so that probably wasn’t fair to me! He seems to mostly play very well written songs.

    What’s in it for me;

    1. Hello Country Bumpkin – Cal Smith (Written by Don Wayne)- What’s in it for me with this one is the story being told taking me right to where it’s taking place, remembering experiences where I was actually in moments just like the song describes. The time warp part of this song is pretty interesting skipping a few weeks then forward 40 years saying goodbye, which sort of transported me to moments when I was saying goodbye to some elders.

    2. Galveston – Glenn Cambell (Written by Jimmy Webb) – Since I’ve lived a little more than an hour from Galveston going on 20 years, this one takes an interesting twist as I’m hearing all the beach and geographical references to the point where I almost miss the actual story being told, while visualizing and putting myself on the beach. Being on the beach really has little to do with the story! If I didn’t already know it, doing this exercise, that whole story of the guy going off to war just blows over for me. Cool side note and possible reason for this is that I’m actually going to be in Galveston for a couple of days later this week for a conference.

    4. Real Love – Dolly and Kenny – (Written by David Malloy, Richard “Spady” Brannon and Randy McCormick – What’s in this one? The pleasant memories of a relationship when it was happy and new, and the excitement of realizing that it was going to the next level, long term. The search is complete and successful kind of feeling. Aaah though.. good for them is the real thought I have.. LOL!

    5. Simple Man – Charlie Daniels – What’s in this one for me is a pep talk to keep up the good fight and know that I’ve got friends fired up enough to have my back when I take a stand against most of what’s wrong with our country right now that could use some fixin’ Musically, I never realized how similar a song I wrote last year sounds like this one.. HMM.. Nobody has ever told me that after hearing it though..? Hmm..

    6. Oilfield Dad – Bryan Martin – What’s in this one is knowing that I ain’t the only one struggling (though I’m struggling a lot less than the story at the moment, #tbtG) It’s making me be a little more grateful for the convenience of putting gas in my car at any choice of many gas stations, not having to think about all the people working hard all along the chain from reserves deep in the ground to the gas pump and all the sacrifices made to make that convenience possible. In it for me is an increased gratitude that I was able to spend so much time with my daughter growing up, so far.

    7. Throwing Good Love after Bad -(Written by Mike Anthony, Michael Patrick Heeney) Conway – commiseration for short is what’s in this one for me. At the end of a relationship where I’ve got the short end of the stick over and over.

    8. Set Em Up Joe – Vern Gosdin, Dean Dillon, Buddy Cannon and Hank Cochran – In this one for me is being taken back to the pretty much extinct old pool halls during the day/week that turned into dance halls on evenings and weekends. The many lunches had at these places while they were empty while I was very young imagining the parties, dances and such that happened in them. Memories of watching Music shows on TV at Maw Maw’s house the Nudy suits in black and white

    9. Lookin’ for Love – (Wanda Mallette, Bob Morrison and Patti Ryan) – This one gives me a friend who’s been through almost exactly what I’ve been through several times. Yet at the same time, happy memories from enjoying the Urban Cowboy movie. I think what this one gives me the most is a part to sing along with as a virtual background singer.

    Apparently there was also a songwriter lesson in this one as when I was looking up the writers I learned about Wanda and Patti writing this when they were school teachers..? HUH? How did I never know this incredible story? If it’s true.. I paraphrase copy from a “best songs written by non professional songwriters” list; “Lookin’ for Love,” the big hit by Johnny Lee from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, was basically written by two second-grade schoolteachers, Wanda Mallette and Patti Ryan. They sent their song to a Nashville pro named Bob Morrison, who polished it. Then it was shopped to 21 different places before it was picked up. Voila! A #1 country hit and #5 pop hit with their first published song! Mallette, at least, did some songwriting on a more professional level, notably placing a couple album cuts with Reba McEntire, but it was “Lookin’ for Love” that remained her big hit song.”

    10. Down at the Twist and Shout – Mary Chapin Carpenter – What’s in this one for me is HOMESICK! Mary sings about everything I grew up on and where I grew up! I can literally smell the food, and wood in them old honky tonk rooms. I can see the dresses flaring up from being twirled around.. What’s in this will likely be a long overdue ROAD TRIP to the mother land!

    1. Tommy, I always wanted a Nudy suit! In fact, over the weekend, I shot my kids a photo shoppped pic of my head on a Porter Wagner body. I got NO response from them. Imagine that. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in my love of a be-dazzled suit! Haha!

  2. “Take This Job and Shove It” – now who hasn’t been or seen someone in that situation?

    Thanks Brent – excellent information – what the listener associates in a song!

  3. First off, good to see you back to it here Brent! This topic is super, because it’s really a great way for us to understand how to keep the listener interested, while allowing us to understand one another by seeing what we’re attracted to as people. That’s SO cool! As you said, “It’s NOT about us.” Real life application!

    Shane’s Soul Shaper List! –Lol

    #1 ‘Hallelujah’ written by Leonard Cohen

    I personally prefer the Jeff Buckley version for the pain and suffering that I feel in his vocals.
    The singer is speaking of the ups and downs in a love with a woman that is based on lust, rather than a spiritual love. It shows the conflict of the relationship to follow for any man who doesn’t see God first in the woman he loves. If you’re obsessed with your wife as I have been for 27 years of marriage, that’s a tough one to understand -haha! However, I’ve learned that if I don’t see God in her first, then the greed, jealousy, pain, and tough times will follow. –Been there! Done that! A song well worth absorbing.

    #2. ‘Daughter’ written by Loudon Wainwright lll

    This one to me shows the inner struggle of a daddy with himself, as he attempts to raise a little version of himself. It’s the unconditional love for a child that the father has that creates the drive for the best for the child. The “monster” if you will. The line where he speaks of losing every time he fought her is SO true. Once you as a parent drive that child to supposed “greatness & success”, it’s an awfully hard struggle to keep the upper hand. -Lol. Obviously, I have a daughter who’s the best at everything.— Hahaha!

    #3. ‘Wonderful Tonight’ written by Eric Clapton

    In this song, I love that the man sees the woman he’s with, struggling to create and keep a confidence about herself. He’s her rock of confidence. He’s clearly obsessed with her beauty, as others are. But it’s the line where he speaks of seeing the love light in her eyes and the wonder of it all is what keeps me listening. She doesn’t realize his love of her soul. That’s where the love he speaks of is different and deeper. They’re soulmates. He counts on her stability to put him to bed after too much that night. That pretty much summarizes it all to me, showing how much he counts on her as well. This is exactly how I feel about my soulmate.

    #4. ‘Cats in the Cradle’ written by Harry & Sandra Chapin

    I’ve got a son who I just don’t feel got enough of my attention and is now off to med school. He’s on his way to success (fingers crossed-hopefully-ha) and I am thrilled to be a part of that journey. But there’s that part of me that remembers when I was “too busy” at times just like this song. It’s the guilt of living with that that keeps me listening and is SO relatable. It’s almost like a self torture session that I listen to keep myself in check. All for those precious moments to come. Life’s short!

      1. No, no. Thank you T-Kib! I love seeing the everybody from the inside out. Your thoughts helped make that a possibility. I enjoyed it. Super thanks to Brent for stirring this pot as well. It’s good stew man! ~Rainbow stew! -lol

  4. Dion & the Belmonts, The Wanderer, Ruby Baby, Run Around Sue…taking me back to a much simpler time…when I was very young & being the annoying little bother… my older brother was forced to…by my parents from time to time…to take me with him . As we would be cruising along in his fire engine red 40 Ford Coupe….that sported a 3/4 race 324 cubic inch Oldsmobile engine…that had a very low rumble that emanated from the dual exhaust pipes…at the same time there’d be one of Dion’s great songs blasting on the radio… & my older brother hunched over behind the wheel …saying nothing,…stoically looking ahead with his ducktail, shades & his left arm defiantly hanging out the window…right then & there…I knew…& felt… what ” cool ” was all about!

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