Here’s How ONE Line Can Cause Your Song To Fail

Wanna know how just ONE LINE in your song can really mess up its chances for success?  Here are a few ways…

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As you may know, each line in your song is important.  Every line needs to be “on point.”  Every line needs to point to the central idea, theme, and vibe of your song.  Every line needs to pull its weight.  Each line has a job to do.

And sometimes, one single line can mess up your song’s chance to get recorded or connect with your listener.

And I’m not talking about, “Oh, this line or that line was off-topic or was a little confusing.”  Sure, those are things to be avoided because they DO hurt your song.  But I’m talking about a few other types of lines…

The Cornerstone / Stumbling Block

It’s a mistake to make one line of your song TOO important.  “If the listener misses this one line, they’ll get lost,” is a dangerous way to write.  Don’t hang too much of the weight of your song on one line.  Sadly, you can’t expect too much of the listener’s attention.

Listeners usually won’t give your song their full, undivided attention.

I write EXPECTING that the listener will zone out on at least a line or two while they get/send a text, honk at a bad driver, or get some notification on their phone.  If that text comes during that ONE LINE they have to “get” or they won’t “get” your song… they won’t “get” your song!  What you built to be the cornerstone of your song just became a stumbling block to your listener.

And this doesn’t have to be the line that provides “the big surprise twist ending.”  It can be a line in the first verse that sets up that the singer is a single mom.  Or is in prison.  Or just got his heart broken.  Whatever it is.  Don’t hang too much on one line.  Pepper that information throughout your song.

The Wait-For-It Line

This one usually IS the twist, surprise or otherwise killer line where you think, “if the listener will just listen until we get to THAT line (usually in the 2nd verse or bridge), I’ve got ’em!”  Well, I hate to tell you… they probably won’t stick around.

The danger with a Wait-For-It Line is that you CAN’T make the listener wait for it.  Every line needs to keep the listener’s attention.  You can’t put clichés throughout the lyric, expecting the Wait-For-It line to save your song.  The listener will tune out (literally or figuratively) before the line ever gets there.

Keep the listener’s attention with EVERY line.

The Crossed-That Line

This will really depend on your genre, but your song can be chugging along just fine, making the A&R person bob his head and tap his pencil, when all of a sudden you drop an F-bomb that has to be an F-bomb because it’s the rhyme, or you say something really negative about women, or something else that is a cut-killer. (Again, depending on genre.)

Another example of this is when a happy love song has a line that reveals that the singer is a parent or a grandparent.  Nothing wrong with this, but it limits which artists can sing it.  It might even be very important that the singer BE a parent or grandparent.  But just realize the tradeoffs involved.

Those are a few cut-killing and connection-killing lines.  Do you have a few more that you’d like to add?  Have you put some cut-killing lines in your songs (admit it- we all have).  I’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment!

If you want YOUR songs to be more “cut/able” (able to be cut) then you should definitely check out my new, expanded and upgraded version of “Cut/able: Lessons In Market Smart Songwriting.” Its five powerful lessons will help you write songs that artists want to sing, radio wants to play, and listeners want to hear! CLICK HERE TO WRITE CUT/ABLE SONGS.

God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,

Brent

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.

2 thoughts on “Here’s How ONE Line Can Cause Your Song To Fail”

  1. I once had a very entertaining conversation with a co-writer about a line that was perfect for a song that went something like “leave that crazy bitch alone”.

    Perfect as it was we ended up changing it to “boy better leave that alone” because we figured being the first songwriters to get “crazy bitch” onto country radio in a song, while incredibly cool, might be a bit of a stretch.

    The irony is the artist who has that song on hold would have been perfectly happy with the original line.

  2. Graeat, insightful read!

    I wrote a song called “Annalee” and sent it to NSAI for evaluation a while back. The song is about a young man who can’t resist an older woman , who perhaps best would be described as a femme fatale, the kind of woman men want…but shouldn’t have. I thought it was a cool idea to give the boy-loves-girl theme a little twist, but had a notion that it would attract some criticism. Which it did. The evaluator strongly recommended me to “take a less harsh route” and more go for the traditional “hot and teasing” thing. Fair enough.

    So lesson learned, if you want to write for a commercial market, and aiming for a cut, don’t portray women as chain-smoking alcoholics …

    ANNALEE

    Verse:
    She was a hard-drinking,
    chain-smoking, fast-talking
    Neighbor of mine
    My parents warned me, she’s the devil
    She’ll eat you alive

    Chorus:
    Anna Lee, Anna Lee, Anna Lee
    What can a young boy do
    Than to long, yearn and dream of a
    Woman like you

    Verse:
    Head-spinning hips, killer lips
    and long black hair
    It was my sixteenth summer and she was more
    Than I could bear

    Chorus:
    Anna Lee, Anna Lee, Anna Lee
    What can a young boy do
    Than to long, yearn and dream of a
    Woman like you

    Verse:
    Last time I saw her ever saw her
    She was dancing in the street
    Singing Stand by Your Man
    With a bottle in her hand
    And a big cigar between her teeth

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