Write Better Lyrics #4: Is Your Lyric Obscure Where It Could Be Relatable?

We're working our way through 16 key questions to ask in order to move your lyrics from so-so to so-great. So far I've talked about making sure that your SUBJECT MATTER MATTERS, that your lyric has the power that comes from SIMPLICITY AND PURITY, and that you are using SPECIFIC IMAGES to engage your listener's imagination. (Kudos to Tony Chung, who commented that: "specific terms give your listeners a general idea, where general terms won't give your listeners anything.")

It's time for lyric question No. 4:

Songwriting is HARD. Yes, the more personal something is, the more universal. And yes, specific, detailed images with authentic importance to the songwriter translate much better than vague generalities. BUT, the caveat to all this personal expression is that the specifics you chose to incorporate in your lyric must have universal resonance to them.


Some specifics mean something to a larger audience, and some don't. "Worn gray sock" will conjure up an image for a lot of people. "Worn hydraulic actuator" is only going to mean something to a very select group of engineers. And the symbolic power of the image might be lacking.

This seems like an obvious point, but a lot of developing songwriters err on one side or the other of the scale -- lyrics that are too general, or lyrics that are so obscurely specific they only mean something to the writer and perhaps her mother. So be sure to test out your images -- sing your song for people and ask them what it means to them. One of the wonderful mysteries of creative expression is that your song will likely mean different things to different people. That's cool. But be concerned if your song means nothing to someone -- if your content is so obscure that your listener is just shut out.

So, once you've gone through your lyric and replaced any general concepts with detailed, specific images, remember: a songwriter's work is never done! Go through your lyric again and replace any obscure images with more relatable (but still detailed and specific) ones. Your listener will thank you for it by ... listening.

Of course there are always exceptions that prove the rule. Can you think of a powerful song that contains an obscure element or image? Share it in the comments section!

Also, don't miss Lyric Question Number 5! Bookmark Songville or Subscribe (for free!) to be alerted when there are new posts.
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