THE BIG IDEA – HOW TO NOT WRITE A POTLUCK SONG
Most beginner songwriters try to squeeze too much into their songs.
Believe me, I know how it goes.
You sit down to write a cute little song and you end up with something that reads more like A Tale Of Two Cities and you wonder if you need emotional help.
Obviously, you’ll need one pointed theme for your song. But beyond that, the more you add, the less people will remember. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Just think of your top 5 favorite songs. You can almost get the entire gist just from reading the title. Honestly, that’s true more often than not.
The big idea of a song is usually summarized in the title.
Take a gander at these examples:
Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerren
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
How Great Thou Art – Carl Gustav Boberg (lyrics)
You’ve Got A Friend In Me – Randy Newman
For each of these songs, the title really describes (in just a few words) the entire overarching thought or idea of the song. That’s what you’re going for.
Now you might be wondering, “Why not pack more into a song? After all, I’m a sage artist with profound tales to tell…why not make my songs more dense?”
First of all, it’s weird to describe yourself as a sage.
Second, because of the nature of popular song structure (most pop songs are between 3 1/2 and 4 minutes long), trying to say more than one big idea is actually a self-defeating project; if you try to fit multiple big themes into 4 minutes, listeners just won’t grab onto anything.
Here’s the analogy:
When you prepare a meal, you usually make one main dish. Sure, there might be some sides…broccoli (why), muffins, a bowl of chips. But there’s typically one main dish.
On the other hand…a potluck is a smorgasbord. Ever been to a potluck? It’s like culinary schizophrenia. There might be as many as 12 different main courses, from pizza to schnitzel cordon bleu.
A potluck song is a song that tries to include too many main ideas.
Now, the potluck approach works quite well for food. Not so much for songs.
In order to deliver the biggest punch, write songs that focus on one big idea. Let every part of the narrative and every interval in the melody and every change in the chords highlight that one idea.
Do yourself a solid. Don’t write potluck songs.