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Learn the art, craft & business of songwriting from hit songwriter, Brent Baxter!

The Frettie Journal
A collection of interviews, updates, tips and resources for songwriters.

Education: “Keep Your Story Moving” by Brent Baxter

All, Tips & Resources by Guest Author: Brent Baxter on September 04, 2014

Today we are excited to have Nashville songwriter Brent Baxter contribute to the Frettie Journal. If you're not familiar with Brent Baxter, he's not just a songwriter with songs recorded by Alan Jackson (the top 5 country hit “Monday Morning Church”), Lady Antebellum, Randy Travis, Joe Nichols, Lonestar, Ray Stevens, Gord Bamford, Andy Griggs, Steve Cropper, Buddy Jewell, and others. He's also the man behind the growing songwriting blog called Man Vs. Row. On his blog Brent shares valuable tips (like the one below) with his audience every week. We want to thank Brent for opening his mind to you. We encourage you all to check out his blog and join his mailing list.

Here's the guest blog post!

Keep Your Story Moving by Brent Baxter

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the phrase, “you sound like a broken record.” Well, if your song sounds like a broken record, it will probably never end up on a record.

A song is a story, whether it’s a classic story song, like “The Gambler” or more of a moment-in-time. And the primary characteristic of a story is that it has a distinct beginning, middle, and ending.

There should be motion. The song should leave the listener in a different place than where they were when the song started.

If your songs don’t have that motion, they usually get pretty boring to the listener. Why? Because you’re not telling them anything new. And I don’t mean “new” as in something they’ve never heard in a song before (although, it’s good if you can do that). By “new,” I mean something the listener hasn’t already heard in that same song.

I know when I was a younger writer, my first verse would say something like, “she just walked out the door” with a chorus that said, “I can’t live without her.” And that’s fine, but my second verse would also basically say, “she just walked out the door.”

There’s nothing new there! I might have different details, but if the story doesn’t go anywhere, I’m not doing my job. So I started using a technique I probably got from Pat Pattison’s book, “Writing Better Lyrics.” It’s a great book- you should check it out.

The technique is called “song mapping.” Here’s how it works: in the most simple terms, write out what each part of the song is saying. I mean in the most simple terms- no colors, no visuals, just as simple as you can say it. For example:

Verse 1: She just walked out the door.
Chorus: I can’t live without her.
Verse 2: She just walked out the door.
Chorus: I can’t live without her.

So, if the verses on your map both say the same thing, like “she just walked out the door,” you know you aren’t taking the listener anywhere. Take another look the verses.

If one verse says, “she just walked out the door,” the other verse should tell us something else. Maybe it says, “I don’t know how I’ll make it through tonight.” That way, when you come back to your chorus us “I can’t live without her,” you see it in a different light. I’ll talk more about this in a moment.

Verse 1: She just walked out the door.
Chorus: I can’t live without her.
Verse 2: I don’t know how I’ll make it through tonight.
Chorus: I can’t live without her.

Song mapping is helpful when you’re rewriting existing songs, and it’s also helpful when you’re starting on a song. Map out the song ahead of time. Visualize where you want it to go. That way, you’re more likely to spend your writing time wisely.

You want to make the chorus fresh every time you hear it. Sometimes, you do this by altering the lyric each time. There are some great songs that do that, such as “Everywhere” by Tim McGraw.

In this song, the writers list the different places the singer encounters the girl’s memory. Another way to do this is what I call the “three-act play.” A great example of this is “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” by Patty Loveless.

In this song, the same chorus is applied to three situations throughout the singer’s life: when she is moving away from her best friend, when her marriage is falling apart, and when her mother is dying. That’s a proven way to bring new power to the chorus each time you hear it.

Let’s take a look at a story song I wrote with Byron Hill. It’s called “Over A Drink.”

(Brent Baxter, Byron Hill)


She slipped on the little black dress
Tried to ignore that voice in her head
The one that says blind dates never work out right
He was waiting there in that corner booth
With his smile showing he was nervous, too
And that voice in her head kept saying it’ll be a long night


But the next thing she knew it was ten o’clock
And they were still laughing and carrying on


Over a drink
Over a bottle of wine
Falling deeper and deeper
One glass at a time
Looking back now
She can hardly believe
She fell in love with him
Over a drink


The next few weeks were all a blur
And he said he was in love with her
That sounded so good she slipped that ring right on
With all that talk of a house and two kids
She never saw the change in him
The one that kept him out and brought him stumblin’ home


But now she knows that love was blind
As he looks though her with bloodshot eyes




So she’ll leave that ring on his pillow
And she’ll pack up all the hurt
And she’ll move on because she knows
That he will never choose her




Looking back now
She can hardly believe
She fell in love with him
Over a drink

Hopefully, this song is a good example of what I’ve been talking about. It’s a story song with a beginning, middle, and end. She meets him, they fall in love, but she leaves him because of his drinking problem.

The chorus lyric doesn’t change, but the way the verses set it up, you hear it a different way each time. The first time, it’s all positive, they fell in love over a drink. The second time, he’s staring through her with bloodshot eyes over a drink. The third time, she knows he’ll never choose her over a drink.

If you can keep the story moving, it’ll keep the listener’s attention. And if you can keep the choruses fresh, it’ll add more power to them each time you hear them.

Best of luck with your songwriting. And remember to keep it moving.

God Bless,

Brent Baxter


Thank you for checking out Brent's guest post. I encourage you to follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his blog. If you or anyone else you know are interested in sharing valuable tips with the Frettie community of songwriters, we'd love to hear your ideas. Just send us an email.

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