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

Small Details = Big-time Songwriting

Tips & Resources by Brent Baxter, Pro Songwriter on September 05, 2018


There is power in finding images that go deeper than the obvious or cliche'.

I had a publisher tell me once, ”write about the truck from the INSIDE THE CAB, not from the OUTSIDE”

"The truck," of course, is a metaphor for the situation of the song- the song's emotion and story.  (Funny how I've always remembered that metaphor- it's probably because it's wrapped in an image.  Hmmm...)

Too many writers (and I was obviously guilty of this) write about "the truck” - the situation in the song- from the outside. They describe it using imagery and details that anyone who isn’t IN that situation could use. It’s the obvious ones. And, usually, it’s the cliche’ ones.

Our job is to dig deeper.

We need to use our memory, our imagination, research, and whatever we have at our disposal (including our cowriters), to write from the inside of the truck.

That’s what I tried to do with my Alan Jackson cut, “Monday Morning Church,” and it made a big difference.

Once the situation was decided- the man had lost his wife, who was the more spiritual of the two and his anchor- the trick was to figure out “what does this look like from the inside?” The results were the opening lines:

You left your Bible on the dresser so I put it in the drawer
‘Cuz I can’t seem to talk to God without yelling anymore


Yes, the part about yelling at God is a bold, raw, and real way to start off a song. But the first line is really important, too. "You left your Bible on the dresser so I put it in the drawer," balances the big, bold statement yelling at God by giving the listener something small, real and believable. Plus, the Bible sets up “God” in the second line.

Use inside details, but be sure and use details that make sense to the listener. Be inside, but not too inside. In our truck analogy, write from inside the cab, which people can understand. Don’t write from so far inside the truck that you’re in the carburetor and only a mechanic knows what you’re talking about.

Also, keep the images relevant. They should add to our understanding of the characters or story, not just be filler. In our “Monday Morning Church” example, the fact that she left her Bible on the dresser is very telling. It’s HER Bible. She reads it often enough that she keeps it out where it’s handy. The next lines show the listener, in pictures, that the singer’s putting it out of his sight because he’s too angry at God.  If I'd started off with something like...

"You left your makeup on the counter, so I put it in the drawer
And I can't seem to talk to God without yelling anymore"


...the first line wouldn't be nearly as useful.  Yes, it tells us that she left her makeup, but it doesn't set up the spiritual aspect of her character or of the song.  It's just a random image that doesn't "point to the point" of the song.

So next time you write, take your time. Close your eyes and imagine the situation. Then climb into the truck.

What are some songs (in your opinion) that do a good job of writing from inside the “truck?” Do you find that this comes naturally to you, or is it a struggle?  Please leave a comment- I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Knowing how to use small details to leverage big emotion is important for pro songwriters- or those who want to turn pro. And if YOU want to turn pro, I have a great opportunity for you.

Every Monday night in October, I'm hosting The C4 Experience, or C4X.  It's an exclusive, live online event where I help 10 writers like YOU create explosive growth in your commercial songwriting.  I want you to win, and I'm going to help you write songs that artists want to sing, radio wants to play and fans want to hear.

C4X Logo

CLICK HERE TO GET ALL THE DETAILS AND RESERVE YOUR SPOT TODAY!

God bless,

Brent

PS- Thanks for stopping by Frettie! I appreciate it. As a matter of fact, I want to give you a special little something just for your visit. It's my FREE ebook "Think Like A Pro Songwriter," and it reveals valuable I-learned-it-the-hard-way-so-you-don't-have-to tips to help you succeed at the art, craft and business of songwriting. You can download it at www.GiftFromBrent.com.


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