A Songwriter’s Enemy – Mistaking Universal Ideas for Generic

A Songwriter’s Enemy – Mistaking Universal Ideas for Generic

There’s a surprising enemy that lurks in the good intentions of songwriters chasing the ‘universal’ song lyric. In this blog post, we’ll explain what that enemy is.

This blog post aims to summarise our video ‘The Surprising Enemy of Good Songwriting’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

Mistaking Universal Ideas for Generic

“I’m lost without you…”

“You’re my everything…”

The lines above are examples of lyrics that feel generic, and cringy. These generic lyrics seem to pop up everywhere, even in the work of songwriters who consciously strive to avoid them. 

The enemy we face in songwriting is mistaking universal ideas for generic ones. While universal ideas encompass experiences and emotions shared by many, generic lyrics fail to capture the specific details and nuances that make them relatable and authentic.

In the attempt to make something more relatable to a larger audience, you end up stripping them of anything that actually makes them personal and therefore, more relatable.

The Paradox of Great Songwriting

To forge a deep connection with our listeners, we must strike a delicate balance. 

On one hand, we aim for universality, crafting lyrics that resonate with a wide audience. On the other hand, we must retain the idiosyncrasies, specifics, and personal touches that breathe life into our words. 

It is the presence of these details that evokes familiarity and compels others to exclaim, “Me too!”

An Example of Relatable Lyrics

To show the importance of including specific details in songwriting, let’s examine Bruno Major’s song “Nothing.” The song’s first verse serves as a prime example of how specific imagery creates relatability and universality:

“Tracksuits, movies for two

We’ll take off iPhones and turn off our shoes

We’ll play Nintendo, though I always lose

‘Cause you watch the TV while I’m watching you”

Now, let’s imagine an alternate version where the relatable specifics are stripped away:

“We sit on the couch, just you and me
We love to hang out, nowhere I’d rather be”

Can you feel the difference? The generic version lacks the vividness and relatability of the original lyrics. By removing specific details, we inadvertently remove the elements that resonate with listeners on a personal level.

Exercises to Enhance Your Ability to Write Details

Sense writing is a great way to enhance your ability to transform generic ideas into specific details. You can find out more about that by downloading the free PDF eBook in which sense writing is the first exercise there.

Click here to download the free PDF eBook ‘The 5 Best Songwriting Exercises for Writing Great Lyrics’

Instead of going into detail regarding sense writing, here’s a sort of abridged version which will help you practice turning something generic into something specific. I call it, “Turning the Dial”.

  1. Pick a random generic line. For example, “It was a normal, lovely Saturday afternoon.” 
  2. Set a timer for six minutes. 
  3. Write as many lines as you can in those six minutes that turn that generic line into a specific one. For example, “Square of afternoon light inching along the floor”.

Choose Your Words Carefully

It’s important to note that incorporating details into your lyrics does not mean embellishing them with excessive amounts of adjectives and adverbs. Instead, prioritize the importance of nouns and verbs. 

You need to strike a careful balance between ensuring that you don’t rely on adjectives and adverbs for detail, but also remembering that every line doesn’t need to be dripping with detail either.

This can be done by trying to include one or two lines per verse that employ carefully chosen, specific images. Through this, you’ll enable listeners to enter your song’s world and forge a profound connection with your experiences.

Conclusion: A Songwriter’s Enemy – Mistaking Universal Ideas for Generic

Hopefully, this blog post helped give you a better understanding on how to ensure that your lyrics are more specific, as well as some ways you can avoid being too universal.

If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.

Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world.

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