Part 3 of The Songwriting Formula – The Song Map
It’s easy to think that once you have a concept and a title, that you’ll be able to plan out an entire song. In reality, a song requires structure of some kind. Similarly to how a building requires a good blueprint to model it after, a song map is a useful tool to use in the songwriting process. Here, we’ll discuss song maps and how to use them.
This article is a summarised transcript of part three of our video “The Simple Songwriting Formula that Changed Everything for Me”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
What Is a Song Map?
A song map is having an idea in your mind about how you could approach this title from at least two different angles where the meaning and the emotion will grow as the verses progress. Your song concept and title need to contain in a clear way that your song idea has a way to start, develop and escalate.
For example, let’s take a look at the song map for the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The following is a rough song map for the song:
Verse 1: This verse is all about describing what it feels like to be that happy
Verse 2: In Verse 2, he introduces the idea of an obstacle. He talks about voices getting in the way and trying to bring him down.
This can actually be summed up into a generalised song map as follows:
Verse 1: How it feels
Verse 2: Obstacle or challenge
We can now apply this song map to any feeling at all. This song map is particularly useful for writing songs that aren’t narrative but instead focus on conveying a clear mood or emotion.
Click here to download a free PDF song map template, and ensure you have a plan to finish every song you start:
Song Map #1 – Problem -> Intensification -> Escalation
In this first universal song map, we go from problem, to intensification and then escalation. An amazing example of this is John Mayer’s song “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”.
When we look at the lyrics of this song, we can see that the concept is all about a relationship on the brink of collapse. The song map here starts with the narrator of this song sensing that there’s a problem – the two characters can no longer connect with each other.
Then, the problem intensifies and they start actively arguing as well as picking fights with each other. Finally, the point of escalation is when they’re not just picking fights, but they’re also deliberately trying to hurt each other. From this, we can see that the song follows a clear song map which goes from problem to intensification to escalation.
Song Map #2: Situation -> Context -> Consequence
For this song map, we usually start by focusing on the present moment. Then, we zoom out and describe how we got to this situation in the first place. The final moment of this song map is when the consequence of the present situation is introduced. Here, we really get to the emotional heart of the song.
“The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert is a song which beautifully illustrates this song map. It starts out with Miranda knocking on the door of her childhood home. After this, we’re given context to understand why knocking on her childhood home is meaningful to her. Finally, the emotional consequence is described in the bridge of the song.
The emotional consequence of leaving her childhood home was that she got lost. She forgot who she was, and coming back to her childhood home is an attempt to reconnect to her deepest self.
Conclusion: Part 3 of The Songwriting Formula – The Song Map
In the process of writing a song, it’s important for us to establish a song map. This provides us direction, and also ensures that we have a plan to finish any songs we start. So, we won’t be left lost and feel as if we’re groping around in the dark for a way to continue with our songs.
Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world: