How to Fix Your Stuck Songs
Have you suffered any of these problems?
- Have too much to say in your song
- Can’t finish the story
- Can’t fit everything into the song
- Have too many verses
- Lyrics hard to memorize
- Lyrics hard to sing, too many words
- Still have more to say in the song…
(I’ve had all of these problems at one time or another, until I learned how to avoid them entirely…)
In Song is Haiku, you’ll learn to:
- use the analogy of Haiku to focus your lyrics,
- fix your stuck songs by simplifying your message, and
- compress your lyrics to fit into a popular song form.
If you can’t explain your song in a sentence you’re probably writing too much!
What Exactly is Haiku?
Carve your syllables
Images inspire visions
Sing a world with words
Song is Haiku, Trevor Dimoff
Haiku is a Japanese poetry form. In English it is usually translated as a 3 line poem with 5-7-5 syllables. (Links for further reading are at the end of the article)
The most remarkable thing about the Haiku that I ‘ve read (especially those translated from Japanese into English) is with a minimum of words, each Haiku creates an image that echoes in your mind after reading it. You add your own details to the poet’s vision that makes it meaningful to you.
Haiku creates a world bigger than its words.
Just like a song, there isn’t time for extras….
So words, sounds, images
Evoke your intent
Editing a Song, Trevor Dimoff
A common problem in songwriting is trying to write too much story or add too many details and descriptions. There isn’t time for a novel or even a short story… a song is Haiku!
Musical Example: Emoji Girl
A song about attempting to create a relationship with someone who is distracted by technology and social media.
Instead of using complicated imagery and details, I describe the communication difficulties in the Pre-Chorus:
She says she heart’s me, I LOL!
Not much for conversation, and she can’t spell.
She thinks in pictures, talks with them too!
How do I get through to her? What should I do?
Musical Example: So Trumped Up
Observing the political antics of Donald Trump, from sexist comments and #metoo moments, to the politicization of the Pandemic and masks, it was difficult to winnow the crazy down to lyrics for a single song. During the 2020 election campaign I finished a new draft of the lyrics (I’d written it a year before, but had to include a few new verses to fit the latest events) and this is the version recorded here.
Musical Example: I Just Want to Teach
My secret identity is a public school music teacher. A few years ago there was a labour dispute between the teacher’s union and the provincial government. While writing about the experience it was difficult to keep up with the details. One incident blended into the next in an ever expanding circle of craziness. Instead of citing numerous problems in detail, I distilled my big idea down for the song to a “teacher’s demand for a sustainable education system.” and framed the song as an open letter from a teacher to the minister of education…
It isn’t much to ask, as a teacher I expect:
Cost of living raise, treat me with respect.
Can’t improve my classroom with PR campaigns.
In my professional opinion: you haven’t made the grade!
Education minister, your attention please:
I Just Want to Teach! I Just Want to Teach!
Song is Haiku: Solutions & Action Steps
Write more than you need.
Compress it, Remove excess…
Sing into their ears!
Songwriting Process, Trevor Dimoff
1. Develop Your Songwriting Process
Don’t waste time inventing your songwriting process every time you start a new song! If you have a dependable method for organizing your ideas you can spend more time putting everything together. This doesn’t mean you should write every song in the same way, but rather you need to have a dependable process that is flexible enough you can adapt it to the song you’re working on right now. The best way to write a song is the way that works best for you…
If you want to learn a simple and repeatable songwriting process, click and enter your email address so I can send you… How to Write a Song Chorus!
2. Write From Your Title (The Big Idea)
When you start writing from a song topic or song title, it’s easy to remember that every word and phrase of the lyric supports the big idea…
If a line doesn’t fit with the title, change it, delete it, reword it… edit, edit, edit!
3. Explore Song Story Ideas Before Writing Lines
Writing is fun, but spending a little time considering possibilities before you start writing lines can save you struggle and frustration later. Trying different ways to outline the story and explore possibilities for your song can be even more fun, especially when it helps you avoid getting stuck later on during the songwriting process!
4. Build The Story In The Song Before Writing The Song
Every great song tells a story. If you know the story you want to tell before you start writing lyrics, you’ll be able to communicate it better, and you can write it faster, too!
5. Outline Your Song (Before You Get Stuck)
Get into the habit of thinking about the entire song before focusing on words and lines.
You can create a simple sketch early in the songwriting process to speed up your writing later. You guarantee that you write an interesting story in the song and an interesting emotional journey for your audience, rather than wasting time trying to fix a boring song later.
You can decide what you want to write about in the chorus, the verses, the pre-chorus and the bridge. Here’s the song sketch I used to write Emoji Girl, one of my songs referenced above.
Example: Song Sketch for Emoji Girl
Verse 1: Meeting her, there are warning signs I didn’t notice
Verse 2: Finding the relationship shallow
Pre-Chorus: She’s distracted by her phone
Chorus: Loving an Emoji Girl
Bridge: How do I end the relationship and break up with her?
6. Edit Your Song
Write more ideas than you need for the song, then:
- Remove and delete everything that isn’t necessary
- Combine lines to simplify and improve how you are communicating your ideas
- Remove extra lines/ideas/lyrics and save them for another song
It’s harder to erase ideas and cut them out of your song, than it is to write them in the first place… but it’s a skill you can improve with practice.
7. Get Useful Feedback On Your Song
When you’re writing a song, it’s easy to get too close. You don’t realize problems that are obvious to someone listening to it for the first time. I was struggling with a song I was working on. I played it for my wife who noticed the pre-chorus was stronger than the chorus. I changed those sections and a chord so they fit together musically… problem solved in under 10 minutes (after I’d spent more than an hour trying to identifying what was bothering me about it)
The problem for most songwriters is finding someone who will give you an honest opinion with enough musical details to be helpful.
Step one: search the internet for a songwriting group in your area, and find out when and how they meet.
Step two: read Using Songwriting Criticism Constructively
How to use songwriting criticism so it is constructive instead of destructive… and recognizing and dealing with negativity so it makes you stronger!
8. Remember Songwriting is Haiku
Songwriting is closer to Haiku, than a novel or even short stories. You have time to explore one main idea, cut anything that doesn’t support this idea and save it for another song!
Song is Haiku: Summary
You can focus your song and fit everything you want into your song by investing some time in exploring song possibilities before writing the lyrics. Simplify your message and compress your lyrics to fit into a popular song form using some of these techniques: