How to Craft Memorable Songs: The Power of Sensory Writing

For many songwriters, crafting the perfect lyrics can be the most daunting aspect of song creation. Musicians may find it easier to express themselves through melody and harmony than through words. Even those who start with poetic prose can find the task of blending those beautiful words with melody and groove a truly daunting challenge. The result often feels like a patchwork creation, a Frankenstein's monster of sorts. We yearn to finish a song without letting the lyrics become a barrier to the joy of writing. But fear not, there is hope for those who feel lyrically challenged. 

The key, as with any skill, lies in daily practice. However, instead of simply churning out lyrics each day, we can employ a powerful tool to sharpen our ability to recognize great lyrics when we encounter them. This tool is sensory writing, the very essence of compelling storytelling across various artistic mediums. Improving our sensory writing skills can help us create meaningful lyrics that connect with our audience.

Sensory Writing


Sensory writing is like painting a vivid picture with words, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the world we create. By incorporating sensory elements such as sight, sound, smell, touch, movement, and even taste, we breathe life into the experience. Consider the following examples:

She felt desperate and cold. 

She was sad,

and overcome with hopelessness.

Compare this to: 

She sat slumped against the kitchen cupboards,

metal hinges stabbing into her back,

robe draped across the floor,

cold kitchen tiles pressed against her calves, 

and hot tears streaking down her cheek.


Example 1  uses "telling" language, while example 2 uses "showing" language. The second example shows us the woman in the midst of her pain, allowing us to empathize with her situation, while the first merely tells us how she feels.



Balancing Showing and Telling in Songwriting


Both showing and telling language are significantly important in songwriting. Different genres of music engage listeners with varying degrees of these approaches. For example, a country song may transport the audience to a dimly lit bar, gazing at a glass of whiskey on the rocks while stamping out a cigarette. On the other hand, a pop tune might provide a more open-ended experience, allowing the message to resonate from multiple perspectives. Regardless of our lyric style and preferences, two crucial concepts must be grasped:

1. Matching Lyric Writing Style with Musical Intent:
Understanding how our lyric writing style aligns with our musical intent is the first step towards clarity. To describe the scene our music creates, we need to use showing language. Igniting authenticity in the overall experience ensures that the lyrics avoid coming across as contrived or "cheesy."

2. Meeting Commercial Goals with Appropriate Lyric Style:
For those writing with commercial purposes in mind, aligning the lyric writing style with the target market is paramount. This means tailoring the language to resonate strongly with the intended audience and genre.

To achieve this clarity, it's essential to explore the elements that resonate most with our audience. Feedback and compliments can be indicators of what makes our music powerful. If the lyrics are not yet a driving force in our songs, learning to identify and employ descriptive language can boost emotional engagement. Moreover, mastering the balance between descriptive and non-descriptive language allows us to tailor our approach to specific genres, artists, or pitching purposes.

Ultimately, as songwriters, our goal is to captivate our audience with lyrics that complement and amplify the magic of our music. Understanding the nuances of showing and telling language empowers us to wield this powerful tool to its full potential, leaving a lasting emotional impression on all who listen.

In lyric writing, we can use sensory language in two ways: concrete and literal or figurative and abstract. The former paints a fixed time and place, whereas the latter captures feelings and thoughts, allowing for a more flexible interpretation. Sensory language gives lyrics substance and distinctiveness, making them more memorable and relatable to the audience's experiences.

Sensory Writing in Practice


When our lyrical style veers toward the concrete and literal, we find ourselves immersed in a world of vivid imagery. We meticulously construct scenes where characters are firmly planted within distinct moments in time. Consider the following:

The cold has entrenched itself within this town,
In patches of snow strewn along the road,
The ditches bear the imprint of weariness,
As if tending to bruises from unseen blows.

While driving home at the break of 5am,
Amid the slumbering stoplights, glowing red,
You roll into my thoughts, unbidden, unwelcome.

This lyric immerses the singer within a specific time and space, etching an unchanging landscape in the minds of listeners. Its tangibility is absolute, its immovability certain.

However, when our approach shifts towards the figurative, the abstract, or the metaphorical, a dynamic shift occurs. Time and place become malleable, offering flexibility to the narrative. In lieu of constructing a scene, we distill emotions and thoughts:

Do you dream like me?
Do you clutch the sheets
Like the throttle of a jet plane?
When the darkness envelops you,
And your mind fixates
On the chaos that is your life,
Do you wander the halls,
Imprisoned by it all
Pouring hours into a living hell?
Don't you know the world I know?
Don't you live yourself inside a cell?


Here, the focus is on sensations and musings, unveiling a different facet of our lyrical prowess. We continue to wield sensory language, but its purpose metamorphoses. We frame our song's concept through the prism of the tangible and concrete, allowing the lyric to retain a cohesive identity while breaking free from the constraints of who, when, and where. There isn't a tangible jet alongside the singer in this scenario; it's a metaphorical construct. Yet, the jet serves as a conduit, conveying the emotions of power, urgency, passion, and risk that the singer experiences during their dreams. The listener finds resonance in their own life experiences, and the lyric's substance, thanks to its sensory language, becomes indelible and distinctive.

This approach thrives in synergy with visual mediums. The lyrics concoct a rich, vibrant musical tapestry that harmoniously accompanies the visual narrative.

Practicing sensory writing for just 10 minutes a day can yield significant improvements in lyric crafting. Whether we choose to use descriptive language extensively or not, this practice enhances our ability to assess good telling language, leading to more discerning and impactful lines. Ultimately, we gain confidence in the messages we convey through our lyrics.

So, embrace the power of descriptive writing, stay creative, and let your lyrics weave captivating stories that touch the hearts of listeners.


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songwriting


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