On Songwriting: The Bigger Truth

Your job as a songwriter is not to simply relay a story as it actually happened. Sure, there are great real-life stories out there, but for the most part they need to be adjusted or embellished for a bigger truth.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

In a song of mine called “Small Town,” I sing:

My dad said,
“Kids, listen to your mother,
Treat her like you love her,
Look out for each other.
Someday soon,
When you have family,
You will know what I mean,
You will know what I mean.”

Now, did my dad actually say those words? No. I made them up. But did he say those words in the way he lived his life? Yes, absolutely. And that’s the bigger truth. That’s the message he delivered. Had I only been concerned about actual facts the lyrics would have gone something like:

My dad said,
Nothing much hardly ever,
But he bought my mom flowers,
Attended all of our sporting events,
Got up and went to work everyday.

As a songwriter, I would have put my listeners through a lot of awkward pain to listen to those lyrics being sung. It made more sense to have my dad say things I made up; like he was sitting us kids down and distilling his life into a few words.

Don’t just relay facts. You’re not a reporter, you’re a songwriter. Be less concerned with actual events to help your listeners see a bigger truth.