The Power of One Word in Songwriting

Updated: Dec 13, 2019


Mark Twain once said the difference between a word and the right word is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

This power of one word to make a big difference is especially important in songwriting.

Songs have to make an impact on us immediately, and that impact has to match our mood at the time.

There’s a saying in Nashville songwriting circles that you need: the right song + the right artist at the right time to equal a hit.

The right song has to hit us where it hurts or get us off our feet within 10 to 30 seconds, or we as listeners are out of there, on to the next song.

There are a lot of lessons in this for the songwriter, because he and she are the ones who make the music we all listen to on the radio and on streaming.

There’s the artist we hear doing the singing, the musicians doing the playing, and all the studio engineers and producers behind the scenes from there.

But even further back, beyond the velvet curtain, or maybe standing right next to you in the ticket line, is the songwriter.

He sat by himself or with a trusted friend in a little cave like den where he watches the world around him, experiencing enough of life and pain to care, and enough formal writing or music training to be able to hold a pencil, and he writes.

He pours is probably a better word.

He pours his pain and his experience, and his quirky, odd, never quite fits in with anyone much attitude into a masterpiece of pop artistry that you and I dance to, get off to in our heads to places we’ve never seen.

The power of one word to affect that difference is tremendous.

Developing writer Brenda Register had this to say about a recent revision, “One word kept bothering me. Thought about it and changed 'baby' to 'maybe'. Then, I realized the song took on a whole different meaning with the simple change of one word.”

Using this same example, think of what iconic songs like Willie Nelson / Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” would have been if the title had been any other word.

Patsy Cline singing "Crazy" words and music by Willie Nelson. Links to licensed YouTube video.

In a world of subjective opinion and anything goes, it is nice to see artists take time to let words simmer, and exploring the best of what is possible through revision and careful examination.

This is the only way to avoid the classic, “last song is the best song” syndrome from which every writer suffers.

There are a lot of purposes and reasons for writing, and commercial songwriting is only one of those outlets.

In today’s marketplace, the non performing songwriter is at a decided economic disadvantage, not having the same base mechanical income as in previous years.

But as a recording artist, a person can utilize entrepreneurial skills to make a living wage at recorded music given the right plan and strategy.

In this sense, the most important word to the aspiring songwriter of all right now, and the difference in whether or not the songwriter can support a family as an independent is this: brand.

Do you have an example of the power of a word in your songwriting?

Please leave your comment below, or shoot us an email.

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