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How To Evolve Your Song Idea

How To Evolve Your Song Idea

Just having a hook or title isn’t enough.

Songs include a story line, perhaps a twist, and most importantly, a large idea.

So how do you get from a catchy hook or title to a full idea?

I thought I’d put together a few examples of some decisions you’ll think through as you develop your song idea, and include a great example from hit Nashville songwriter Brent Baxter.


Song Idea Roadmap


Joe Nichols & “Crickets

Songwriters:  Brent Baxter, Bill Whyte & Lisa Shaffer

In his weekly Man Vs Row newsletter, Brent Baxter highlights a few items he and his co-writers considered as they penned the song.


1  Is there competition for the idea on Music Row?


How original is the title or hook you’ve got, and do you think there are ideas around it being pitched in Nashville? Brent Baxter’s thoughts:  “I hadn’t ACTUALLY heard it written before, so I decided the idea was still up for grabs if we wrote “the” version of it.”


2  What kind of song is it?


You should consider what’s popular on air play, but also what the song is demanding.  Fitting a round peg into a square whole will likely not result in the best song.

Brent Baxter:  “. . . it’s about awkward silences. Given that subject matter, we felt it had to be pretty country and pretty funny. Neither of those . . . is the favored flavor at radio, but we figured it was best to serve that particular song.”

They also had to consider if a funny song, how funny?  While it could have been a novelty song, they felt “. . . if written right, (it) had a bigger potential market in mainstream country. So we decided to keep it more grounded and relatable.”


3  What’s the song’s basic storytelling structure?


To we tell one story or several?  Do your verses have separate short stories, or do you go with a single, linear story?

“We could have written each verse as a stand-alone funny story which led to a general chorus. But that’s also the obvious way to write it. . . . We decided to tackle the challenge of giving the song the “power of the present” – of diving into one story that has two or three “crickets” moments in a very compressed time frame.”

Why? “For one thing, “3-act play” story songs aren’t getting cut very much. The time frame of most songs right now is… right now. Plus, we figured that although it’d be harder and we’d have to be more creative, it’d be awesome if we could pull it off.”


4  Does your story structure have legs commercially?


They did several critical things to extend the song’s commercial potential:

” . . . made the song about one night, one story, to engage the listener more and not have to spend so much time on setting up each joke

. . . put it in the context of a love story – the biggest commercial subject

. . . made sure the awkward moments weren’t caused by the singer saying something that would be a radio-killer: something too offensive for mainstream appeal

. . . put the singer on BOTH sides of the crickets moment, which we thought was unexpected and fresh”


Songwriting Worksheet
Use the Song Outline Worksheet to help move from idea to song structure.

Example of a filled out version: Brandy Clark’s “Stripes”


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