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Writing Our Hallmark Songs

Guest Blogger: Andrea Stolpe is the author of Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling (Berklee Press)
Recently I was standing in front of the Father’s Day card section at my local drugstore, trying to pick out a card that didn’t ooze with corny platitudes.  Forced rhyme, canned emotion, and seaside graphics littered too many of my options, so finally I settled on a good laugh rather than a heartfelt expression.
The very language used to express sincere devotion was instead working to expose my relationship for what it really was – flawed, less than ideal, and a work in progress. I couldn’t help but think how the same is true for so many song lyrics.  We start with a burst of inspiration, driven by intense feelings surrounding a place, person, or concept.  But more times than not, that emotion is not felt with the same intensity by the listener.  The feelings are so big, that to capture them we use generalized language, cliches.  But instead of inviting connection, we create distance.  Perhaps that distance is our safe defense to remain invulnerable.
The challenge a songwriter faces is bringing the listener into a moment so that in context of that moment those familiar phrases that are the language of our hearts feel intensely true again.  If I were writing a greeting card, it would probably start like those I passed up on the drugstore shelf.  But once all that general sludge oozes out, we can employ our songwriting tools to get more original material going.  Songwriters use the process of object writing to describe a pivotal experience or a poignant moment in time.  Taste, touch, sight, sound, smell, and movement descriptions paint a world for the listener (or reader) to walk around in.  It sets the stage for the listener to ‘feel’.  I like to let my mind wander while I’m object writing, reminiscing about a specific situation with my loved one.  My goal is to describe that moment so clearly that the listener can taste and touch and hear and smell and see as I did living within that moment.  Then, when the listener becomes so immersed in the scene that he’s forgotten about his own world, I whisper those sweet nothings that seem so cliche but utterly true.  So for now, I think I’ll let Hallmark provide the humor, but leave the genuine expression of devotion for my own writing sessions.
Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling
Write songs that sell! Hit-songwriter/educator Andrea Stolpe shares time-tested tools of commercial songwriting. Her ten-step process will help you to craft lyrics that communicate heart to heart with your audience. She analyzes hit lyrics from artists such as Faith Hill and John Mayer, and reveals why they are successful and how you can make your own songs successful too. Stolpe advises on how to: streamline and accelerate your writing process; use lyric structures and techniques at the heart of countless hit songs; write even when you’re not inspired; more!