This blog post was contributed by award-winning hit songwriter, Brent Baxter
“K.I.S.S.” in the music business usually stands for “Keep It Simple Songwriter.” And I tend to agree with that statement- especially when it comes to lyrics. Simple is usually the way to go. But it’s important that we don’t draw the wrong lesson from “K.I.S.S.” That would be the kiss of death. (I just can’t avoid a good pun.)
So, what IS the wrong lesson? That would be thinking just because simple songs fill up the airwaves, your songs need to be shallow, vanilla and meaningless. You might think that you can’t write deep, meaningful songs. Or if you do write deep songs, they need to be super-poetic and can’t use simple language because that would be “dumbing it down.” Those assumptions are simply wrong.
Your songs can be simple, but they aren’t helped by being simplistic. In fact, some of the biggest, most meaningful songs in country music have simple lyrics.
“The Dance,” written by Tony Arata and performed by Garth Brooks, is very simple. The lyric is not a brain-bender.
“And now, I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance.”
That song has changed a lot of lives. And those are simple, easy to understand lines. But the meaning is far from simplistic. Just because a lyric is easy to understand doesn’t mean it’s shallow.
Another example is “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” written and performed by Alan Jackson.
“I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love”
Simple. Plainspoken. But it deeply touched millions of people.
“Live Like You Were Dying” written by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols and performed by Tim McGraw is another great example.
"I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying
And he said, one day I hope you get a chance
To live like you were dying"
Another life-changing song. But it’s written in everyday language. Okay, maybe “Fumanchu” isn’t a word you say every day, but the lyric is very conversational.
I want to encourage you to use simple language when you write deep, meaningful songs. You don’t have to use big words to communicate a big idea. In fact, simple words and wording helps more people connect to your idea and actually “get it.”
Keep writing. Enjoy the journey.
ABOUT BRENT BAXTER
Brent Baxter is an award-winning hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US, a #1 in Canada, and a top 10 in Texas… so far. He teaches songwriters how to write like a pro, how to do business like a pro, and he connects them to the pros through his website, SongwritingPro.com and his podcast, “The C.L.I.M.B.” at theCLIMBshow.com.