But it ain’t easy. In fact, it’s very very hard.
In my experience, one of the strangest things about songwriting is that it always feels difficult, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. Yes, you do get better at it, but every songwriter will tell you it’s still a baffling thing to pursue. Songs are elusive!
Over time, however, you do discover “tricks” – things to help you take more risks or work through mental blocks. One of my favorite songwriting tricks is doings VERSE EXPLOSIONS.
There’s probably a much better name for this exercise, but VERSE EXPLOSION is what I’ve always called them.It’s also very likely that this is something every songwriter knows, but for me, it’s been a huge benefit. Let’s hit the what, how and why of this songwriting trick.
WHAT IS A VERSE EXPLOSION?
A verse explosion is a refinement exercise, not a concept creation. Meaning, you do verse explosions when you “know” what the verse needs to communicate but can’t quite get the words to make it happen.
A verse explosion is multiples of the same verse. You sit down with a notepad or device and you try to write lots of versions of the verse in question. It’s equivalent to a brainstorming session – you’re trying to work out all the angles on a particular verse.
HOW DO YOU DO VERSE EXPLOSIONS?
I know what you’re thinking: “Todd, if I couldn’t finish one verse, how the heck am I going to write seven of them in a row?”
It’s not as difficult as it sounds, primarily because the process allows you to slowly expand the lyrical content. Doing this exercise isn’t done at your instrument – it’s purely a writing exercise that’s fueled by your thoughts, not groove or melody. (To be fair, you’ll have to tweak once you pick your instrument back up, but that’s the fun part!)
For your first verse explosion, keep a lot of what you originally started with. If there are two lines you like from your original idea, keep ’em and try putting some additional lines with those original lyrics.
For your second explosion, see if any of the new lines you just added spark an idea. Start a new verse with one of those new lines. Keep mining verses for “jumping off points” where you can approach the concepts in a new verse approach.
After you’ve got 4 or 5 verse explosions, see how far you’ve wandered conceptually. If your fifth attempt is still in sync with what you’re trying to say in the first try, that’s confirmation that you’re idea is still solid and that you’re working out the poetry. (However, if you’re other tries have taken the verse in a new direction, you might just have stumbled on a better concept overall!)
WHY USE VERSE EXPLOSIONS?
There are two reasons to try this exercise. First, your lyrics get more and more refined. With each version of the verse, you’re discarding words that aren’t working. You’re boiling the idea down and jettisoning those lyrics that don’t support the idea. In essence, it’s doing the “re-write” first.
Secondly, it’s encouraging. With each verse attempt, you’re seeing how many different ways you can say things. It opens up songwriting – suddenly you see how many different ways you can say the same thing. It adds freshness to what you’re writing.
So, the next time you hit a writing block, start exploding! That’s what I do!