What does that even mean?
In a nutshell, we have to take a big idea and make it small.
Very, very small.
The thing about songs is you’re aiming for about 3:30. Three and a half minutes. That’s just not a lot of time.
Let’s take making a phone call as an example.
Big idea: A Mom is calling her estranged daughter after years of them not speaking.
When I started out, I’d probably try to tell the whole story of a lifetime of mistakes. I might want to give examples of why the daughter doesn’t speak to her Mom anymore and give the listener the whole story. The problem is there’s not enough time. I’m going to lose my listener.
So what’s smaller?
Smaller Idea: Mom is sick and she wants to call to say goodbye. At least that gets us in a smaller moment and out of whole lifetime for context, right? I mean, now there’s a pressing reason for the call and something for them to specifically talk about.
Still, I want less.
Where is the most tension in this idea? What’s the one problem that I most want to solve here?
Even Smaller Idea: What if I wrote a whole song in which the Mom is dialing numbers on a cell phone? What if we used the whole lyric to talk about what’s going on in the Mom’s mind as she dialing 10 numbers on a phone? We could call it “Dialing”…or “Stupid Phone.” (ha)
Do you see how I took a big idea and reduced it to a small piece?
Take a big idea. Make it smaller. Make it smaller again.
As I told one of my mentoring students this week, this is when the craft of writing really shows up. It was one (and still can be) one of the toughest parts of songwriting. It’s normal for me to be in a session with a co-writer and one of will say ‘wait, we’re not talking about that so we don’t need to bring it up now.’
It takes practice.
It takes patience.
And you can do it!
Remember, if songwriting were easy, everybody would be doing it.