Cleverness is like spice

songwriting song craft lyrics country music nashvilleA lot of songwriters love metaphors. Some of them love metaphors too much. One that I’ve seen over and over is “love is a gamble.” That is true and it’s a good comparison but all too often I see songwriters get carried away with it. They cram their songs full of gambling related terms like “let’s lay our cards on the table,” “I’m all in,” “holding a winning hand,” “let’s roll the dice,” “the stakes are high,” “it’s a good bet,” and “play our cards right.” Any one of them can be used effectively but when there are too many of them it distracts from the emotional content of the story. Instead of being a song about what is going on between two people it becomes a song about how cleverly the songwriter can use a metaphor. To me one of the best examples of how to do it right is the Garth Brooks hit “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House.” The first verse is full of gambling terminology – “lady luck,” “wild card man,” “real hot hand,” as well as the title. The title is used at the end of each verse, but other than that there are no gambling references in the second verse, bridge, or third verse. The second bridge says “perfect combination is her heart and mine,” and “we’re playing for fun but we’re playing for keeps,” but then the last verse has no gambling references other than the title. The rest of the lyrics paint a vivid picture of the interaction between the couple and brings them to life with real-world images. As listeners we are pulled into the story and the gambling metaphors add entertainment value. Cleverness is the spice you add to the stew. Too much spice ruins the dish. The meat of the song is the story, the emotion, and the relationship between the characters. It’s fine to base your song on a metaphor but if you spend more time trying to develop the metaphor than develop the story your song may end up sounding corny. The goal is to make your listeners feel something, not to impress them with how smart you are.