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3 Songwriting Points of View Every Songwriter Should Know

Jan 30, 2024

Point of view is a powerful lyric writing tool that songwriters often don't even think about. I think it's time that we change that, so let's talk about three songwriting points of view that every songwriter needs to know.

So the first songwriting point of view that every songwriter should know is direct address. And direct address is probably the songwriting point of view that we all have just defaulted to using, perhaps even to the degree that if you went through all your songs, you may realize that, "Oh, I've written every single song in direct address because it comes so naturally." But direct address would involve words like "I" and "me" as well as "you." Because in direct address, both the narrator and the person listening to the story are treated as characters in the story. So this is something like you speaking directly to your significant other in the context of a song. Phrases like, "Why did you leave me?" or "I'm never going to forget you" would be indicators of direct address. Because in that context, both "I" seem to be a part of the actual story being told, and "you" are a part of the actual story being told. There are many different ways as listeners that we can interpret direct address, but no matter which way we take it, it's going to be really intimate. Let's say it's a love song that I wrote. In that case, if you're listening to the song and I'm talking about how much I love you, it is either intimate because you think you are my friend and I'm letting you in to see this really intimate conversation between me and my wife, or you're putting yourself in the shoes of the "you." You're actually treating it like I'm actually speaking to you, or seen another way, maybe you see it as "I am your significant other" in the context of the song singing to you. Or you can put yourself in my shoes because you can relate to the feelings that I'm saying, so you're singing along pretending it's you saying these words to your significant other. So no matter which way you tend to read into the song, it's going to be something that is very, very intimate. So again, it's really easy to identify direct address if you see that there is an "I" or a "me" in the story and there also is a "you," that is an indication that it is direct address. And a great benefit of direct address is it's pretty easy to make this fairly emotionally powerful because it's so intimate.

Another songwriting point of view that everybody should know is third person. Third person is basically the opposite of direct address because neither the narrator of the story nor the listener to the story are characters in the actual story. So in third person you will never hear "I" or "me" and you also will never hear "you" because neither "you" nor "I" are actually in the story. Instead, it is a narrator who is outside of the story telling a story about other people to you who is also not in the story. You could almost think of this like a news story because the person actually reporting the story is not involved in the story and neither are you. You are just hearing them recounting what happened to other people. Some example lines that would indicate third person is something like "she is looking for someone to love her." We're talking about "she." There is no "you." There is no "I." We're talking about a third person that is not in our conversation. Or we could have something like "they are searching for home." We're talking about a group of people and again that group of people does not include me or you. So if direct address is the most intimate and most personal point of view, third person is sort of the opposite where it's the least intimate point of view. And your first impression may be like "Well Joseph, this is a song. Why would I ever want to go with that?" But one of the benefits you get with third person is you get to tell a story in a way that comes across as more objective. Because if I'm talking about some love story where I'm talking about me and you, you probably know that maybe I'm not a reliable narrator. And if I'm putting all the blame on you when our relationship doesn't work out, well, maybe I'm just telling my side of the story. Which of course makes sense because I'm probably deeply biased towards myself. But when we choose to tell a story in the third person it can come across as more objective. Because you don't have anything riding on it. What do you care about the he and the she in the story? Because you're just a third person narrator. You have no skin in the game or horse in the race or whatever phrase you want to use. In direct address if I paint you as the villain, well, you know, maybe that's just my point of view. But if I tell a story about he and she and just sort of tell the facts as they are, then I'm not really inserting my own view. And it just gives the appearance of a more objective narrator. Now of course since I have just one layer deeper, there are actually generally three forms of third person narrator. One is an omniscient narrator and this is if the person singing the song can actually see the character's thoughts. The easiest way to think about this is how often books are written. Where the author can kind of just sort of get into the mind of the main character, can get into the mind of the main character's girlfriend, and then get in the mind of the main character's mentor. That's an omniscient third person narrator because that narrator is well omniscient. Knows all. Then there's a limited third person narrator which is basically one that is not quite omniscient but still can see some people's thoughts. So in that case maybe the main character's thoughts the narrator can share. But when it comes to other people they just say what they do. They don't necessarily say what's actually going on in their brain. And then there's an actually objective third person narrator which is one that just says what happened. What he did, what she did, what they did. But doesn't actually say anything about what they're thinking or feeling because it's a limited objective narrator that just doesn't know. All they know is he did this to her. Doesn't know why he did it. Doesn't know why she responded the way she did. A third person objective narrator just knows the facts. So some benefits of third person narration is you can sort of pick and choose which characters you want to be able to get into their heads and reveal their thoughts. And which ones you don't want to do that with. Because sometimes a story may be more powerful if you reveal everybody's thoughts or if you just choose to reveal one character's thoughts. Or if you actually choose to not get into anybody's head. But instead just tell the story as it is and let the listener reach their own conclusion.

And a third point of view that I think every songwriter should know is first person. Which by the way is not the same as direct address even though a lot of people get them mixed up. So we mentioned how direct address has both an I or me in the story and a you in the story. In first person there is an I or me in the story but there actually isn't a you in the story. Seen another way the narrator or the singer is actually a character in the story but the listener isn't. You could think of this like me telling my wife a story about what me and my friends did back in high school. I am in the story but she my wife is not actually a character in the story because I didn't even meet her until I was in college. So it's still fairly intimate like direct address because it still is a story about me. But it's not as intimate as direct address because it's not me speaking to her about me and her. Instead it's me speaking to her about me and other people. So this creates sort of a middle ground for intimacy and like every other point of view it opens up different storytelling possibilities. Some example lines that might indicate first person would be something like I never figured out why she left me. Because in that case there's an I in the story but the you that I'm talking to you're not actually another person in the story. I'm telling you a story about me and someone else. Or something like they will never know just how much they mean to me. I'm talking about a they again not you and I'm talking about myself but you again are not actually a character in the story. I'm telling you a story about me and other people. I actually did whole podcast just dedicated to each one of these point of views so we could really dive super deep into each. But I just think it's important to understand these three main songwriting point of views at a high level. Direct address is I and me and you in that context both the narrator or singer of the story and the listener are actual characters in the story. And then for third person neither the narrator nor the listener are actually characters in the story. Instead the narrator is telling the listener a story about other people and then in first person the narrator is actually in the story. But the listener is not so there is an I but there is no you. There's just an I and then he she and they because I can tell a story about me and other people. But you aren't actually a character in the story as the listener. Each one of these can radically change the way you can tell a story which is to say nothing of the fact that we also can dive even deeper into third person. Whether it's an omniscient narrator an objective one or somewhere in the middle a limited third person narrator. So something you can do is just look through your songs and figure out what point of views have you actually used. Maybe you've never done third person or you've never done first person. It's highly unlikely that you've never done direct address but hey maybe you've never done direct address. Maybe for your next song take it as a challenge to actively try to tell a story with one of these other points of view. Or maybe if you have a lyric that doesn't seem to quite be working consider just trying to change the songwriting point of view. Maybe the story just isn't working because it doesn't work that well in direct address. But if you changed it to first person or third person maybe all of a sudden the story would work. Or maybe it's the opposite. You're telling this story in third person but instead it would be better to get more intimate and tell it in first person or get even more intimate and tell it in direct address.

If you've written lyrics before which you probably have you know that lyrics can be one of the most difficult parts of a song to get right. So if you want some help with getting your lyrics right and actually having lyrics that you can feel proud of be sure to check out my 6 step lyric writing checklist. Because it goes through the 6 steps that I go through. It's a process that I found from struggling through lyrics for years and years and years. And finally I came to a process that worked where I could repeatedly get pretty good results that I felt good about with my lyrics in a way that it's broken up into baby steps. Because frankly we are setting ourselves up for failure when we basically sit down and say "Improvise brilliant poetry!" Like that's a very hard thing to do. We don't just naturally think poetically because we don't talk poetically. Even those of us that maybe do use bigger words and people accuse us of like "Oh you use too many big words." Even people like that still aren't people that are just speaking poetry. So it's kind of unnatural and asking a lot of ourselves to essentially sit down and improvise poetry. It's much easier if we break it up into baby steps. That's what this free cheat sheet checklist is all about. It's a Thank you so much for watching. I appreciate every single one of you and I'll talk to you in the next one.

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