The Hardest Part of a Song to Write

The Hardest Part of a Song to Write November 15, 2012

What’s the hardest part of a song to write, assuming you’re not a genius who can make up an entire song in three minutes (which is most of us)?
For my money, it’s the second verse. The chorus usually comes to you in your first blast of inspiration, so that’s the easiest part. After that the first verse, because you’re all full of things to say that build off of the chorus. Then a bridge is no big deal (if you need one), because you basically don’t need to do any more than come up with a short lyrical idea and put a key change on the end.

But the second verse can be surprisingly hard. Unless you’re writing one of those super-formulaic story-songs (highschool prom, married life, nursing home, done—love ya Mark Schultz), it can sometimes feel like you used up all your good ideas in the first verse and now you’re stuck. “Wait, you mean I have to come up with more than one new thought because unlike the bridge this is still verse-length?”
I’ve lost count of the number of partially finished songs I have floating around just because I haven’t found the time or the discipline to write that second verse. Even though it doesn’t even have to be as long as the first verse (most second verses aren’t).
Is there anyone who’d like to share his thoughts on this? I know I have songwriter friends who read, mostly lurkers (one I didn’t even know I had until she left a solitary negative comment—ain’t that how it is). You guys know you’re welcome to chime in at any time.

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  • I find myself using the first verse to set up the “problem” (for lack of a better term) that will be solved in the chorus. The second verse sets up the choice….the chorus already established what needs to be done, so do you follow what the chorus says, or do you take a different road?
    I know that’s awfully simplistic, but for me, it works.

  • Thanks for sharing that Kyle! I like your way of thinking. Many songs do seem to unfold that way. And even if a song isn’t a “story-song” per se, you’re still usually telling some kind of story, whether it’s going on an emotional journey, giving a testimony, whatever.

  • John Situmbeko

    I’m not a song writer, but I think the hardest part to write can depend on the type of song and the message in it. Non Christian songs, pop, hip-hop and R&B, can be written quite easily, the second verse can be as easily written as the first. For country the difficulty is increased. Christian music is the most difficult to write because one wrong word can ruin the whole thing.
    When it comes to southern gospel the chorus can be at times very difficult to write, this is very true of convention songs. Sometimes the writer has to write different lyrics for four or seven parts while making sure the words converge in various places, all in one chorus. Heavens Joy Awaits is one example, on that song I think more difficulty was encountered when creating the chorus than the second verse. The writer could have added a third verse with much ease. But even on non covention songs the chorus has the potential of giving a writer a headache. When it is added to a song it must be the center of the song. Anything said in the first or second verse must refer to the chorus to make the message complete. Other than that, the chorus must be more enjoyable to listen to than the verse, it must be encore-rable. The composer must strive to make the chorus’ more melodious than the verse.

  • You make a good point. I have never tried my hand at a convention-style song. I stick with the familiarity of a contemporary pop formula, or the occasional spiritual/hymn which writes itself.

  • Eugene McCammon

    My experience (I have written largely convention songs since the mid 1950’s) is that too many ideas are included in the first verse, limiting what can be said in an additional verse. A change of perspective for the second verse is sometimes helpful. In older days usually the first verse laid out the idea of the song, the second verse was an “application” verse with the third verse being of an invitational nature (if that would be appropriate).

  • And that is absolutely true. You need to leave room for expansion.