How to Engage Your Listeners with Your Song’s Opening LinesBy Anthony Cesari • Category: Songwriting Advice
The first few lines of your song may determine whether your listener sticks around for more, or bails out. While you want your whole song to be engaging, you really want to draw them in with an interesting opening.
Techniques like the use of metaphor, and engaging the listener’s senses will greatly help in bringing them into your story. Some artists have done a great job of bringing the listener into the story right off the bat. I’ll show you a few of my favorite opening lines and why I think they work so well.
“King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles
First let’s check out the first few lines of “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles.
Keep drinking coffee, stare me down across the table
While I look outside
So many things I’d say if I were only able
But I just keep quiet, and count the cars as they pass by
These lyrics set the “table” of this song well. She does a good job of painting the scene with her words. Phrases like “stare me down across the table while I look outside” and “I just keep quiet, and count the cars as they pass by” are fairly visual lines that draw you into the scene. They do a good job of picking up on the details going on around her that help us visualize what’s happening.
What I would have liked to see here, would be a little more description to some of this stuff. Talking about the heat of the coffee’s steam, or the sound the cars make as they passed by could have been an even more effective way of pulling our senses into the song.
She only gave us a four line glimpse into this opening scene, as she didn’t want this portion of the song to go on for too long. I realize one of the hardest jobs we have as songwriters is editing ourselves. Deciding what gets to stay and what has to go can be difficult, so overall this is a good opening.
“I’m Your’s” by Jason Mraz
Here’s another set of opening lines from Jason Mraz’s “I’m Your’s”
Well you done done me and you bet I felt it
I tried to be chill but you’re so hot that I melted
I fell right through the cracks
now I’m trying to get back
Again, these opening lines are very visual. He even sprinkles in some other senses when he says “you’re so hot that I melted,” so we can feel the heat. Then he goes further with it and takes the “melting” concept to “I fell right through the cracks.” It’s very easy to picture him physically melting, like an ice cube, and then slipping away through some cracks in a sidewalk.
Each line plays off the previous one well. The whole time the words are very visual, and he even starts to get into the other senses as well.
“Believe” by The Bravery
In the Bravery’s song, “Believe” they open the song with the following line:
The faces all around me they don’t smile they just crack
What a great metaphor. The idea of someone whose face is so rigid, that even if they attempted to smile, their face would start to crumble, is a great new way of looking at this. It’s a collision of two ideas that don’t otherwise belong together: 1. people who don’t smile, and 2. the cracking of something rigid. It found their common ground and tied them together nicely. As a result, we get a very visual line which, again, is crucial when writing your opening lines.
“Heartbreak Warfare” by John Mayer
Finally, one of my favorite opening lines happens in John Mayer’s “Heartbreak Warfare.” He leads with:
Lightning strikes inside my chest to keep me up at night
Dream of ways to make you understand my pain
Just like the rest of the examples we looked at, this one’s very visual. You can almost picture a bolt a lighting filling his chest cavity. But what’s so cool about this one is not only does it hit you visually, but it hits you organically too. Just by hearing that line, you immediately know that feeling in your chest he’s talking about, that wakes you up in the middle of the night in worry. He found a great way to put that feeling into words. So now, not only are you visualizing the lighting, but you’re feeling that sensation in your chest right along with him. It’s a great way to pull you into this song, right off the bat.
The line that follows, “Dream of ways to make you understand my pain,” isn’t as visual, but it’s a good follow up to the first line, to let you know what this song is all about.
Aside from just pulling the listener in from the very beginning, all of these opening lines are also giving a glimpse of what the rest of the song is going to be about. They’re not just their own individual elements that stand on their own (although they could be, if they needed to).
I know there are a ton of other great examples of opening lyrics that I haven’t discussed here. What are some of your favorites? I recommend taking a careful listen to some of your favorite songs that have opening lines that pull you in and never let you go. Write down those lines to give yourself a benchmark to work towards with your own writing. Analyze them and try to figure out why they draw you in. It can only help your own writing.
About The Author
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Anthony Ceseri is the owner of http://www.SuccessForYourSongs.com, a website dedicated to the growth and development of songwriters of all skill levels. Anthony’s writings appear as examples in the book “Songwriting Without Boundaries: Lyric Writing Exercises For Finding Your Voice” by Pat Pattison, an acclaimed lyric writing professor at Berklee College of Music.
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Anthony Cesari is Anthony Ceseri is the owner of www.SuccessForYourSongs.com, a website dedicated to the growth and development of songwriters of all skill levels. Anthony’s writings also appear as examples in the book Songwriting Without Boundaries: Lyric Writing Exercises For Finding Your Voice by Pat Pattison, an acclaimed lyric writing professor at Berklee College of Music.
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