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Songwriting Series: Second Verse Curse

Updated: May 29, 2020

Most songwriters are familiar with the second verse curse: when you're deep in the writing process and come up with a strong first verse, a catchy chorus, and then you're left with a gaping void...

The second verse is where a lot of us get stuck, but there are a few tricks that can help you keep your creative momentum:

Move or refine the story with ONE idea

Second verses have the most potential to take your story down a wild rabbit hole, especially if you have writer's block. Be aware of where your second verse is leading your main idea and ask yourself, "Does this serve the song?"

If you find that your second verse has too many ideas in it, some awkward word choices, or thoughts that should be fleshed out in an entirely new song, be prepared to chisel them down until it's right. Getting back to the story and honing in on one idea is the best way to keep your second verse on track.

Some of the hardest songs to write are the ones that aren't linear. If your song isn't a "story" with a plot line to follow, you may feel like your second verse has no defined purpose. In those cases, focus on clarity. How can you refine or expand on your first verse? Can you describe an image from a new perspective? Can you show how your thoughts are evolving? Is there anything in the first verse worth repeating?

By moving or refining the story with one idea at a time, you'll be able to hone in your focus and trim the extra fat out of the second verse.

Write your second verse first

This is a trick I used in songwriting class all the time. If you have a habit of writing weak second verses, try taking your first verse (the strong one) and playing it second. Now, you've given yourself a challenge to write a stronger "first verse." You can always switch them back, depending on what your song needs, but this is a great way to trick yourself into writing better verses.

This works mainly because the first verse in a song typically carries more weight in a songwriter's subconsciousness, since it's theoretically the first thing people will hear. Somehow, our minds know that and want to make it strong so we can hook listeners right away. If we put the same pressure on the second verse, we can ideally get the same results.

Songwriters also tend to come up with a verse idea and automatically put it at the front of the song. If we change that instinct, we can start shaking our minds loose from those cemented ideas and make all our verses equally strong.

Change one musical element

You may feel like your lyrics are strong, but the second verse still falls flat. If that's the case, try changing one musical element to give your second verse a hint of change. It can be as simple as a chord substitution, an added riff, a break in the music, or an extra drum hit. These minor changes create moments that keep the listener engaged.

Never underestimate the power of a well-placed variation in your arrangement. Sometimes, it makes all the difference.

Don't rush the story

Remember that you can add as many verses as you need to tell your story. Pacing your story is important to create a consuming world for your listeners to live in.

Many songwriters tend to pace their ideas very well in the first verse, and then realize they only have one or two more verses to finish telling their story. That's when lyrics get rushed, language isn't as precise, and lyrics get crowded with syllables.

Make sure you've spent some time organizing your song and planning exactly how you want the audience to receive your story. Sometimes, you need to share more in verse one. Sometimes, you need to hold off and save some ideas for the bridge. Learning to listen to your song comes with time and practice, so don't be discouraged if you feel like you're still locking in your songwriting process.

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