Free The Angel: Supporting Your Song’s Big Idea

your song's big idea

There is a famous quote by Michelangelo that says “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” That is a beautiful description of what songwriters must learn to do. We get a song’s big idea and we see the “angel” inside it. So we carve and carve until the whole world can see (or hear) what we saw from the beginning.

This line of thought can be particularly helpful to aspiring songwriters who are just learning how to craft a masterpiece song.

The most common problem when I mentor people through SongTown is that they include lots of information in their songs that don’t really support the big idea of the song.

They are leaving lots of “non-angel” pieces of granite attached to the angel.

The result is songs that aren’t clear and that obscure the view of the angel that the songwriter saw originally. Usually, when I see one of these lines, I ask the writer “How did you see this line supporting your big idea in this song?” Generally, the response is something along the lines of “I don’t know, but it rhymed.” Or “We thought it was a cool line.”

That is the songwriter equivalent of Michelangelo being asked why there was an odd lump of granite on the angel’s head and answering “I thought it resembled a squirrel, so I left it.” Settling for “non-angel” lines will KILL your song just as they would mess up your statue if you were a sculptor. Those lines take the listener out of your song, which usually means that they move on to something else. If you couldn’t see the angel well enough to clearly carve it out, neither will the listener.

So, how do you reveal the angels in those song ideas?

I start with a laser focus on exactly what it is I’m trying to say. The first step I take is to do a blueprint of what I intend to communicate in each section, with the chorus and my title being the core of my blueprint. (I wrote a book on my blueprint technique called “Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing”.) Basically, a blueprint is an outline that contains one complete sentence that communicates what you want to say in each section of your song.

So, if my title was “Let Me Down Easy” (which was a #1 song I wrote with Mark Nesler and Jennifer Hanson), I might blueprint the idea this way:

Verse 1 – Girl I’m on the edge of going over this cliff.

Chorus – If I fall, will you let me down easy?

Verse 2 – Once I kiss you there’ll be no going back.

Looking at the lyric, you can see how we carved the angel out in this song. Look for the big idea (the angel) for each section:

 

Let Me Down Easy


There’s a little moonlight, dancing on the sand

There’s a warm breeze blowing by the ocean as you’re taking my hand

You need to know where I’m standing now

That I’m right on the edge of giving in to you

And baby it’s a long way down

 

CHORUS:

If I fall, can you let me down easy

If I leave my heart with you tonight

Will you promise me that you’re gonna treat it right

I’m barely hanging on

If I fall, can you let me down easy

 

The scent of your perfume, floating in the air

You’re looking like angel lying on a blanket with your halo of hair

Those lips look too good to be true

Once I taste that kiss, I know what’ll happen

I’ll be at the mercy of you

 

Can you see the angel in each section? In this song, we built up to the big idea in each section, so you will see the angel emerge in the last line or two of the verses and the chorus.

In some songs, I start with the song’s big idea and then flesh it out. Either way works, but in this song, we wanted to set a scene with lots of visuals and then bring in our “angel”.

So, how do you apply that in your own songs. If you have done a clear blueprint, it’s easy to take your first draft of a lyric and compare it to your blueprint. Mark each line that doesn’t directly set up or support your big idea. If it’s heading off on a tangent, it’s not part of the angel and it needs to go.

Be especially careful that you don’t let desperation for a rhyme cause you to leave a big ugly lump of granite on the angel’s face. If you can’t say something that reveals the angel, then change your rhyme to something that works better. And learn to let go of lines that might be great or clever, but don’t give you a clear view of the angel.

If you can learn to clearly see the angel you are writing about and convert that into a blueprint, you’ve won half of the battle. The other half is simply staying true to the blueprint and carving away things that don’t contribute to or support it.

Write on! MD

Marty Dodson - pro songwriter/instructor - SongTown

Marty Dodson is a multi-hit songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing

6 thoughts on “Free The Angel: Supporting Your Song’s Big Idea

    1. Yes, Dave; Thank you, Marty..
      What you say here reminds me of a famous woodcarver where I grew up in Branson-Silver Dollar City, Pete Engler..
      He was asked how he carved a life size wooden horse?
      He replied” First you start with a big piece of wood, then carve away everything that doesn’t look like a horse!”
      Hahaha.
      Tedi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *