Songwriters: Don’t Blow Your Set-up Line!

by Clay Mills
Oct 9, 2022

The set-up line is the line just before the title or hook of your song. It is probably the most under-valued yet crucial lyrical line of most songs.

Yet, I am constantly reminded in my mentoring sessions of how few writers are aware of this element of a song.

Here’s an example of a verse from “The Song Remembers When” by Hugh Prestwood; It has a great set-up line followed by the payoff line (the hook.)

We were rolling through the Rockies

We were up above the clouds

When a station out of Jackson played that song

And it seemed to fit the moment

And the moment seemed to freeze

When we turned the music up and sang along

And there was a God in Heaven and the world made perfect sense

We were young and were in love and we were easy to convince

We were headed straight for Eden, It was just around the bend

THE SETUP: And though I had forgotten all about it

THE PAYOFF: The song remembers when

I’m personally a student of great set-up lines.

It is one of the best ways to deliver an emotional punch to your song. And this songs sets up the title brilliantly. Even if the whole world forgot… the song remembers… Just WOW!

Conversely, a weak set-up line can leave even the best of titles lifeless. Mastering this part of your craft will dramatically improve your writing and the way your songs connect on an emotional level with the audience!

Write On!  ~Clay

Clay Mills

Clay Mills

Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.


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