As a songwriter, I’ve never been short of general ideas for songs. I could be simply driving or washing the dishes when I’m hit with a cool hook for a chorus or a nice melody for a verse. Turning that idea into a fully-functioning four-minute song, however, can feel like stapling Jello to a tree.
For a long time, writing the second verse was a particularly forced and tedious part of the process for me. I always threw it in because it was a staple of conventional songwriting structure. The second verse became a home for mediocre lyrics that surfaced while writing the chorus and would have otherwise (and probably should have) been thrown out. It wasn’t until I became aware of the purpose of the second verse that writing them came easier to me. I even discovered that there are all kinds of ways the second verse can actually add a lot to the song.
Don’t let the second verse kill your vision for a great song! Here are why the second verse falls notoriously flat and three alternative ways you can approach them so that you can finally be rid of the dreaded “second verse curse”.
Why the Second Verse Falls Flat
Each section of a song has its own place and purpose. Our verses, chorus and bridge each move the story and energy of a song to a new place to keep the listener engaged. The first verse, like the exposition of a movie, introduces the listener to the problem. The chorus is the unifying message that brings the theme of the song home. So what do we do with that dreaded second verse?
Most people make the mistake of repeating the information given in the first verse with slightly different words. When we do this, we’re missing a golden opportunity to give our song more color and depth. It’s like watching a movie where the characters don’t grow or change throughout the film. It leaves our audience feeling like, “ok, so what?”
The second verse should give your listener new info that either moves the story along or gives greater depth to the emotion driving the song.
When done properly, the second verse will give your song more energy and emotion. How you approach the second verse will vary based on the content of your chorus, but there are some general “second verse themes” that can help us out of a rut when we’re not sure what to write. Here are three different ways you can approach your second verse to avoid writer’s block:
Reaction to the problem
What is the natural emotional response to the problem given in verse one? How do you feel about the problem? This is a great opportunity to pull out the classic writer’s device of “show not tell”. Give the listener greater insight into your inner world: do you feel trapped and powerless, or hopeful and optimistic? What sort of images come to mind as you put words to your emotions?
Solution to the problem
We know there’s a problem, but what are you going to do about it? What aspects of the problem have changed since we listened to the chorus? More importantly, how is the solution sensed? What emotions come up for you when you think about the solution?
A Different Perspective on the Problem
Is there another person involved that views the story differently? Maybe the listener gets insight to the other end of a breakup or an argument between friends. The new perspective could even be yourself months or years after the first verse with a fresh take on everything. Just be sure to make it clear to your audience that a change in perspective has occurred since the first verse.
Every element of your song should be working together towards one end goal—expressing your emotions! Unless you are creating music strictly for other writers and musicians, your listeners aren’t paying attention to the structure, phrasing, and well-crafted syntax. An audience remembers how a song made them feel. Don’t ever write a second verse just because you feel like you ought to. Your second verse shouldn’t cause the song to fall flat; you should include because, without it, the song would fall flat!
Have you fallen victim to the “second verse curse” in the past? Which aspect of songwriting consistently gives you writer’s block? Let me know in the comments below!