The Mighty Pronoun: The Little Big Word
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Murphy's Laws of Songwriting: The Mighty Pronoun - The Little Big Word

Many times, in trying to get the listener's attention, writers will fixate on song-crafting devices such as story, story development, metaphor, alliteration and imagery, while forgetting to pay attention to the little personal pronouns. HE, SHE, IT, THEY, THEM, US, WE, I, YOU, and ME may not look like much, but they define who does what to whom. They also can affect the writer's marketablity and, therefore the value of his or her work.

First- and Second-Person: The Favorites

When seized by an idea, most male writers, upon sitting down to sketch out a scenario for a song, almost automatically start off with "She did or said this or that." For women, it is often "He did this or that." Once the character and the type of relationship evolve, it often becomes necessary to change the pronoun. For instance, if the song describes an intense, one-on-one relationship between the singer and another person, the pronouns used are a first- and second-person: YOU, I, ME, US and WE. This frees the third-person pronouns HE, SHE, IT, THEY, THEM to be used as outside influences that compliment or come between, YOU, I, ME, US, and WE. For an example, "I love YOU, but THEY say that we can't make it." The song becomes more personal when YOU and I are used.

Third-Person Is Best In Some Cases

Remember that songs are vehicles for singers who want to communicate with their audiences. When an artist leans over the footlights, and sings "I love her" -- who cares? But if the message is "I love YOU" -- a rapport is established.

Some exceptions to the rule are as follows:

  1. If the song is about a total loser, it will definitely be third-person: HE or SHE. No star is going to stand on stage and describe him or herself as a jerk unless it is so tongue-in-cheek that the listeners know that it's a joke.

  2. At seminars or new writers nights, I often hear songs in which the singer is supposed to be a grandparent. Wrong! If you want to get a song like that recorded, it has to be third-person: "Good old Grandpa, HE was... " or "Good old Grandma, SHE did... " In the business of grooming artists, image is everything. The words "youthful" to "mature" are used to describe performers with a record deal. You only become old when you get cold and no major label will touch you with a barge pole.

  3. When a relationship is really over forever, the pronoun is third person. HE or SHE. For an example, "SHE's about as gone as a girl can get." If any love or hope lingers, however, then the pronoun will be second person: YOU. For an example, "I know YOU're gone forever, but in MY heart... " (I refer to this as the "Bozo Finds Love And Won't Let Go" Syndrome. It has been observed that Bozo the Clown and people in love sometimes have a lot in common.)

  4. When the singer performing the song is using the audience as a confidante or is telling a friend about a great relationship, it's third-person: SHE or HE. For an example, "He's so wonderful."

  5. When one of the characters in a HE or SHE song has a conversation with someone within the song, the pronoun can switch to second-person: YOU. For an example, in John Ims' "She's In Love With The Boy," Mama says in the third verse: "My Daddy said YOU wasn't worth a lick." In The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home," they go to "WE gave HER all of our love."

Fight to Avoid Switching

The only really major no-no in the use of pronouns occurs when the characters are third-person (HE or SHE) in the verse then suddenly switch to first- or second- person (YOU, I or ME) in the chorus, or vice versa. I would imagine that any writer worth his or her salt would have seen that information written in block letters three feet tall and underlined in red, so I won't go into that any further.

 

Write a hit!

murphy6

 

© Copyright 2003 Ralph Murphy


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