Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ambiguity vs. Clarity

At songwriters group a question came up on ambiguity vs. clarity. In one song the author wanted to let people wonder what had happened to the main character. However, to listeners (and on reading the lyrics) it left too many questions and made the interpretation difficult. In other songs, strong phrases like "corporate greed" and "lump on the breast," stood out. Since these weren't the main points of the song, I suggested using weaker lines. This turned out to be an interesting discussion with some points below:

1) Do you want your song to be understood when folks listen once (i.e. during a performance) or do they need to hear it multiple times (on a CD)? For the one shot, reduce the ambiguity - for a CD you can make people wonder more.

2) Do you need the listener to care what you're saying for the song to be effective? How many great songs are there out there where you have no clue what the artist is trying to say?

3) Clever lines vs. a story. Some artists just string together a series of clever phrases and don't aim for the story. It's the phrases that you remember.

4) Does a line or phrase stick out and stop the flow of the song? If it's one that will be remembered, does it reflect the main point of your song?

Ambiguity is something to be aware of and use to your advantage. It can add color to your song and make it interesting, it can also hide your message. As the songwriter, know where you're going. Does the listener?

The best part is that there's no real right or wrong answer.



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