Best Tip Ever: Using Metaphors to Build Song Ideas

Many popular songs utilize metaphors, whether we realize them or not. Dolly Parton’s famous song “Love Is Like A Butterfly” is one such example. She is not literally trying to say that love is like a large bug, rather she is saying something deeper, and something more emotional than that.

Songwriting is a complex, and complicated task, one that requires a great deal of talent, skill, and time. It is not something that requires a great deal of education of knowledge, but that does not mean that anyone can do it. Your education comes from experience, and from experimenting with new ideas and new techniques in order to find out what works best for you. Generating ideas can be a difficult process, and finding the right way to combine all of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions in your head into a coherent and successful song. One way to add some extra flair into your songs, and create depth, or even the illusion of depth, is to add metaphors. Metaphors describe one thing as if it were another. Metaphors are not meant to be taken literally, as they do not always make sense literally. Rather they are used as a figure of speech, in order to convey a secondary meaning.


Many popular songs utilize metaphors, whether we realize them or not. Dolly Parton’s famous song “Love Is Like A Butterfly” is one such example. She is not literally trying to say that love is like a large bug, rather she is saying something deeper, and something more emotional than that. Other examples include Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and The Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Listening to these songs, and really hearing the lyrics, focusing on the metaphorical points that the song is making can help you better understand the power of metaphor. A heart is not literally made of glass, but a person’s emotions can be fragile and sensitive to outside forces and interference. A guitar cannot cry, but a musician can express his emotions through his guitar. These metaphors can connect to your listeners on a deep emotional level.


But Why Use Metaphors When You Can Say What You Mean?


When you read the lyrics to these songs, many might wonder why not just say that you mean you have fragile emotions, rather than saying that you have a heart of glass? Because people connect to the emotions and meanings behind words more than they do to the actual words. The connotation of words often brings out more feelings than the denotation of words. Emotions are what drive the attachment and love of songs. Metaphors can express a wide variety of emotions without ever having to directly state what those emotions are. You can speak about love, addiction, partying, sex, anything you can possibly think of by using this figure of speech. The way you use metaphors will shape the way that people understand what you are trying to talk about. For example, love can be understood in terms of heartbreak or bliss, depending on the formation of your metaphor, and what words you use. “Heart of Glass” speaks on the fragility of love and the emotional state of the singer, leading you to believe that she had recently broken up, or was afraid to open up her life to someone else for fear of another break up. However, had Blondie choose to write, say, Heart of Steel, it would deliver a much different understanding. Heart of Steel would imply that she has sealed off her heart and her emotions from others, and that she will not let anyone else in. Each word that you decide to use will have a connotation, and must be carefully chosen.


Of course, you must be careful when using metaphors. Many metaphors are so popular and well used that they become boring, and do not have the same effect as they might have once had. Likewise, you must be careful about not writing a metaphor that no one will understand. You must find that fine balance between what is too cliché, and what is too hard to understand.


Metaphors Have No Limits


You can use metaphors in any aspect of your writing. A metaphor can take up a single line, or a whole song. Metaphors have a transformative power to take what you are trying to say, and take it up a notch. A love song can use a metaphor in the verse to make a point, or the entire song can be one long metaphor. It is all up to you. The beauty and power of words is that they can have a variety of meanings, and you can use this to your advantage when writing. You can use the ambiguity behind words to keep your listeners constantly thinking about the different meanings behind what you write. Of course, you do not have to give your listeners any firm clues as to what your metaphor is trying to say. That is, they can be non-sensical, and simply add unique phrasing to your song, or be too vague to determine what it really is about. One of the most well known examples of this is The Beatles “Yellow Submarine”. What is the yellow submarine? Listeners may never know for sure.


There is no limit when using metaphors in your writing, or to spur ideas for your songs. If you have an idea, you can write it.

The SongCat Team
About the Author
The SongCat Team

We believe in supporting artists of all levels of their musical journey, from the 40-year music business veteran, to the burgeoning songwriter who are looking to polish their craft. We also believe that creating professional, high quality, and expertly mixed recordings shouldn’t be limited to high budget record deals.

Popular Posts
Join our Newsletter

You can opt out any time.
You should receive an
automatic welcome email –
if not already subscribed.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

Follow Us
Want to Guest Post?

We're always open to guest writers on SongCat Blog, as long as the writing is high quality and a good fit with our style. All content must be original and between 1000 and 2000 words long. We don't guarantee to publish your submission, but we will review it and make a decision if it meets our requirements. We don’t pay for guest blogs. However, every guest author can submit a short bio with the article (about two sentences) they can link to their company, Twitter, blog, etc. By submitting a post to us, you are affirming that you are the author, and that the content has not appeared elsewhere in print or online.