Often, when we get used to writing songs a particular way, we stop noticing which perspective we choose when we write. I remember when I first started songwriting, I would change up perspectives all the time, but now all my songs are almost exclusively in the first person. Here is an exercise I do when I am looking to change things up and go back to the fundamentals.
Step One: Choose the right song
This isn’t an exercise for songs that are only half-written. This song should be basically done, but needs something interesting.
Step Two: Highlight every word that refers to perspective
Go through each line of your song and highlight every pronoun. Consider what perspectives you could be using:
First person, “I” am talking to “myself” (much like a journal)
First person, “I” am talking to “you” (a love interest, a friend, family member, etc.)
First person, “I” am talking to “them” (who is this group of people?)
First person, “I” am talking to “unspecified audience” (who does not have to be defined)
Second person, “you” is talking to “him/her/them” (no “I” in this perspective)
Third person, “he/she/they” are talking to “he/she/they”
Step Three: Make sure all your pronouns match one perspective
After searching through your songs, if you’ve noticed that the pronouns have changed throughout the song, try changing them all to match one perspective in particular. Some consider it a “songwriting rule” that the entire song should only be from one perspective, but it really depends on the song.
Step Four: Try out every different perspective
Here’s the most important part: change every pronoun and line of your song to a new perspective. For example, let’s say you start with first person:
I could’ve done without all that
I think it might’ve been an act
Let’s try second person. You need to consider that you can’t completely be in this character’s head, because the implication is that you’re commenting on the outside.
You could’ve done without all that
Did you think it might’ve been an act?
Now try changing the perspective to third person:
He could’ve done without all that
She thought it might’ve been an act
Step Five: Use the perspective that serves the song
Notice how I introduced new characters in the example above. There is a storytelling advantage in third person that I would have had a hard time achieving in first person. In general, you want to use the most effective perspective in your song to properly communicate the story.
First person will be more intimate and journal-like.
Second person will be less intimate, but still personal.
Third person will be the least intimate but the most detail-oriented.