Use Some Sense(s): Conveying Experience

(click “more infos” for transcript)


Welcome to for a song. I’m your host, Cari Ray. And today, I’m coming to you from the cozy confines of my living room. Why the change of venue? Is it some mechanism to better create intimacy, to make me feel more comfortable and, as a result, more reflective or transparent maybe? Ah, if only that were the case.

I’m sitting here sipping a cup of steaming, honey-infuse herbal tea. There’s a fire in the little intrepid wood stove, spitting and crackling joyfully, and a hint of the earthy, singular scent of a wood fire fills the room. Light from two hanging lanterns does a lazy dance on the whitewashed wall across the room, a random snowflake floats and spins in the cool moonlight just outside the window, and a clear, glassy crust of ice lies over the lake just beyond. The whole scene is really rather the idyllic Brown County winter’s eve. Save one thing. The loathsome, ridged shell of fiberglass mesh staring down at me from high upon it’s perch of pillows. A cast running from my knee all the way out to the 5 determined little digits that wiggle in defiance now and then…just to prove they still can. It taunts me and my lack of mobility…snickers at my impeded sense of balance…scoffs at my pain. Okay, maybe it doesn’t scoff, exactly, but I bet you get the idea by now.

Which brings me to todays topic. For the story or message of a song to come across, the listener has to relate at some level…to “get the idea,” if you will. I don’t want my listener to have to work so hard to figure out what my song even means that they have no energy left to figure out what it means to them. Many lyrical variables make a song more or less relatable, but for now, let’s talk about our 5 senses…we’ll leave the 6th for later. And I’d like to use the start this segment to demonstrate what I’m talking about. You may have to go back and listen again, which you can do on my website or at When you do, you’ll notice that I described my surroundings with an ample compliment of adverbs and adjectives that speak to the senses. Smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and even a hint of the tactile. Granted, I went a little overboard for effect, but I think you’ll notice how easily you were able to plop yourself right here in my seat. Presented well, the sum of sensory detail transcends mere description to relate experience. That sort of communication is one of the differences between the poetic and the pedestrian.

Now, that’s not to say that spending an entire verse describing your lover’s eyelashes is an advisable approach. But I find that most fledgeling writers err strongly on the side of too little detail, so I guess I’d rather you start by going overboard if that’s what it takes. When writing lyrics, I often indulge my penchant for being overly descriptive, knowing that I can and will dial it back as the song takes shape. By doing so, I am able to push past the more obvious options to access something more unique.

Try it. Take a minute, sit down and be still…then describe your surroundings…better yet, describe how you experience your surroundings. I think you’ll find that, in doing so, you will strengthen your powers of observation as well as your ability to relay what you experience…and you’ll be well on your way to writing songs that better relate to your listener.