Repetition, repetition, repetition – it's the key to learning, and also the key to success in songwriting. In order for something to get stuck in somebody's head, it not only has to be catchy, but they also have to hear it again and again.
Sometimes it can be tempting to change up the chorus lyrics each time — but here are three important reasons you shouldn't.
1. It's the most important part of the song
Ask any songwriter, and they'll tell you – the chorus, and especially the hook – is king. Consider any Top-40 song on the radio, and it becomes even more obvious. Most people identify the songs by the title (which usually is the hook) or maybe part of the chorus. There are exceptions, of course, but that's the general rule.
Now, imagine you're at a party and trying to get to know people. Imagine there's a guy that introduces himself to everyone but keeps changing his name each time he does. People will have a hard time identifying him. One person knows him as Greg, someone else knows him as Steve, yet another person knows him as Pete or Roger. It creates unnecessary confusion, and the same thing applies to your music.
2. Learning extra lyrics is kind of a chore
This is especially true if you're pitching the song to artists. Sure, they're gonna need to learn a couple of verses and a bridge. That's a given. But are they going to want to learn multiple choruses as well? Not only does this give them more work, but increases the odds that they mess up the song by losing their place – are they on the second chorus change or the third?
This is not to mention audiences, who will want to sing along. They're likely to get lost, too. It's a daunting proposition for both the artist and their fans. If they're already on the fence about cutting your song, it could very well be the thing that makes them turn it down.
3. Let the chorus be the chorus
The job of the verses is to tell the story, and the job of the chorus is to encapsulate that story and drive the point home — not necessarily exposition (that's the job of the verses)! If you've found yourself in a position where you need to change the chorus to further the story, it should be a red flag to you as a writer. If you find that your chorus isn't fitting all your verses lyrically, perhaps it needs to be re-written.
Try getting a little more general lyrically and leave the details to the verse. If you find the story changes too much between verse one and verse two, maybe you're moving the story forward too much – take a step back and see how you can make everything fit together.
In a perfect world, the chorus lifts melodically, is clear lyrically, and is unique and memorable while still tying the song together. I know it's a tall order, but that's the songwriter's job.
Are there exceptions? For sure. But there's a reason they aren't the rule. They may be amazingly well written, or have been that odd instance that it worked for the song. If you're still wanting to get creative with the chorus, there are ways to do so – you can change a word here or there and it's unlikely anyone will bat an eye. You can even double up the last chorus and add new lyrics, if you feel there's something compelling that needs to be said.
As always, don't let my advice dissuade you if you feel truly committed to a particular artistic vision. Art is notoriously subjective, and although there are certain norms that need to be followed in commercial music, sometimes someone comes along and shatters those norms. If you're got a vision like that, go for it! But sometimes you need to know the rules before you can break them.
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.