To improve your songwriting, start using metaphors that turn imagery and emotion into catchy lyrical hooks

The goal of your music is always to get listeners coming back for more, and when it comes to catchy lyrical hooks, short and memorable is the name of the game. There’s no better way to masterfully create catchy lyrical hooks than with metaphors that use efficient word choices, evocative imagery, and familiar emotions.

Metaphors in music

One of the most powerful tools in writing is the metaphor: a comparison of two subjects without using the term ‘like’ or ‘as’. Lyrics that contain metaphors can create strong, unique imagery that resonates with the audience without the need for long, drawn-out descriptions. The impact of metaphors in your music is perhaps most important in lyrical hooks, which need to pack both meaning and simplicity into a memorable refrain.

Let’s look at a famous example

Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” is a musical metaphor masterclass. After using the verse to ask a number of abstract rhetorical questions about life, Dylan responds with the chorus: “The answer is blowin’ in the wind”. In seven short words, he uses a metaphor to successfully articulate a deep concept – a world where the answers to life’s questions are there, swirling around you but hopelessly beyond your grasp. It clearly describes a familiar feeling, evoking emotion in the process. Imagery, simplicity, and emotion through metaphor make this one of the most famous lyrical hooks in modern music.

More great lyrical hooks that use metaphors

  • “I chose my own fate—I drove by the fork in the road and went straight” – “Renegade” by Jay-Z
  • “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone—It’s not warm when she’s away” – “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
  • “You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes—And your smile is a thin disguise” – “Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles
  • “I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run” – “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden
  • “Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday” – “I’m Coming Home” by J Cole

Types of metaphors

In its most basic structure, a metaphor can be figurative or possessive. Figurative metaphors create a direct comparison between a subject and a symbol. Possessive metaphors create an indirect comparison of a subject to a symbol using a third element. Let’s see both types of metaphor in action.

Figurative metaphor (direct comparison)

“I am a mountain, weathering the storm
It takes more than ice and wind for you to break my form”

This figurative metaphor directly compares the subject (“I”) to the symbol (a mountain). The emphasis is on being like a mountain, using additional context to describe how they’re similar (they both weather the storm). This metaphor leaves little room for interpretation because it outright states that the subject is the symbol.

Possessive metaphor (indirect comparison)

“Hit after hit, I weather the storm
It takes more than ice and wind for you to break my form”

This possessive metaphor indirectly compares the subject to the symbol by emphasizing how they’re similar: they both “weather the storm”. Here, the storm is the third element that creates an indirect link between the subject and the symbol. This metaphor leaves more room for interpretation as it doesn’t explicitly mention the symbol (the mountain).

Bob Dylan’s “The answer is blowin’ in the wind” is also a possessive metaphor as it indirectly compares the subject (an answer) to the symbol (a leaf, paper, or something similar) by describing how they’re both affected by the wind.

Improve your metaphors

The best way to get better at writing metaphors is by practicing. Here’s an easy and effective five-step exercise you can try out. We’ve reverse-engineered “Blowin’ in the Wind” to illustrate how this exercise works.

1. Pick a subject to write a metaphor about and describe it with an adjective.

Example: The answer to life’s biggest question is evasive.

2. Write down a list of comparisons that could be described with the same adjective.

Evasive like a cat hiding under a bed

Evasive like a slippery bar of soap

Evasive like a leaf blowing in the wind

3. Pick the comparison that best describes your subject and add it to the end of your sentence from Step 1.

The answer to life’s biggest question is evasive, like a leaf blowing in the wind.

4. Turn your sentence into a metaphor by removing the words “like” and “as”, and make it shorter by removing any unnecessary words. Try out different variations.

The answer is a leaf blowing in the wind.

The answer is a leaf.

The answer is blowing in the wind.

5. Pick the metaphor variation that works best for your lyrical hook.

The answer is blowing in the wind.