Garnish Music Production School | Los Angeles

Lyrics

An Introduction to Lyric Writing

 

In these days of computers, dance beats and ring tones, it would be easy to think that the words of our songs don’t really matter as much as, say, back in the 1950s. No-ones listening, who cares what you say?

 

Well, I’m afraid that nothing could be further from the truth, song words are more important now than ever before. You need only consider the most influential musical style of the late twentieth century, Hip Hop, and its most popular form ‘rap’. This style is built on the most minimalist of musical arrangements and a vocal that in essence is performance poetry. Lots of words, all of them good hopefully

 

And A and R guys often decide whether they are going to use a song based on its lyrical content, sometimes ignoring the arrangement completely. These people can smell a weak lyric a mile away; they hear so many of them every day! They have to match their artists with songs that are suitable, the lyrics of which must complement the public perception of the artist. The artist must be comfortable with the lyric too; no one would ask Victoria Beckham to sing “Tulips from Amsterdam” right now. Or maybe…

 

Ultimately it will be the artist who will decide whether to sing your song or not. And the thing that can most easily put them off is a weak or inappropriate lyric, whether you’re writing for the singer in your band, Madonna or even the Cheeky Girls. Every artist and her manager is acutely aware of the impression given to the audience by their choice of song, the artist’s ‘brand image’ is their most valuable asset in this age of international media.

 

So, Tom Jones is unlikely to sing a song about how he is young and in love, Robbie Williams probably won’t sing a song about how much he loves his girlfriend, Pink might not be keen on a song about a puppy dog. Similarly, even if you’re only writing songs for yourself to sing, it’s a good idea to have some insight into how you come across. Imagine that you are playing a gig and your first three songs are about how you would like to ‘love my woman all night long’. Your audience may find it a little difficult to take you seriously if you then sing a song about the horrors of the conflict in Kosovo.

 

By the same token, there are only so many songs you can sing about “getting on the dance floor” or “throwing your hands in the air” before your audience gets mightily irritated with you. You must keep them interested, which of course keeps them coming back to your gigs, buying your records, and keeping you in fast cars.

 

Read on to find out how….

 

Song concepts

 

Every song has to be about something. Just like a novelist writing a book, or a journalist writing an article in a newspaper, a songwriter must have something to say, a story to tell, a message. We can divide the breadth of song concepts into some smaller sub sets:

  • Story Songs
  • Love Songs
  • Descriptive songs
  • Situation songs
  • List songs
  • Inspirational/Instructional songs

 

Of course, there are other song concepts but these are by far the most popular kind of songs around today. You’ll tend to find that every song in the top 40 falls into one or more of these categories. Let’s discuss a few of these concepts; we’ll deal with the remaining ones later in the course:

 

Love Songs

 

More songs are written about this subject than any other by far, every songwriter will one day write a song about love. The most successful songs are about love; almost everybody in the world has a song about love that they love themselves. Fair enough, but then hasn’t everything that could possibly be said about love been said already?

 

Well, definitely not. Love is infinitely complex and difficult, and there are as many different aspects of love that you can write about, as there are human beings in the world. Remember, every person in the world feels love about something at some point; consequently it’s the ultimate ‘common denominator’ song concept. Having said that, the world needs another ‘baby crazy’ song like it needs global warming! So in order for your song to be successful it is essential that you have a fresh angle on love when you write your own love song. Here are some examples of love songs with interesting angles:

 

When I’m Sixty Four’ by the Beatles

 

The song is basically a question; ‘will you love me when I’m old’?

 

When I get older losing my hair,

Many years from now.

Will you still be sending me a Valentine

Birthday greetings bottle of wine.

If I’d been out till quarter to three

Would you lock the door.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four.

You’ll be older too,

And if you say the word,

I could stay with you.

I could be handy, mending a fuse

When your lights have gone.

You can knit a sweater by the fireside

Sunday morning go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,

Who could ask for more.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four.

Every summer we can rent a cottage,

In the Isle of Wright, if it’s not too dear

We shall scrimp and save

Grandchildren on your knee

Vera Chuck & Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,

Stating point of view

Indicate precisely what you mean to say

Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form

Mine for evermore.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

When I’m sixty-four.

 

“Everything Reminds Me of Her” by Elliott Smith

 

Elliot is apologizing to his friends for being distant but he is distracted by a memory of an old girl friend.

 

I never really had a problem because of leaving

But everything reminds me of her this evening

 

So if I seem a little out of it, sorry

But why should I lie?

Everything reminds me of her

 

The spin of the earth impaled a silhouette of the sun on the steeple

And I gotta hear the same sermon all the time now from you people

Why are you staring into outer space crying

Just because you came across it and lost it

Everything reminds me of her

Everything reminds me of her

Everything reminds me of her

 

“Every Breath You Take” by The Police

Describes a sinister, obsessive love in simple gentle terms.

Every breath you take

Every move you make

Every bond you break

Every step you take

I’ll be watching you

Every single day

Every word you say

Every game you play

Every night you stay

I’ll be watching you

Oh can’t you see

You belong to me

How my poor heart aches

With every step you take

 

Every move you make

Every vow you break

Every smile you fake

Every claim you stake

I’ll be watching you

 

Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace

I dream at night I can only see your face

I look around but it’s you I can’t replace

I feel so cold and I long for your embrace

I keep crying baby, baby please

Oh can’t you see

You belong to me

How my poor heart aches

With every step you take

 

Every move you make

Every vow you break

Every smile you fake

Every claim you stake

I’ll be watching you

Every move you make

Every step you take

I’ll be watching you

 

Situation Songs

 

The situation song is very similar to the story song, except that the singer (or protagonist) remains fixed in the situation. It does much more than just describe a person or a place. It creates a dramatic situation and tells only part of a story by painting a dramatic scene. Often, our hero is trapped in a desperate situation.

 

“Family Portrait” by Pink

 

Momma please stop cryin’ I can’t stand the sound

Your pain is painful and its tearin’ me down

I hear glasses breakin as I sit up in my bed

I told dad you didn’t mean those nasty things you said

You fight about money’ bout me and my brother

And this I come home to’ this is my shelter

It ain’t easy growin up in World War III

Never knowin what love could be’ you’ll see

I don’t want love to destroy me like it has done my family

 

Can we work it out? Can we be a family ?

I promise I’ll be better’ Mommy I’ll do anything

Can we work it out? Can we be a family?

I promise I’ll be better’ Daddy please don’t leave

 

Daddy please stop yellin’ I can’t stand the sound

Make mama stop cryin’ cuz I need you around

My mama she loves you’ no matter what she says its true

I know that she hurts you’ but remember I love you’ too

I ran away today’ ran from the noise’ ran away

Don’t wanna go back to that place’ but don’t have no choice’ no way

It ain’t easy growin up in World War III

Never knowin what love could be’ well I’ve seen

I don’t want love to destroy me like it did my family

 

Chorus 

 

In our family portrait’ we look pretty happy

“let’s play pretend’ let’s act like it comes naturally

I don’t wanna have to split the holidays  I don’t want two addresses

I don’t want a step’brother anyways

And I don’t want my mom to have to change her last name

 

In our family portrait we look pretty happy

We look pretty normal’ let’s go back to that

In our family portrait we look pretty happy

“let’s play pretend’ act like it goes naturally

 

 

 

Situation songs can work well, can grab people’s attention and give a writer an opportunity to write about some important subjects. They can be very enjoyable to compose too.

 

List Songs

 

Sometime you’ll find that when you’re looking for inspiration, you automatically start making lists of things; it could be your own shopping list, a string of girls names, maybe a list of all the countries you’ve visited where they drive on the left side of the road.

 

Often these lists can be the starting point of a really fresh, interesting lyric. They can give you, the writer, a great way to gently expand on a mundane topic and also interest the listener by introducing a new or novel angle on a familiar subject. Here’s a classic song that does just that:

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

She” by Charles Aznavour

May be the face I can’t forget

A trace of pleasure or regret

May be my treasure or the price I have to pay

She may be the song that summer sings

May be the chill that autumn brings

May be a hundred tearful things

Within the measure of the day.

 

She

May be the beauty or the beast

May be the famine or the feast

May turn each day into heaven or a hell

She may be the mirror of my dreams

A smile reflected in a stream

She may not be what she may seem

Inside a shell

 

She who always seems so happy in a crowd

Whose eyes can be so private and so proud

No one’s allowed to see them when they cry

She may be the love that can and hope to last

May come to me from shadows of the past

That I remember till the day I die

 

She

May be the reason I survive

The why and where for I’m alive

The one I’ll care for through the rough and rainy years

Me I’ll take her laughter and her tears

And make them all my souvenirs

For where she goes I got to be

The meaning of my life is she

 

As you can see, this song is a list of the amazing attributes of a woman, or maybe a series of different women. Of course, we could also describe this as a love song but it is unusually fresh, memorable and you either love it or it drives you insane!

 

Here’s another example of a list song. In this case you could be forgiven for not even noticing the listing quality of the song, but its there in every verse. Bono is telling us that he wants something very simple, but you (as in the woman he’s singing this to) want lots of exotic things, which he kindly lists for us.

 

“All I Want is You” by U2

 

You say you want

Diamonds on a ring of gold

You say you want

Your story to remain untold

 

But all the promises we make

From the cradle to the grave

When all I want is you

 

You say you’ll give me

A highway with no one on it

Treasure just to look upon it

All the riches in the night

 

You say you’ll give me

Eyes in a moon of blindness

A river in a time of dryness

A harbour in the tempest

But all the promises we make

From the cradle to the grave

When all I want is you

 

You say you want

Your love to work out right

To last with me through the night

 

You say you want

Diamonds on a ring of gold

Your story to remain untold

Your love not to grow cold

 

All the promises we break

From the cradle to the grave

When all I want is you

 

You…all I want is…

You…all I want is…

You…all I want is…

You…

Writing Lyrics to Melodies in the Public Domain

 

Songs in the public domain are rich pickings for songwriters. Countless hit songs have be re-writes or adaptations of old songs, here’s some examples:

 

Artist                Song                Was Originally

 

Elvis Presley            “It’s now or never”        “O Sole Mio”

The Farm            “Altogether Now”        Pachebel Canon in “D”

Simon and Garfunkel    “Scarborough Fair”        Traditional

Robbie Williams*        “Millenium”            “You Only Live Twice”

 

 

These men are very rich indeed, but each will die one day

 

Many of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous and successful tunes are adaptations of melodies from classical pieces. You can find numerous references to this all over the internet, try ‘googling’ for some of these when you get a moment, it’s quite revealing and inspirational.

 

Some writers might shy away from this technique for writing a song, thinking of it as ‘cheating’ and being un-original. Personally speaking, I have a lot of sympathy for this position but I would point out that it’s just a more conscious and considered way of writing an accessible song. After all, it is impossible to write a pop song that is 100% original. If you have managed to write a song that is completely original, having no likeness to anything that has gone before, then your song will be totally unfamiliar to your audience and they’ll reject it! Thus, it will not be a popular song. Your only audience is likely to be academics that will spend years trying to work how you wrote a completely original song…

 

Rap does it too…

 

Also, almost every rap record from the 1980s and 1990s uses a version of this technique. The artist writes a new lyric (rap) over a loop of a pre-existing song, thus creating a new song that has the holy grail of popular song–writing: the combination of something familiar with something new. Here are some examples:

 

Artist            Song                Was Originally

 

Will Smith        “Summer Madness”…. by Kool and the Gang”

Eminem        “Stan”            “Thank You” by Dido

Puff Daddy        “Missing You”    “Every Breath You Take” by the Police

Robbie Williams    “Rock DJ”        “It’s Ecstacy” by Barry White

 

Please bare in mind that all the artists mentioned above needed to pay for the use of these songs in their new composition. The Verve had a huge hit in 1997 with ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, but lost all the song writing income by sampling an orchestral version of an old Rolling Stones song. Be very careful out there; if your song does well you will be caught and you will be sued.

 

A couple of thoughts….

 

So please make sure that if you do write a song or a lyric based on an old melody, that you are 100% certain that the song is in the public domain. In the UK, that means that the last surviving writer of the song died over 50 years ago. Again, using internet search engines such as www.google.com can be very helpful here.

 

Also, bare in mind that good singers enjoy nothing more than a classical melody that shows off their vocal range and breadth, so you can win a lot of vocalist friends by writing a fresh lyric to a familiar classical melody. A contemporary band doing this is Keane, and no one could mistake Freddy Mercury’s vocal performances as anything other than opera!

 

Why Rhyme?

 

Is rhyme necessary? No. Can we write good lyrics without rhyme? Yes. Then why do we knock ourselves out trying to fit words together like a jigsaw so that we have a singsong rhyming pattern?

 

We feel comfortable when words rhyme. Ever since we were little children, we have grown up surrounded by nursery rhymes and songs that rhyme. As adults, we get a feeling of completeness when we hear rhymes; sometimes we feel the message of the rhyme more profoundly. Take this example:

 

“Sticks and stones may break my bones”

 

We all remember this saying from our childhoods, and even though we never speak of people ‘breaking our bones’ these days we still know what the rhyme is getting at and we still feel the message. This could be attributed to the rhyme of ‘stones’ and ‘bones’. It is an incomplete thought, but nevertheless feels profound because of the rhyme.

 

Another reason that we rhyme in songs is that music relies so heavily on repetition. Consequently, having heard a catchy melody or beat we naturally want to hear the corresponding accents and pulses in the lyric, or want to feel it.

 

In ancient times, before most people could read or write, stories and sagas were related in rhyme. This was not just because the stories seemed weightier and more dramatic when told this way, but also it was far easier to memorise the lines when you knew that they rhymed. Of course, this was not only mightily useful for the storyteller, but also good for the listener who would feel far more involved in the story.

 

At school, some of us may have had to memorize a poem in English classes. I’m sure you can remember how hard this was to do with a poem that did not rhyme, and how much easier it was when you had a rhyme as a mnemonic crutch.

 

One more asset of rhyme is common knowledge to singers. Most of them will tell you that they ‘sing’ on the vowels and ‘cut off’ on the consonants. If you sing aloud any high note on the word heart, you will see that the ah lets the sound continue, while the rt cuts off the air.

 

It is because of this that rhyme often solves the problem of intelligibility. If we hear a phrase like “you are fi-“ for an example, we might assume the word the lyricist intended was fifth, first, fire, filthy, finish, or many other fi-sounds. But if the songwriter precedes the ‘fi-“with “I always speak the best of what is mine” then we know from the rhyme that the thought will not continue with “and you are fine” or anything else but ‘and you are fine’.

 

No matter how mad, daring, crazy or innovative your song concept is, how original your harmony is, most listeners feel more comfortable with rhyming words because:

 

  1. Rhyme gives weight to our thoughts
  2. Rhyme follows the natural contours of our melody
  3. Rhyme creates a musical effect with words that have similar sounds
  4. Rhyme jogs our memory and helps us remember the song
  5. Rhyme helps the listener guess and understand our message

 

What is Rhyme?

 

To satisfy the ear as a rhyme, words must have identical vowel sounds and different consonant sounds. Make and rake rhyme. Lack and park do not; the vowel is the same, but the pronunciation or vowel sound is different.

 

What about words like fair and fare? Do they rhyme? Well, yes they do but they don’t really satisfy the ear and should be avoided. Even worse are identical words that used for a rhyme. Here’s an example from my own hand of a lyric that falls flat for just this reason:

 

‘I (Friday Night)’ by Dubstar

 

Its Friday night, my favourite time

And thinking back when you were mine

Another time, I sang ‘you’re mine’

This paradigm is changing all the time

 

Sure, this verse rhymes but it feels incomplete, slap-dash and ill thought out, which of course it is. Note to self: ‘must try harder’

 

One other thing to bare in mind; to make a satisfactory rhyme, the rhythmic accents of the words must match. Tender and refer seem to match, but they sound awful as a rhyme, so once again it is very important that you sing or at least speak out loud your words so you can hear them and avoid these pitfalls.

 

Rhyming structure

 

So, we’ve decided that we’re going to use rhyme in our songs, but which lines will rhyme? Every line, every other line? Every fourth line?

 

In some ways it doesn’t really matter, but here’s how many successful songwriters do it:

 

AAAA

 

Every line rhymes with every other line

“Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake

 

Don’t be so quick to walk away

I want to rock your body, please stay

You don’t have to admit you want to play

Just let me rock you to the break of day

 

“Music Gets the Best of Me” by Sophie Ellis Bextor

 

You swept me off my feet

With melody and simple beats

One touch and I feel complete

Music is my love you see

 

Music gets the best of me

But guess who gets the rest of me?

There’s no need for Jealousy

Music gets the best of me

 

AABB

 

First and second lines rhyme, third and fourth lines rhyme:

 

“Love is only a Feeling” by the Darkness

 

The first flush of youth was upon you when our eyes first met

And I knew that to you and into your life I had to get

I felt light-headed at the touch of this stranger’s hand

An assault my defences systematically failed to withstand

“Don’t Stand So Close To Me” by the Police

 

Young teacher, the subject of schoolgirl fantasy

She wants him so badly, knows what she wants to be

Inside her there’s longing, this girls an open page

Book marking, she’s so close now, this girl is half his age

 

“Missing” by Everything but the Girl

 

Step off the train

I’m walking down your street again

I passed your door

But you don’t live there anymore

 

Its years since you’ve been there

And now you’ve disappeared somewhere

Like outer space

You’ve found some better place

 

xAxB

First and third lines do not rhyme, second and fourth lines rhyme

 

“Everyday is a Winding Road” by Sheryl Crow

 

I used to ride with a vending machine repairman

He said he’s been down this road more than twice

He was high on intellectualism

I’ve never been there but the view sure looks nice

 

ABAB

First and third lines rhyme, second and fourth lines rhyme

 

“Feel” by Robbie Williams

 

Come on hold my hand

I want to contact the living

Not sure I understand 

This road I’ve been given

 

“We Don’t Care” by Audio Bullys

There’s things I haven’t told you

I go out late at night

And if I were to tell you

You’d see my different side

 

AABCCB

First two and fourth and fifth lines rhyme, but the most important rhyme is between the third and sixth line. Not in use much these days but can be fun to play with!

 

“Home on the Range” by Nigel Creek

 

Oh give me a home 

Where the buffalo roam 

Where the deer and the antelope play

Where seldom is heard 

A discouraging word

And the skies are not cloudy all day 

 

Words that don’t rhyme

 

Some words will not rhyme, no matter how hard we try. Luckily for us, most of them are words we would normally avoid anyway, but for your reference, here’s an incomplete list of these troublesome words that I thought of in the bath last night. I’m sure you can find more; maybe you might find a rhyme for some of these words too.

 

Absence    Chemist    Goodness    Language    Orchid        Sarcasm    Vampire

Absent        Cock-eyed    Gorgeous    License        Omelette        Satire        Victim

Accent        Cockney    Gossip        Lilac        Orange        Sausage    Violin

Access        Common                            Scarce        Volcano

Almost        Costly        Handsome    Manhood    Pink        Scoundrel

Angel                Homely        Margin        Portrait        Sculpt        Wasp

April        Dampen    Hostage    Method        Poverty        Serpent        Weapon

Ardent        Damage    Hundred    Mischief    Princess    Shindig        Woman

August                Hungry        Modern        Profile        Signal

Employee            Monarch    Proverb        Softly        Xylophone

Bargain        Evening    Infant        Monster    Puss        Stubborn

Bishop        Every        Item        Month        Pussy        Substance    Zebra

Budget                                        Sudden

Bulb        Film        Joyous        Noisy        Refuge        Sunrise

Filthy        Junior                Reluctant    Sunset

Cabbage    Fondle                Ogre                Sweden

Cactus        Fragment    Kitchen        Okra        Sabbath

Charcoal    Fullness            Olive        Safest        Target

 

Helping hands

 

Even the best lyric writer sometimes gets stuck. And it’s at this point that they may turn for help. Here are a few places they can turn to:

 

Rhyming dictionaries:  these contain lists of words that rhyme. Usually, you look up the word you want to rhyme at the back of the book, lets say the word ‘grace’, and it gives you a number which leads you to a list of words in the front of the book that rhyme with grace, such as face, place, brace and so on. These dictionaries can be very handy for making rhymes, but a word of warning: don’t over use them as you can spot a word that been thrown into a song purely to make a rhyme a mile away. Just take a listen to almost any song by Oasis and you will find instances of this:

 

Champagne Supernova: “Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball”

Supersonic: “She did it with a doctor, on a helicopter”

 

One quick thing about these two songs; notice how both song titles use alliteration in their title. A very useful technique for creating hooky song titles.

 

Thesauri: These books are similar to dictionaries, but give us synonyms and antonyms for the word we are looking up. This can be useful if we’re looking for a word that means happy for example. Synonyms of happy can be pleased, contented, excited etc, antonyms can be unhappy, miserable, depressed et al and any of these can be used in our song to bring some new interest in the lyric.

 

Search engines: These websites, such as www.google.com, can be invaluable when looking for a little inspiration. Here’s an example: Let’s say you wanted a phrase that was similar to ‘the end of the line’ but not exactly the same. You can search on Google for the phrase ‘the end of the’ (make sure you enclose your phrase in quotation marks) and you will get hundreds of search results, each with a variation on the phrase, such as ‘the end of the summer’, ‘the end of the road’, ‘the end of the dream’ et al. Any of these can be used in your song.

 

Here’s another wacky idea: Lets say you’re writing a song about how much you love England in the Spring, but you can’t think of any way of expressing this without sounding clichéd or trite. Try typing out a few phrases (such as “England, you fill my heart with happiness and wonder at your weather, blooms and beautiful children”). Now, put that phrase into a website that automatically translates English into, say, Italian. Now, copy the Italian translation into a website that translates Italian into English. You’ll find that the results you get are often bizarre, but just as often can be quite useful as inspiration in your lyrics

 

These are useful ways of avoiding writers block, and they’re completely free. There are other web sites dedicated specifically to helping lyric writers, here’s a selection:

 

www.writingsongs.com        Some good articles in this comprehensive site

 

www.rhymezone.com        An online rhyming dictionary and much more!

 

translation.langenberg.com/    An online language translator. Great fun.

 

Some lyric writing ‘Dos’

 

  1. It’s a very good idea to make sure that the title of your song features prominently in the lyric, maybe it’s the most memorable line of the chorus, or the first line of the first verse. The reason for this is that it’s important that when someone hears your song they’re able to ask for it by name in their record store. This is the “where do I get mine?” problem, and you just solved it! By the way, if you want to see a great example of a song being mistitled you should try looking up ‘Song 2’ by Blur on a file-sharing network like Kazaa. Almost everyone lists it as “Woo Hoo’ or ‘The Woo Hoo Song’, this being the most memorable line of the song.
  2. Make sure your lyric is ‘hooky’. It must contain short, snappy, memorable phrases that stay in your audience’s minds. They’ll enjoy the song more, they’ll remember it and ultimately go out and buy it if they enjoyed that funny little line about ‘stealing flowers on the way to see you’ for example.
  3. Your first line in your song must grab the listener’s attention. It’s the same principle as used in journalism; you have to arouse your reader’s interest in what’s coming later in the article. In song writing, if you’ve got them by the end of the first line then they’ll stay with you until at least the first chorus. Then you start all over again with another attention grabbing first line in the second verse.
  4. Please make your point early! You may have this wonderful idea for a song that captures your imagination for days, but if you haven’t communicated it in your song within a minute (or less) then your audience’s attention will dwindle. By the time you’ve revealed what you’re talking about, they’ve already switched channels, and that’s not good. Even if you’re telling a story in your lyric, it’s a good idea to have given your audience an indication of where you’re going pretty early in the song. Don’t forget, you can always add a twist in the tale towards the end of the song for interest if you need to.
  5. Don’t rely on your arrangement to make up for weak words. Every good song can be sung with only a piano or a guitar accompaniment, and if yours can’t then you need to go back and change it. It’s very easy within programs like Cubase, Logic and Reason to fill up every sonic space in your arrangement, use every plug-in, have 20 different drum sounds going at once. But I promise you that your 99% of your audience do not care about any of that stuff AT ALL. Strip your arrangement back to the basics (simple drum kit, bass line, chord/pad line); does the song still hold our interest? If no, then its time to do some re-writing.
  6. Be careful that you use the same lyrical style throughout your song. By that I mean that if you start off writing from the point of view of, say, a middle age father reflecting on his youth to his teenage son, it would be entirely inappropriate for him to start using current street slang, or Shakespearian monologues! Extreme examples of course, but you need to bare this in mind because your audience needs you to be consistent, and therefore believable.
  7. Most of the time when writing pop songs you’ll need to use contemporary words and phrases. For example, most people these days refer to their ‘PC’, not their ‘Home Computer’, ‘shades’ not ‘sunglasses’. You will need to appear current, fresh and exciting/excited with your lyrics, so avoid phrases that have dated badly e.g. ‘lovely jubbly’, ‘surf the internet’, ‘Robbie Williams’ etc.
  8. Make sure that you’re not using ten words when three would have done. In other words, be concise. There’s nothing worse than a song that waffles on and on and on….Look back over your lyric and make sure you can justify the presence of every line. If you find a line you can’t justify then rewrite it! This is painful, but essential.

 

…And Some Lyric Writing ‘Don’ts’

 

  1. Please make sure that if you’re going to use a slang term in your song, you know exactly what it means. Also, it can be dangerous to unknowingly use a slang term that may be out of use. In both cases you might look foolish, outdated or just a little desperate to sound cool! Also, there’s a good chance that you might offend a large section of your audience, so be careful out there.
  2. Don’t censor yourself! A crazy idea might come to you as you walk down the street; maybe you think it might be a good idea to write a song about the fact that you never see baby pigeons. It’s very important that you go with that idea, because you never know where these crazy ideas will lead you. For example, consider Allanis’ Morrisette’s ‘Ironic’. You can imagine that the original idea may have been to list a whole load of ‘ironic’ situations and that songwriter A and songwriter B sat around laughing for hours because it was such an unlikely subject for a song. Of course, they followed the idea through and wrote an international hit with a fresh and interesting subject matter. We’ll ignore the fact that absolutely nothing in that song is ‘ironic’ though, just simply unfortunate. No one decided not to buy the song just because North Americans don’t understand the concept of ‘irony’…
  3. Don’t stare at a blank sheet of paper or computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike, just start writing anything. It can be the most ridiculous, silly, even offensive words that you can imagine; the important thing is that you are writing. You can always come back and change the words at a later date. This way of writing was favoured by John Lennon, the first draft of many of his songs were written using dummy lyrics, often quite childish nursery rhymes, and then rewritten later. Sometimes they weren’t re-written; maybe this is how the Beatles ended up with songs such as ‘Octopuses garden’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’. The important point is that you mustn’t let anything get in the way of writing your lyric, even the absence of anything to write about! This technique leaves you open to inspiration that may come, and avoids that awful feeling of ‘writer’s block’ that can happen when looking at an empty page.
  4. Don’t toil for hours or days over your lyric. If you’re having trouble completing your words then take a break and come back to them the following day, refreshed, inspired and eager to get on. Remember, all the best songs take within an hour to half a day to write, so if you seem to be laboring forever on ‘just one line’, walk away. Get some distance, and you’ll probably find that there was an obvious solution to your problem but you missed it because you were too close and involved in your song.
  5. Avoid clichés! Just because there are five songs in the top 40 called ‘Dance With You’ does not mean that you should write one called just that. It will always work in your favour if you can keep you lyrics fresh and interesting. Remember, by the time you’ve spotted a bandwagon you’ve already missed it!
  6. Unless you have a very good reason for it, don’t be topical. You can make a certain amount of impact by writing about a current event, the invasion of Iraq for example, but even this subject does not have a long shelf life. After all, there’s nothing duller than yesterday’s news. Really great writers often write about historical events that can relate to current events, thus avoiding the ‘yesterday’s news’ trap. For example, the punk/folk singer Billy Bragg sang “World Turned Upside Down”, a song about an infamous dispute between ‘The Diggers’ and the landowners at the end of the English Civil War. He sang this song during the miner’s strike of the mid 1980s, thus enabling him to be current, interesting and by singing about historical events that had a resonance with current events, he avoided the yesterday’s news problem completely.
No Comments
Post a Comment