Song Writing – Lyrics part 2

Last time we looked at basic lyric structure. Today I’m going to get more into the actual words themselves.

Make Your Opening Line Attention Grabbing

It has been said many times (a few of them by me on this blog) that you have SECONDS to grab a listener. If you don’t grab them in those first 5-7 seconds, they will click onto something else. Your first line needs to get their attention; shock them or make them curious.

Paint A Picture

“Slumped down in a chair, tears streaming down his face” is a lot more effective than, “he was upset”. Don’t talk about people’s feelings; show me.

The most effective lyrics transport your listener to where your story takes place; makes them feel what your characters feel. Do it with details. “Even through my closed eyes I could see the lightning flash” puts you into a dark stormy place. And it makes you wonder, why are their eyes closed?

What can the character see, hear, feel, smell?

“The damp, new-mown grass beneath my feet” gives us feel, smell and sight.

“The carousel music tinkling distantly as we whispered promises.” We have a sound and questions. What promises? Why are they whispering?

Make Every Line Count

No filler lines; every line should move the story along, develop the plot.

Make Your Character Descriptions Interesting

Don’t say “the woman”; say “the ketchup-stained waitress”.

Don’t say “the crazy man”; say “the man who tells me voices whisper in his ear”.

Use Repeated Sounds

Inner rhymes like, “That night we flew to the moon” – The repeated “oo” sound in flew and moon is pleasing to the ear.

“The silence in the street is broken by the sound of running footsteps” – the repeating “ss” sounds also work.

Of course it is possible to overdo this. But used sparingly it can make your lyric more memorable and effective.

Don’t Use Predictable Rhymes

“He was howling at the moon.”

How would you end the next line? Soon? Tune?

What about, “Won’t you be mine?”

Time? Sign? Tryin’?

Boooooring! You won’t interest anyone with that.

How about rhyming “moon“ with cartoon? Or Vidal Sasson?

How about rhyming “mine” with online? Or consign?

There are lots of online rhyming dictionaries where you can type in a word and get back dozens of rhyming words. Use them.

Change lines around to make them work. You can say the same thing in a different way to get more interesting rhymes.

So: “I didn’t want to hear the things you said.”

Could become: “I closed my ears and focussed overhead.”

Don’t Be Boring/Predictable

Not being predictable doesn’t JUST apply to your choice of rhymes. We can all say “I love you”. How many different ways can you say it in? Can you say it in a way no one ever said it before? Can you draw a picture with your words to show it rather than say it? Can you make that picture unique?

Pay Attention To Rhythm And Stress

Words have a natural rhythm when you speak. You automatically say parts of words and sentences more strongly when you speak. For example, when you say “because”, the “cause” part is emphasised more strongly than the “be” part.

When you write your lyrics, make sure that the rhythms of speech sound natural and are not distorted. If you try to make your singer sing BE-cause instead of beCAUSE, it doesn’t sound natural.(Unconditional by Katy Perry drives me crazy for this reason – UnconDITional, NOT uncondiTIONal).

Writing For Other Artists

If you are writing a song for a specific artist, ask yourself, does this fit their personality? Study their back catalogue and ask, would they sing this line this way? Would they even sing about this topic? Does this lyric make them look good or a complete *******?

Getting Ideas

For many years I was stuck in a rut writing love song after love song. I got so sick of it I wrote a spate of hate songs. Later, I wrote songs for musical theatre. Suddenly, I wasn’t writing from my perspective. I was another character, in another situation, dealing with problems I had never personally faced. It was like a whole new world of thoughts and ideas.

Writing about what you know is a well worn adage and is certainly a good idea. But if you’re stuck for ideas, try imagining a made up character in a made up situation. What would they sing about?

There are many common problems in life that people have, try writing about some of those (try reading a newspaper or watching a soap opera if you’re stuck).

Think of different types of people: rich, poor, old, young, disabled, black, white, etc. Think of different situations: job/school, war, love, addictions, family, etc. Think of different feelings: love, hate, fear, joy, anger, jealousy, desperation, kindness, endurance, courage, etc.  Try to combine them in different ways to give you a different situation.

  1. Lots of tips there. Good luck with the writing.