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Thoughts on writing lyrics

14 Apr 2010 19:39 | Quote
Joined: 23 Dec 2007
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For all of you members who are struggling with lyric writing I have some suggestions that you might find helpful.

Often times one of two things happen.
1)you have so many things popping through your head that it overwhelms you and you forget half of those “fantastic lines”.
2)You have the concept but you just can't seem to come up with any good lines.

We'll use D_L's song here about the "bus to nowhere" as an example.
You come up with an idea of something you want to write about.
WRITE THAT DOWN AT THE TOP OF A PAGE (use the computer, it is much easier)
“i want to write a song about feeling like I'm getting nowhere in life. I want to break away, do better, be happier, feel like I'm getting somewhere”. Ok, so now you have committed yourself to a concept, a theme and by writing it down it will remind you to stay focused and not drift aimlessly off topic.

After that you want to build your story in an enjoyable framework for the listener. So your story is going to have a beginning and an end and some cool stuff in the middle but remember it is going to “flow” in a logical manner. Don't get your lyrics all jumbled up so that nobody can understand what your message is.
So your story is going to be broken down into verses and a chorus. The chorus often times is the delivery of your main message or a catchy phrase that supports your message.
So think about how your story will develop and WRITE IT DOWN. “I'm going to have four verses and a chorus that repeats twice in this song. I'll start out singing about how I used to think I could be anything I wanted in life. Then i'll sing about how things went wrong. Then i'll sing (probably in the chorus) about how I feel trapped and can't get out. Then i'll write about how hard it is to know which way to go. Then to wrap it up, a message of hope, “i'm going to make it somehow. Everything is going to get better.” These are just examples but the idea is that you define how this song is going to evolve and then you are going to make it happen.
Then in bold letters put this on the page......






Under each heading is where you will begin to create your lyrics so you'll be making notes there and changing and editing them on the spot. Don't delete anything until you have your final version then start cutting and dumping all the crap and keep the good stuff. I often use different color fonts just to keep things easier to sort out. I'll put one line I really like in red and another catchy line in blue and I'll build on each line using the colors so that I don't get them mixed up on paper or in my head.
Under the heading VERSE 1 actually write down the concept for that verse like this....
I used to believe........
on these next lines start writing down all the ideas that pop into your head.
“when I was a boy I was going to be a rock star, a doctor, a fireman, a cross dresser etc”
Do this for all the verses and the chorus.
You may write something for a verse that is perfect for the chorus so cut and paste it into the chorus block. And keep going and going until you have something you can be proud of. Over the next few days look it over and I guarantee you will start making small changes. If you don't you are either a genius, extremely lucky or you just don't care if you do good work. It is hard work to get it “right”. It takes practice. Listen carefully to some of your favorite songs, the ones that have great lyrics. Study them. It's not necessary to use “in your face words”. Sometimes it is better to “hint” at the obvious. It can make the song more mysterious or interesting and less bland, less ordinary. Read poetry. In time you will get better at the process. Take great pride in your work. I believe that writing GOOD lyrics is as hard as playing guitar properly. It ain't easy.

P.S. There are some mega talented members in this forum who I am sure can add tips to this topic so I invite them to share and I invite all dialog about the process. Questions often times get answers. Silence gets boring.
15 Apr 2010 11:15 | Quote
Joined: 29 Apr 2009
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I never analyze 'the process', old Bean, but that’s me (whom ya know) and its worked for 35 or so years so, lol, I aint messin' with the muse...not at this stage ;)
Still, I'll take yer 'coffee-time' invite and add MY 2 or 3-Cents.

For me writing is a very organic process where neither the words nor music come 'first'…BUT that’s me; there are, of course, always exceptions.
 As I've said many, many times in this forum: (I)"let the song write you"(me).
As it is with strumming habits and the like, songwriting is a very singular event at its core, and so no ‘one size fits all’, no ‘overall approach’, will fit or finish a new writer. BUT as you said there are some ( 10 ) very basic principles/guidelines that are helpful to remember.

--There are many exceptions to the below due to it being MY writing process—

1- Its not your song, it’s the songs song.

2- Ask what the song wants rather than trying to bend it to your will.

3- Write what you know, what you live, what you’ve felt, as disingenuousness is easily heard.

4- Be Simple; unless the song begs for more ornamentation, less is more.

5- Put it “on tape” as soon as humanly possible

6- Beware of overly “correcting” a chord sequence or lyrical choice as generally the first things you hear(in head/on git/on paper) are the “best” / most heartfelt.

7- Avoid outside input such as a friends advice on “what would sound ‘cool’ here”

8- You are (or should be) your toughest audience BUT never, NEVER ‘force it’

9- Lyrically, be yourself, never try and write like a favorite artist of yours … you aren’t them and they aren’t you…simple.

10- Lyrics are far more important to me (you may differ greatly) than almost anything else so make those words COUNT… I can listen to non-virtuosic players all day (Dylan, Beatles, (old)Bruce, Jules Shear, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello) if the words draw me in.

10B- This is likely due to the fact that after this damn long listening, writing, touring, recording as I’ve heard many, many, many more tunes with great Riffs/Hooks and Crap-lyrics than I have the opposite: tunes with Great lyrics and crap-tunes.
The reason? - Generally when a great lyric is present its author makes his instrument sing WITH the ‘words’ rather than trying to ‘fit’ his words to some rigid instrumental (hey! That’s why we have instrumental tunes, lol)

The ‘application of song’:

-Have NO FEAR (“nothing TO fear but fear itself”)

-Sing as if you are singing to a crowd of 10,000, even when in a small club or little 300 seat venues.

-NO song you write ‘sucks’, if not simply for the fact that you wrote it, its part of you and YOU don’t suck. Critics are most often failed writers!

OH! And (damn you Phip, my hands are cramping!)

 If the song ‘works’ Alone with the acoustic, with a band, and/or in another style, with different instrumentation, then chances are you just hit a home run!

Above all else; be true to your heart.


Global Disclaimer :
Carl Snow is an old, jaded & slightly bitter old man who cannot be held accountable for anything, much less his opinionatedly opinionated opinions or those of his imaginary friends. We sincerely apologize if this Carl Snow and/or its behavior have infected you or others with its ugly brain and its juices.
15 Apr 2010 11:22 | Quote
Joined: 14 Dec 2009
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Wow, when I get to the point of being able to write some tunes, this thread will be golden to me. Thanks to both of you for some phenomenal advice!
15 Apr 2010 15:14 | Quote
Joined: 21 Sep 2009
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well, one thing that drives me is ppl thinking there is a 'format' for a song, however i have seen MANY great artists break said format or totally ignore the damn thing.
15 Apr 2010 16:38 | Quote
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10- Lyrics are far more important to me (you may differ greatly) than almost anything else so make those words COUNT…

I don't agree with you here. The lyrics tell the story, but there are many songs where the lyrics just don't fit... but they sound great.

I think what you are looking for here is the melody. The melody is what makes the song... it's the most important part >.< Beatles especially fit this category. What makes a good song is a catchy lyrics that fits with a memorable melody.
15 Apr 2010 20:14 | Quote
Joined: 13 Jan 2008
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I agree with almost everyone and every thing, but wanted to add that don't be afraid to re-write, especially if you get stuck. I don't know how many times I've written something going one direction lyrically and gotten completely stuck. then I just scraped it and wrote different lyrics and it all came together.

Mood is another important aspect. Since the Beatles keep coming up I'd have to say listen to "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" The music i think is very light and "happy" by it's self, but when combined with the lyrics it become sort of psychotic. They could have had a heaver type of sound like "Mean Mr. Mustard" and it would have been a very different song.

Kind of turning into a composition class huh...but remember what you create is your art, your expression, do what you got to do to express your self.
15 Apr 2010 20:21 | Quote
Joined: 20 Sep 2009
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When i write a song i
1. Envision the idea
2. Lyrics
2a. Jot down sub-ideas
2b. "final" draft (technically its not final until immortillized)
3. Guitar part.
3a. Start clean or acoustic. (My awesome pedal does both)
3b. Solo (if availible) again, start clean or acoustic.
4. Submit to drummer/bassist
5. NEVER EVER go Dragonforce style. 2 hour jam/shreding sessions are not ok in a live show.
15 Apr 2010 20:31 | Quote
Joined: 14 Dec 2009
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JustJeff says:
I don't agree with you here. The lyrics tell the story, but there are many songs where the lyrics just don't fit... but they sound great.

I think this is the beauty of music - neither of you wrong ... or right!! It is totally opinion-based and what is important is without question based on the individual. For me personally, the music itself is far more important, but I have many friends who feel like CS does and they are no more wrong than I am right. If it was purely lyrics for me, I am not sure there would be too many metal songs I liked. lol
16 Apr 2010 02:23 | Quote
Joined: 13 Dec 2007
Lessons: 6
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JustJeff says:
The melody is what makes the song

Spoken word, rap, or simply speaking with music doesn't fit in here, and that's an issue. Typically monotone with a focus on rhythm and words than melody can be just as powerful. My favorite is to hear the song properly combine both (see Dean Bowman in Screaming Headless Torsos.)

One thing with creative writing in general is editing saves your ass but if you can keep each draft, do it. Maybe something you originally wrote (that was edited out) can now fit again.
16 Apr 2010 04:44 | Quote
Joined: 14 Apr 2010
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Ive never been able to write lyrics, but Ive alwayed liked the idea of writing lyrics from someone elses perspective. ie: telling someone elses story, so you can then disconnect from the lyrics.

But, then Ive alwayed tried to xpress my thoughts via the guitar, but then, when Im p-ed off and playing metal riff's, maybe just yelling profanities would xpress my thoughts better.

O well, vocals are for vocalist I guess
16 Apr 2010 07:14 | Quote
Joined: 23 Dec 2007
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@ Jeff,
ya probably missed Carl's post on the "jazz" thread. I'll just quote a short piece of it.
"2- (i know this sounds odd but) avoid 'laying like" (or trying to) the Git-Players and hone in on the MOST important and MOST OVERLOOKED aspect of "Jazz" in general(other than sheer Improvisation)The MELODY(sounds crazy no?)[b/]"

So there is some common ground there. But the point i was trying to get to in this thread is the USE of words. painting images with words and not so much "what is the most important thing" but more of a "how can I say what i'm thinking in a different and more interesting way" kind of thingy.
16 Apr 2010 07:24 | Quote
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Phip says:
ya probably missed Carl's post on the "jazz" thread. I'll just quote a short piece of it.

I think what my problem is, is that I spend a lot of time listening to instrumental music, so I feel sometimes the lyrics are useless. When I hear a rap song, as a previous person posted, I don't listen to the word, or the "rhyme", I listen to the background music and the melodic piece that's always there, underlying everything. It's the only way I can listen to that kind of music.

I guess we all hear the same thing differently >.
21 May 2010 22:25 | Quote
Joined: 23 Mar 2010
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dude phip you do wonders.

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